Faimly Lfie

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When the parents are psycholinguists, the children get exposed to some weird stuff.

For example, the Stroop effect (words interfere with naming colors, e.g. GREEN RED BLUE) makes a great 4th grade science project; 9 year olds think it's hilarious. There are lots of fun versions of the task (e.g., SKY FROG APPLE) but prudence dictates avoiding this variant in which taboo words like FUCK COCK PUSSY produced greater interference than neutral words like FLEW COST PASTA (p < .01).

Or, the kid knows that "I see that the clothes on the floor in your room have risen a couple of feet above sea level" means "clean up the mess, please" but also that this is an indirect speech act because the form of the utterance (an assertion) differs from its communicative intent (a request).  Thus enabling exchanges such as "Can you take out the garbage???"  "Is that an indirect speech act?"

I confess that we have actually had dinner conversations about the Transposed Letter Effect, the finding that with brief exposure, subjects frequently misperceive a stimulus such as ODRER as ORDER.  It happens in real life, as in the sign on the left and the company logo (French Connection UK) on the right.

        

The explanation for the effect is interesting–well, I thought it was–having to do with statistical properties of English orthography and the fact that ODRER is closer to ORDER than to any other word. There's a simple demo of the phenomenon here, if you're interested.

For birthdays and other events greeting cards with terrible wordplay are just low hanging fruit. A recent Father's Day card connected to my interest in accent and dialect:

I'm told that this is an old joke, popular in summer camp several years ago. Still, it does manage to alert a person to how much American regional accents can differ.  On this occasion I psycholinguisplained that it also illustrates the folly of trying to reform English spelling to make the correspondences between spellings and pronunciations consistent, as in Finnish and most other alphabetic writing systems: there would need to be different spellings for each regional pronunciation of even simple words like NICE.

On the inside the card said I was "Rat nas".  Which is what you call kids who participate in dinner conversations about speech acts and spelling reform.

 



8 Comments

  1. Michael Watts said,

    June 21, 2017 @ 6:03 pm

    I psycholinguisplained that it also illustrates the folly of trying to reform English spelling to make the correspondences between spellings and pronunciations consistent, as in Finnish and most other alphabetic writing systems: there would need to be different spellings for each regional pronunciation of even simple words like NICE.

    This seems like basically the same argument as "chinese characters are important because they unify the spelling of all the various chinese dialects". Even simple words like 好 will be pronounced very differently in different chinese languages.

    But in that case, I'm pretty sure spelling reform would be appropriate. Why draw the line between Chinese and English?

  2. Zeppelin said,

    June 21, 2017 @ 7:20 pm

    there would need to be different spellings for each regional pronunciation of even simple words like NICE.

    I agree with Michael Watts — I don't see why English orthography couldn't be reformed on the basis of some standard variety.

    Those de-facto standards already exist in the media, after all. It's not like other languages with sensible standardised orthographies don't also have strong dialectal variation. If you have a standard variety with phonetic spelling you simply teach that standard in schools, pronunciation and all, so that everyone knows what phonetics to spell. You don't teach people to phonetically spell their own dialect.

    The current English situation is such that everyone learns one standard variety through the media…and then learns another standard variety that they only write and have to learn, by rote memorisation, to pronounce like the media variety. Which seems like the worst of both worlds to me.

  3. Bob Ladd said,

    June 22, 2017 @ 1:58 am

    Michael Watts and Zeppelin are on the right side of this argument. What counts for any regular standard orthography is cross-lexicon phonological identity, not phonetic detail. This is why John Wells' lexical sets are generally remarkably unambiguous. The vowel in the cartoon is the PRICE vowel, in almost all varieties of English. That's the key thing you need to know to design a regular orthography for English, not the details of any phonetic variation. Mark Seidenberg says that he "psycholinguisplained" the problem with phonetic spelling to the family members who gave him the father's day card with the cartoon. With all due collegiality and all due acknowledgement of all the things linguists don't know about psychology, this is not the first time that a linguist feels the need to "linguisplain" things about language to psychologists…

  4. Geoff said,

    June 22, 2017 @ 8:51 am

    When I first read the title of this post I saw ONE typo.

    True story: I was dictating to a voice recognition program. The output was 'Justice Dyson Hayden'. A warning bell went off in my mind. I thought: 'That doesn't look right. That's Bill Hayden [a former Australian politician]. I think the Justice's name has an 'o'.

    To check, I googled 'Dyson Haydon' (try it). The name came up in a few seconds. It had an 'o', as I thought. I duly corrected 'Hayden' to 'Haydon'.

    Proofreading is hard!

  5. Ellen Kozisek said,

    June 22, 2017 @ 10:26 pm

    But how would be ever pick just one kind of English to be the standard? We can't. We could pick one American variety, sure. But one variety that everyone should know? And not just be able to understand, but know the pronunciation well enough to spell things. I don't see that happening. There's two varieties of written Norwegian (and it's just one country) which shows there's no need to have a single standard, but given English's status as an international language, not having a single standard would be kind of messy. (Even with the spelling and vocabulary differences that exists, still, I'd say there's a single standard written English.)

  6. Ellen K. said,

    June 23, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

    Oops… should be "how would we"

  7. Zeppelin said,

    June 24, 2017 @ 11:58 am

    Ellen Kozisek: Oh, I don't think it's currently politically feasible to settle on one standard variety of English (or even to reform English spelling, probably). But there's nothing about the linguistic situation that would prevent such a standard. If we wanted to avoid privileging one group of speakers, the standard could be a semi-artificial one that includes features from multiple dialects, like Standard German.

  8. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    June 29, 2017 @ 10:23 pm

    I thought that English spelling was pretty much standardized by the time Victoria was queen in England and the Civil War was over in the U.S., but family diaries from the late 1800s have some persistent "misspellings." I am currently transcribing some letters from a gunner in the Royal Marines stationed in the Mediterranean in 1872-73, and his spelling is interesting:

    …i should like to come and buy a 100 of coles as i think you would make a very good collier but i should have a good look at the weght to see you did not cheat me… i would rather you stayed at Home as i know you will be able to get as much work as you can do it is just as well for you to hearn a few shillings at home wen you can as it is to go traping out to work for 5 or 6 shilling per week dont you think it is Dear Wife I do not think thair is aney reosen to send me your Bank Book…

    The writer consistently uses "ad" for had, "hidear" for idea, "to knight" for tonight, "booth" for both, and other assorted idiosyncrasies.

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