Syllabification, by Capital One

The television stations have lately been running an ad for Capital One that I’ve seen several times now. This ad is the newest installation of the David Spade series, where he plays a smarmy telemarketer who says “no” to all of his clients’ requests. This time, Spade is responsible for teaching a trainee his method for turning everyone down. Spade gives the trainee a scenario or 2, and the guy says “no” after every one. Then Spade says, “Mix it up! Tic tac no! Ei-ei-no! Marco….” And the trainee responds, “Polno?”

Everytime I hear this I wonder, “Polno?” Why not “Pono”? Or “Nolo”? Or even “Nono”? Given Bob’s earlier discussion of blends, this one strikes me as odd. Why does the /l/ move from the onset of the second syllable to the coda of the first? Is it just that it makes the original word (Polo) more recoverable/recognizable?

I tell you, it’s tough to be a phonologist, since people around you are constantly talking…I can’t even watch TV in peace anymore. (It reminds me of one of my students last year who told me that after taking my class, he couldn’t stop himself from analyzing the phonetic characteristics of every person he spoke to. I guess it doesn’t take much exposure to the field.)

3 thoughts on “Syllabification, by Capital One

  1. Bob Kennedy

    I have seen the ad too but hadn’t noticed the [l] in polno. A survey of blends to track resyllabification like this would be interesting to see. Another example is in the onset [b] of blog, from a coda [b] in web. But the survey needs to sort established blends from failed ones and spontaneous ones.

    A related issue is a tendency I’ve noticed for [l]s to be perceived where they aren’t, and vice versa, especially when a conversation transpires between an [l]-vocalizer and a non-[l]-vocalizer. Rich Vos, a contestant in Last Comic Standing 2, once recounted an exchange with a hotel clerk (as I recall, in Las Vegas). “She asks me to spell my name, I say V-O-S. She repeats back to me, V-L-S? I say yeah, my name has no vowels”. The audience laughs, but the linguists get a bit upset – I figure the clerk may have perceived the [o] as a vocalized [l] and reconstructed it. (Also, Vls doesn’t sound so bad for a Slavic name, especially for a Srb).

    Perhaps my missing the [l] in Polno is the opposite effect; I think I actually expected “nono” and filtered out the [l].
    I thought nono would have been funnier anyway.

    Incidentally, if you’re considering Capital One, read the fine print. Certain trips cost twice the points (so it’s not “no”, but it is “yes, but…).

  2. Eric Bakovic

    For me at least, blog comes from the already resyllabified form, not from syllabically separate web + log. (The b may or may not be ambisyllabic; I don’t know — I don’t really trust my judgments on that.)

  3. Bob Kennedy

    I don’t know about that syllabification; my hunch is there’s a break after [b] in web.log. I’m trying to think of ways to test it … maybe by looking at the voicing on the consonant.

    At the risk of getting the phonetic facts wrong, I recall that English [b] in onset position is partially voiced, but voiced throughout for a coda [b] (corrections welcome!). So if there’s little or no voicing during closure for [b] in weblog, it’s in the onset of the second syllable. On the other hand, if it is voiced throughout, it could be in the coda of the first syllable. (The vowel before it complicates this interpretation though). But I left my microphone at home, so I can’t test it on myself.

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