Say it again, Alice

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The linguist Zellig Harris (he was Noam Chomsky's mentor and doctoral adviser) drew an important distinction between imitation and repetition. You can imitate the sound of anyone saying anything, even in a language you know nothing about, and you might even do it quite well, but you can only repeat something in a language that you know. When you repeat, you use the sound system (or at least, you can use it) in your own usual way. You know the phonemes of the language, and you know what is just linguistically insignificant low-level phonetic detail that you don't need to replicate. You know which utterance in your language you're repeating, and your target is to say that, and you have some license about doing it in your own voice, your own pronunciation of the language. It's not at all clear that Alice, the aggressive engineer in the Dilbert strip, has got this right:

Not to belabor the point too much: the fact that Alice substituted one verb for another of similar meaning (the boss says need, she says want) shows conclusively that she is repeating in a language that she knows. (Almost every untrained speaker who tries to repeat a whole sentence gets it slightly wrong; that's why hardly any famous quotations are fully accurate.) But the fact that she attempts (putatively) to imitate phonetic features of the boss's speech (the lisping and elision of final consonants that she attributes to him, plus the "fuh fuh fuh" that she has always used as an imitation of what he sounds like when he's talking) would only be expected if she were imitating an utterance in a language she knew nothing about. So her attempt at plausible deniability in the third panel is utterly fraudulent.

I like Alice so much. So brave, so fierce, so unwilling to be bossed around by guys who are not as smart as she is… She's cruel, yes, but so funny.

[I would have opened comments if you had all gotten your project status updates in on time.]

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