Men's Treaming

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From Nick Tursi in Qatar:

The sign says:

ḥilāqat al-rijāl = “men’s shaving”

For "Men's Trimming".

That elongation of the short "i" is common among non-native speakers. Mauritians ask "where do you leave" (for "live").

Selected readings

"A new way to resolve paradoxes" (10 /8/22)

"Ockham's broom" (10/17/09)

[Thanks to Devin Stewart, Joe Lowry, and Shawkat Toorawa]


  1. Charles in Toronto said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 7:17 am

    Not to be confused with "Men Streaming"

  2. Monscampus said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 7:27 am

    I know French and Spanish speakers often find it hard to hear a difference between short and long vowels, e. g. beach vs. bitch, sleep vs. slip.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 7:43 am

    "Pin", "pen", "pan", "pain / pane", "pine", "pone", "poon", "pun", "peen"… were a nightmare for my wife.

  4. mg said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 11:56 am

    Years ago, an Ozarks friend told me "pin" and "pen" were taught as homonyms where she grew up.

    I was surprised a few months ago when someone told me she couldn't hear the differences between "aw" (said with a strong NY accent) and "ah".

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 4:02 pm

    "French and Spanish speakers often find it hard to hear a difference between short and long vowels" — also Polish and Vietnamese, in my experience.

  6. Nathan said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 6:15 pm

    mg, you may be interested to read about the cot–caught merger and the pin–pen merger. These are well-studied aspects of some American accents.

  7. martin schwartz said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 11:24 pm

    @Monscampus and Philip Taylor: Yes, and add Mod. Greek and Russian.
    The odd thing is that both mainstream Arabic and Polish have a phomic contrast of
    "short" and "long" i., so other factors are involved iwhen Arabic speakers and
    Poles mispronounce Eng. "short' I as "long'". And, as Nathan (I think) implies
    the mainly southerly US merger of pen and pin is another matter.
    Martin Schwartz

  8. Aotearoa said,

    October 12, 2023 @ 2:02 am

    Long and short vowels create very different meanings in Te Reo Maori. New language learners make embarrassing mistakes. Keke is cake when the vowels are short and armpit when they are long. Tatau is us when the a is long and a door when it’s short. There are numerous other examples. Some speakers double the vowel when writing rather than using a macron eg keekee – armpit or Taatau – us.

  9. David Morris said,

    October 12, 2023 @ 2:30 am

    My anecdotal experience from my teaching days is that students will use short 'i' for long 'ee' more often than the other way round.
    One Korean woman said "Since I know Jesus, I have piss in my heart". One Colombian man said that his boss had asked him whether he had seen an important notice on the board in the tea room. He said "Yeah, boss, I saw the shit in the kitchen". (This was during a phone conversation on a train. He added "I finished the call and the people near me were looking at me *very* strangely.) A Thai woman told about 'a good day with friends': "We went to the bitch. It was a beautiful bitch. We lit a fire on the bitch and cooked dinner".

    (All of those are spoken rather than written, and involve closed syllables.)

  10. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 10:27 am

    This discussion is a tour de force demonstration of how the terms "short" and "long" are unhelpful in describing English vowels.

    Polish does not distinguish vowels by length. Only by quality. There is one vowel that is very similar to English FLEECE, and one similar to English KIT in most accents. It so happens that the former is spelled i. It's this spelling that's responsible for the substitution. In those words where KIT is spelled using y, like in Polish, such as system or myth, Polish learners don't usually substitute.

    The same will apply to a huge group of other languages because most languages around the world that use the Latin writing system will use i for a vowel in the general [i] area, not something like English KIT: all Romance and Slavic, for example. These speakers don't "elongate" either because their L1s don't have length distinctions. (Well, unless they are brainwashed by a misguided teacher who thinks in those terms.) It's a question of vowel quality.

    And, of course, in terms of actual phonetics, most accents of English don't use length distintinctively, either. The long/short terminology is an unhelpful fossil of history. Wellsian keywords (FLEECE, KIT etc.) were designed partially in order to bypass this.

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 11:11 am

    All fair comments, Jarek, but they do not explain why, when I asked my Polish girlfriend (of free-range hens, loose in a garden in Biały Dunajec) how the owners stopped them leaving, she answered "they ring their necks", believing that I had asked how they stop them living …

  12. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 3:06 pm

    @ Philip Taylor: Your girlfriend showed the same thing as the makers of the labels in the OP: No contrast between FLEECE and KIT in her mental lexicon. For a Polish person, leave and live may very well be merged in the lexicon, because they pronounce them the same. (So, for example the words beat and bit are homophonous as English borrowings in Polish, and as a result they are homophonous in the Polish English of many learners.) Ditto for trim and tream. BTW, the OP pic is from Qatar. I don't know about Qatari Arabic, but Standard Arabic does distinguish vowels by length, so that there is a long and short [i]-like vowel but nothing like KIT. If the English contrast was one of length, the substitution would be unexpected because presumably the learners would have something in their L1 to map it onto. But it isn't, so they don't.

  13. Philip Taylor said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 3:35 am

    Jarek — Thank you for that, but I am still unclear how I should reconcile "There is one vowel that is very similar to English FLEECE, and one similar to English KIT in most accents." with "For a Polish person, LEAVE and LIVE may very well be merged in the lexicon, because they pronounce them the same".

