Simpsons, contractions, mono

I’m very happy to see Heidi Harley starting a linguistics blog. Recent posts of hers include a list of stock syntactic-construction examples and a huge compendium of Simpsons language jokes (which Eric also linked). Heidi was on my orals committee and I was once her TA, so she knows I enjoy pointing out linguistically odd constructions.

One of those syntactic examples is “wanna” contraction. The claim is that when you hear “Who do you wanna leave?”, the who can only link back to the object and not the subject of leave. So you can only get the reading, “Who is X such that you want to leave X?” and not “Who is X such that you want X to leave?”. While this may be a strong tendency I don’t think this can be a categorical claim – I posted a discussion of hearing an actual usage of the “impossible” reading here last December.

I have a few phonology examples to add to Heidi’s Simpsons list, too. I haven’t watched the show in years and years, so these are all pretty old, and I don’t have the exact script or episode titles. But here’s what I remember:

Episode with Albanian exchange student:
Albanian boy: Mr Simpson, you are a very learnéd [lərnəd] man.
Honer: Heh heh, it’s lernd, son. lernd [lərnd].
(Shows Homer’s generalization of productive over archaic morphology).

Australian episode:
Croc hunter: That’s not a knife. (pulls out a spoon). That’s a knife.
Marge: That’s not a knife, that’s a spoon!
Croc hunter: I see you’ve played “Knifey-spooney” before.
(Illustrates sensitivity to apparent high Australian preference for truncation + diminutive).

There’s also an old episode in which Homer corrects someone who pronounces nuclear as [nuk.liər]: “It’s [nuk.yu.lər]”. Eric and I (and Q_Pheevr) earned a class V rating over this one.

Heidi and Eric and Mark Liberman at Language Log wonder about what consitutes Marge’s characteristic vocal quality. My understanding is that it’s a feature of Julie Kavner’s voice, which is why the same grumble appears in the voices of her sisters Selma and Patty (and their mother) – Kavner does all their voices. Kavner was on Rhoda way back, and I never watched it, but her character there may have had a similar voice too. My speculation is Kavner may have had mono or a similar affliction as a teenager, so that the scratchy/grumbly quality is a consequence of permanent laryngeal damage.