Prescription jugs

Eric commented here on a speech error made by President Bush in his State of the Union address, whereby the first word of the phrase drug trade was mispronounced as [ʤʌg]. As I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO last night, I happened to notice Maher make the same speech error when talking about the recent incident involving Rep. Patrick Kennedy:

What I love about this case, as I was mentioning in the monologue… This guy gets stopped. He says “I wasn’t drinking,” when, you know, I think he might have been. We have a waitress at a restaurant who said he was drinking earlier. The cops said they smelled liquor. But the all-purpose get out of free [sic] card in America is, “I was on prescription ju… drugs. Therefore, it’s OK. As long as I’m high on something from a company that made campaign contributions, I can crash my car. If I get high from what I had at Joe’s Bar and Grill, I can’t crash my car. But if I get it at Sav-On, I’m good.”

Here’s an audio clip. Below is a spectrogram of the sequence containing the error and the immediate self-correction:


Based on very informal measurements, the cluster seems to be just slightly longer than the affricate [ʤ]: 107 ms versus 105 ms. This is a trend similar to the difference Eric noted for Bush’s speech error. Of course, the usual caveats apply with respect to contextual differences, n=2, etc. At least it’s interesting to see another authentic example in which a phonological monosegment is somehow felt to be equivalent to a phonological cluster (possibly due to the phonetic similarity of affrication?).

5 thoughts on “Prescription jugs

  1. Rick Wojcik

    For many American speakers, syllable-initial /dr/ and /tr/ clusters don’t occur from a phonotactic perspective. One way to test for this is to present speakers with words like “train” and ask them to identify the initial sound as the same sound as the initial sound in “Dane” or “Jane”. If you try this with a class of students, you’ll find that some disagree vehemently on which phoneme is the initial one. I may be wrong, but I believe that Southern dialects tend to perceive and pronounce initial affricates in those clusters.

  2. Jessica Barlow

    Some have proposed that children may represent clusters as something like affricates based on reduction patterns, acoustic evidence, and perceptual segmentation tasks. There’s an interesting study by Barton, Miller, & Macken (1980) who tested 24 English speaking kids’ (age 4-5 years) ability to segment initial clusters, specifically /sw-/ and /tr-/, into phoneme-length units.

    The first task was a segmentation task, where the kids identified the first sound of a word that began with a singleton or a cluster. They successfully identified initial singletons in words, but with initial clusters, the results varied. For words beginning with /sw-/, some children identified the initial segment as [sə-], others as [swə-]. For /tr-/ words, children identified the initial sound as [tʰə-], [ʧə-], [ʧr-] or [tr-].

    In the second task, grouping, the kids determined if initial cluster words comprised a separate category or a subset of a larger category of words beginning with the same sound. They found that some of the kids always grouped words with clusters with a singleton set: /s/-initial words (and even sometimes /f/-initial words!) were grouped with /sw-/ words, and /ʧ/-initial words and/or /t/-initial words were grouped with /tr-/ words. Some kids even categorized /sw-/ uniquely, while they grouped /tr-/ clusters with /ʧ/ and/or /t/, while another kid categorized /tr-/ uniquely, but grouped /sw-/ clusters with /s/.

    In the third task, symbolization, the kids used colored blocks to represent the sounds in initial clusters. They were asked three different questions: 1) “What is the first part [or sound] of the word?” (p. 121), 2) “Is the first part one or two sounds?” and 3) “Do you need an ‘old’ block or a ‘new’ block? Have we had that sound before?” (p. 122). For the first question (regardless of whether the word “part” or “sound” was used), some of the kids gave singletons: [s] or [f] for /sw-/ and [t] or [ʧ] for /tr-/. Some gave cluster segmentations of the cluster words: [sw-] for /sw-/ and [ʧr-] or [tr-] for /tr-/. For the second question, none of the kids could systematically say whether the first parts of words consisted of one or two sounds.

    Because of their findings, Barton et al. argued that children first represent clusters as single units but that this representation later changes as a result of exposure to orthography.

    Barton, D., Miller, R., & Macken, M. (1980). Do children treat clusters as one unit or two? In E. V. Clark (Ed.), Papers and Reports on Child Language Development (Vol. 18, pp. 105-137). Stanford: Department of Linguistics, Stanford University.

  3. Christian DiCanio

    It’s curious whether or not the “new affricate” derived from /dr/ and /tr/ clusters is phonologically distinct from the existing alveopalatal affricates in English. My feeling is that in American English we are simply going to have 2 types of affricates, one alveopalatal and one that is retracted/retroflex.

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