    Is the source of the confusion the fact that "living" and "leaving" are foreign words, and not immediately differentiable by most native Polish speakers, or is it more at the individual level and that Ela might also have been unable to differentiate between two Polish words that differed only in [i] v. [ɨ] (no such minimal pair comes immediately to mind) ?

  14. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 6:30 am

    @ Philip Taylor: OK, let me give it another try and make this clearer. (Sorry, it's something that is rather intuitive if you're steeped in it, resulting in inadvertent nerdview. My bad!)

    The handbook examples is as follows. Polish has two words, bit /bit/ 'bit' (in the computer sense) and byt /bɨt/ 'being', 'existence'. Phonetically, they map very well onto English beat vs. bit. From this, you might expect that a Polish person acquiring this phonemic contrast in English should have no problems.

    However, spelling interferes (as can be seen from the Polish pair above), since Polish orthography associates /i/ with i. So, the new grapheme ea, being evidently foreign, is mapped onto /i/, but so is i. As a result, beat and bit end up pronounced the same in both Polish and Polish English; something you wouldn't be able to tell (and wouldn't expect) from the phonologies only, and especially when confronted with the actual Polish minimal pair bitbyt.

    Same story for leave vs. live.

    An added complication is that you only find minimal pairs for the two Polish vowels after labials, e.g. mi vs. my, bić vs. być, wić vs. wyć etc. That's why you couldn't think of examples easily. Since l only allows a following i, this may be another reason for the conflation of leave vs. live. (But I think it's far less important; after all, byt doesn't help, so why would the existence of ly help?)

    We know that this is generally true because the merger doesn't apply to English words where KIT is spelled y, such as system. And also from the fact that the happY vowel often ends up as [ɨ]. Thus, city may often be realized as [sitɨ] by a Polish learner.

    I think the same process applies in the OP, since Arabic only has one [i] quality whose usual Latin transliteration is i. Thus, you recognize ea as novel and map it onto [i], but i is also mapped onto [i], creating a merger. (Which, again, you wouldn't expect if length was at play, since it is used in Arabic.) Note that you wouldn't expect [sitɨ] from learners coming from these kinds of backgrounds (i.e. languages that lack ɨ).

    The longest comment I've ever written on here!

  15. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 6:39 am

    Seemingly that comment wasn't long enough in fact, since I forgot one additional clue: when beat is used as a borrowing in Polish, in the musical sense, some people spell it bit. Therefore "fast beat" and "quick change bit" both surface as "szybki bit": Google. Which leads very neatly to the possibility of "treaming".

  16. Philip Taylor said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 8:02 am

    OK, what you say makes perfect sense in the context of written English, but in this case the exchange was entirely verbal, so it would seem that although my spoken "leaving" and spoken "living" are poles apart (no pun intended) to a native English speaker, they are considerably less so to (some) speakers of Polish and Vietnamese. The incident previously reported took place many years ago, but Lệ Khanh and I spent some time very recently (in the last few days, in fact) trying to explain the difference between [ɪ] and [i] to a native Vietnamese speaker, and in the end we had rely on his knowledge of other languages to finally get the point across …

  17. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    October 14, 2023 @ 9:52 am

    The fact that it was a verbal exchange matters far, far less than people tend to think. Phonemic perception means that people disregard subphonemic detail even if they are capable of hearing it in principle. So if the phonemic composition of a word suffers from orthographic interference resulting in "leave=live", then quite a lot of difference can go unnoticed.

    And let's face it, the English vowels are not poles apart. They are phonemically different, but phonetically quite similar.

    And orthograpic interference in phonology is potent, even in advanced learners. It used to be neglected because classical research in L2 phonetics (e.g. Flege) was done in immersion settings. But people in instructed settings (learning the L2 at school), especially if they are literate, and especially if the two languages share a writing system, show a lot of it.

    (Full diclosure: I've been part of a project looking at L3 Norwegian in Polish instructed learners, and we're seeing quite a bit of it. As a result, I've had to read up on the topic ;) and now I can recommend the work of Bene Bassetti as a starting point.)

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    October 15, 2023 @ 4:10 am

    So if I understand you correctly, Jarek, Ela was primed to hear "leaving" as "living" because of her prior exposure to the written forms, both of which she may well have pronounced as something close to /ˈliː·vɪŋ/.

    As regards your recommendation of Bene Bassetti, her home page contains many interesting links, and I was interested to see that she has worked on Chinese counterfactuals, a topic which another Polish friend, Julita Bolland, studied in detail.

  19. Walter Hall said,

    October 24, 2023 @ 6:07 am

    I have lived in the United Arab Emirates for 13 years now, and I can report that this happens fairly frequently. I suspect that at least some of it is coming from that fact that Arabic, in general, doesn't write their short vowels, and frequently the long "e" sound gets transliterated as "i", so if someone only sees something with an "i", they are tempted to read it as a long "e" sound.

    For example, in the town that I used to live in, the second largest shopping center as in a part of town universally written as "Al Jimi" and pronounced by everyone who couldn't read Arabic as "Al Jimmy" but that was pronounced in Arabic as "Al Jeemee" (الجيمي).

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