Perception test

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What's the word this came from?

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Here it is in context, from Claire Bolderson's interviews with potential voters in Birmingham on the BBC World Service's Newhour:

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It's not only in Australia, of course, where communication across varieties of English might lead to  "guide dog" being heard as "gay dog".

[As far as I know, this kind of "gating paradigm" was first used to demonstrate misunderstanding across varieties of English by Bill Labov, as reported in his paper "The Limitations of Context: Evidence from misunderstandings", CLS 25 (1989), where he showed (for example) that one variety's production of the word "blocks" could be understood as an instance of another region's pronunciation of "blacks". Unfortunately, older CLS volumes are only available in paper form.]


  1. Sili said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 8:51 am

    Well, if she wasn't gonna vote for them, I could convinced myself it was supposed to be Liebour.

  2. Mark P said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 9:00 am

    Oh. I didn't get it until I read Sili's comment. But once I knew what she was saying it was much easier.

  3. JT said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 9:08 am

    An unfortunate misunderstanding by Gordon Brown of the word "flocking"

  4. Anna Phor said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 10:54 am

    Oh, interesting! I hear the snippet as "lie" and then it quite clearly sounds like the "lie" vowel when I hear it in context. The interesting thing is that I am in fact Australian, although I've spent ten years in the US. So I imagine if I heard the full context without hearing the snippet first, I *wouldn't* hear the "lie" vowel, I'd hear the "lay" vowel; but once I'm in US-English mode (a variety for which I possess near-native fluency), I get primed to hear "lie."

  5. Tom said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 11:18 am

    @JT – that is indeed a theory going round about what Brown meant when he said he had "misunderstood" Mrs Duffy. It's currently mere speculation but may have some basis in linguistic fact. Brown does apparently suffer from hearing problems, but I would love to see a Language Log post doing some analysis on the conversation and evaluating the plausibility of his hearing the word "fucking" (bearing in mind that the first vowel there shows quite a range of regional variation in the UK) for "flocking".

  6. Sarra said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

    I'm guessing 'Labour'. Pause to listen to second clip…

    Yep. But the context gave it all away – and I've lived in Birmingham all my life, though I don't have the typical accent.

    Scarily, I not only recognise the vowel clip, but the ice-cream van too.

  7. Ginger Yellow said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

    Libor is, of course, also a word.

  8. KevinM said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

    The "flocking" recalls a legendary TV appearance by a WWII pilot. I'll spare you the setup, but the punchline was "Yes, but these Fokkers happened to be Messerschmits."

  9. Peter Taylor said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

    I heard 'bly', and even after hearing it in context I still hear a 'bl'.

  10. Acilius said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

    Like Peter Taylor, I hear a B, though the vowel sounds a bit closer to an A to me. So when I first heard the snippet I thought of "bleh," an expression of boredom or disgust. Then of course the context showed it to be a reference to the UK General Election.

  11. Frans said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    Fragment "bly" for me, but in context I don't hear a b.

  12. Troy S. said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

    Hm, what's the guy in the background saying in between "Are you going to vote" and "I'll probably vote Labour, because that's what I normally go for." ?

  13. Marion Crane said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

    I wouldn't have guessed that it was Labour. I, too, hear 'bli' in the fragment, but as I listened to it a few times I realised that it was probably interference from the rest of the soundclip, and I was proven right by the context. But even without a 'b' in there I would still have gone for something with 'lie' in it. Australian accents sound very funny to me.

  14. Kenny Easwaran said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

    I heard "light", and thought she said "I'll probably vote later". I guess there are many effects when dealing with recordings and clips thereof.

    [(myl) Specifically, when you clip something out of context, the (thereby created) abrupt onset and offset tend to create the impression of stop consonants, unless special care is taken to taper the edges (which can cause its own perceptual artefacts). The only real point here is the identity of the vowel, which in the absence of regional or topical context will (I think) be heard by speakers of most varieties of English as an instance of the PRICE lexical set.]

  15. Daniel said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

    @Troy S.

    I think that's her saying "I dunno."

  16. Gordon Campbell said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

    Clearly she's voting for Professor Liberman.

  17. Craig said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

    Interesting. I also hear "bly" in the snippet, but lose the "b" in context. Is it possible that this is a bit like the ventriloquist's use of dental consonants like "d" and "t" in place of corresponding labial ones? For example, see:

    To me, it sounds like the original snippet might capture "(vo)te la(bour)", rather than just "la", leading the "b" illusion.

  18. Cirret said,

    April 29, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

    I heard "life", and then when I heard "labour" in context it seemed to me that the "our" part had been left out of the first clip.

  19. Dan M. said,

    April 30, 2010 @ 1:19 am

    Northeast AmE speaker here.

    I also heard consonants in the short clip, but the beginning one for me was certainly 'g', and the end seemed like a truncated 't', so I guessed the word to be 'Geithner', as in Obama's SecTreas.

    I also hear the longer clip as "vote later", though I can force myself to hear "vote Labor".

  20. Eric Baković said,

    April 30, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

    Some of Labov's examples were reproduced in PBS's Do You Speak American? series; you can hear them here.

  21. Antipodean said,

    May 6, 2010 @ 8:04 am

    My goodness. I hear "Lay bour", and I don't think she has an accent at all. What are you all talking about?

    I do however, hear "bli" on the short clip.

  22. Sarra said,

    May 8, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

    Australian accents sound very funny to me.

    arf. It's an accent from the English Midlands. Birmingham I think, since the 'o' vowel in the third speaker's 'I dunno' isn't the 'ow' typical of the Black Country (to the north-west of Birmingham – but despite being a native I'm never too hot on locating the differences between these two accents)

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