Truncated berries

My wife Karen talks funny, and it’s often of more than passing linguistic interest. Most recently, she has taken to calling different berries by the following truncated names:

  • blueberries [blu:bɛɹi:z] → bluebs [blu:bz]
  • strawberries [stɹɔ:bɛɹi:z] → strawbs [stɹɔ:bz]
  • raspberries [ɹæspbɛɹi:z] or [ɹæzbɛɹi:z] → raspbs [ɹæspəbz]

It’s the last one that interested me the most, so I asked Karen how she’d handle boysenberries [bɔɪzənbɛɹi:z]. She thought about it, at first said [bɔɪzənbz] and decided that couldn’t be right, then settled on [bɔɪzənɪbz].

In section 14.3 of my contribution to Paul de Lacy‘s forthcoming Cambridge Handbook of Phonology (p. 343ff), I argue that epenthesis and deletion can at the very least serve as backups to assimilation in the case of unassimilated clusters, contra claims to the contrary by Donca Steriade, Joe Pater, and Linda Lombardi, as well as by me and Colin Wilson (see also de Lacy’s dissertation and recent book). This case looks like a relevant example: assimilation (*[bɔɪzəmbz]) is independently blocked by whatever is responsible for the lack of word-final noncoronal nasal-voiced stop clusters ([mb] and [ŋg]) in English, deletion (as in bomb [ba:m]) is also blocked because the point of the truncation is for the [b] of berries to be retained, and so epenthesis is employed as the last resort. At least, that’s an interesting way to look at what may just be Karen’s funny way of talking.

6 thoughts on “Truncated berries

  1. Nancy Hall

    “Bloobs” and “strawbs” sound fairly natural to me; the other two don’t. One question that occurs to me is whether the vowels you heard here are real vowels, or only transitions. It reminds me of Davidson and Stone (2003)’s experiment, where English speakers had to pronounce unfamiliar consonant clusters in pseudo-Slavic words like “zgomu”. Some speakers produced acoustic schwas, but ultrasound suggested that there was no actual vowel articulation there, only a low level of overlap between consonants.

  2. Eric Bakovic

    This is entirely possible in this case, Nancy — though in the case of [bɔɪzənɪbz], Karen did insist that it was a [ɪ] instead of a [ə], for whatever that’s worth.

    I don’t think this detail of analysis actually affects the point I was making, though (preliminary and nonconclusive as it is). As I understand it, Davidson (and others who work with gestures in OT — including you?) assumes there are constraints on gestural overlap, at least one of which get violated when there is insufficient overlap. So, that just substitutes for Dep in the epenthesis analysis, and the candidate with “a low level of overlap between consonants” would substitute for the candidate with epenthesis. Does that materially affect the point?

  3. Nancy Hall

    My theory (which obviously not everyone would agree with) is that epenthesis and low overlap are different things. Epenthesis is when you insert a new vowel articulation and create a new syllable; low overlap is just an alternate way of pronouncing a consonant cluster (which is still phonologically a consonant cluster). In which case Karen might not be really epenthesizing, but just producing unfamiliar coda clusters like /nb/ with low overlap. Maybe if you’ve never produced a certain coda cluster before, you have no canonical phasing relationship to guide you, so you just pronounce the consonants individually.

    But if she’s conscious of the vowel’s presence and insists on a particular quality for it, that might argue that it is a real epenthetic vowel. I don’t think speakers are usually very conscious of gestural effects.

    Have you tried blackberries, loganberries, cranberries, gooseberries, elderberries, cloudberries…?

  4. Michael Covarrubias

    Elderberries would not need an epenthesised vowel would it?

    If the quality of the last vowel in [bɔɪzənɪbz] is important to the form might it be a trochaic requirement introducing enough stress to give the vowel its [I] quality?

  5. Travis Bradley

    I would be interested to know whether the vowel percept is [ɪ] after consonants other than nasals. If the consonant gestures are minimally overlapped, then the intrusive schwa fragment might be perceived as raised only in the context of a preceding nasal. Something similar happens in Southern American English, where /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ neutralize to [ɪ] under nasalization.

    I guess then we would have to say that speakers can be aware of gestural effects, at least in language game situations where producing novel forms requires more attention and concentration.

  6. Abdullah S Alarcon

    It would be very interesting to conduct an experiment with a fifth grade classroom to find out what shortened spellings they would come up for the most popular berry fruits.

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