Author Archives: Bob Kennedy


Following up on Nancy Hall’s discussion of the Lutfi > Lufti transposition, I’m just as curious about the growth in the same setting (i.e. celebrity journalism) of the combining form celebu– [səlɛbju], as in celebu-wreck and celebu-freak. One Google search on {celebu*} also yields celebu-world, celebu spawn, celebu-wishes, celebu-goo, celebu-shambles, celebu-trend, celebu-architect, celebu-campaign, celebu-moms, and celebutantes.

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fas pt. 2

Last week I wrote about a segment on Foreign Accent Syndrome I saw on ABC Primetime, hoping to make two general points: one, about why the word “foreign” has come to be used as a label for the condition, and two, whether the condition relates to motor control or linguistic knowledge. This post is intended partly as an update concerning the above second point. I’ve also been contacted by a reader whose cousin is an FAS patient, and the details she provides of his case can certainly enrich the discussion. Continue reading

"foreign" accent syndrome

OK, I just finished watching a segment on ABC Primetime about Foreign Accent Syndrome, a condition I’d heard of, but until now I hadn’t had the opportunity to hear speakers with it. Anecdotal evidence of FAS usually identifies an adult English speaker suddenly (usually following trauma) adopting a foreign accent, and being unable to speak using his or her natural accent. Interestingly, these patients are sometimes characterized as sounding like particular foreign accents or other English dialects. The textbook case is of a woman in England who suddenly sounded German after a head injury during the blitz. The two patients on the ABC segment were associated as sounding Russian in one case and French in another. Hopefully this link will work.

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Last night Jon Stewart cracked a Cheney-heart-condition-joke with “defibulators” as the punch line. Now I’m not one to judge, but I had to point it out. Despite the 29K ghits that “defibulator” gets, and the 12K ghits that “defibulators” gets, Google still asks you if you mean “defibrillator(s)”. Oxford lists defibrillator under defibrillation.

There’s a parallel here with vascillations like nuclear/nucular and parap[a]legic, discussed a while back by Arnold Zwicky on Language Log and Eric Bakovic on phonoloblog. Continue reading

continuing phonetics-phonology discussion

I’m adding this post in light of Eric’s plea regarding comments and posts – many comments on recent posts in phonoloblog have been quite involved, enough for Eric to suggest that contributors make new posts instead of long comments. Marc and Travis have taken this advice, but (so far) I have not – I added a long comment to Marc’s post regarding Port & Leary’s Language article, only because it directly follows up on comments from both Port and Leary.

To make up for it, I’ve made this post just to alert readers that comment threads are continuing in some of these recent phonoloblog posts.

MJ and OT

I had lunch with some non-linguists today, and the conversation turned to calling people by their initials. Some interesting intuitions show up which appear to be linguistic in nature, though somewhat gradient. Here’s the deal: we know we can assign initials-based referring expressions using the first letters of the referent’s first and middle or first and last name. But there appears to be some limits on what constitutes an allowable set of initials. The example at lunch was, MJ is an allowable form, but MN and ML are not. I have some ideas about why, but it’s not so simple.

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Caroline Islands Script

Language Hat recently linked to Abecedaria, a newish blog by Suzanne McCarthy devoted to writing systems. McCarthy already has quite an archive built up, and I was intrigued to find an entry on a Caroline Islands syllabary (CIS). She links to a proposed Unicode table on Michael Everson’s website for symbols in the syllabary, and to, a site devoted to the system that offers a lengthy discussion regarding the its possible historical origins. Its owners (Dan and Andy Koch) really seem to be keen on the notion that CIS is a Woleaian invention, contrary to Reisenberg & Kaneshiro (1960). Continue reading

neighborhood update

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts on neighborhoods for languages with contrastive segment length. The issue is that calculating the number of neighbors for a given item presumably would net different results based on how you conceive a geminate: is it a pair of segments, or is it a single segment? I had thought that the geminate-as-single-segment approach would generally provide a higher neighbor count, which preliminarily is supported by an artificial trial.
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neighborhood puzzler

I’m struggling with finding a reasonable rubric for determining lexical neighbors in languages with contrastive segment length. The basic issue is whether to consider a substitution of one geminate segment for another to qualify as a within-neighborhood change. e.g., are osso and otto neighbors?
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animated chain shifts

Here and there phonoblog has links to teaching resources for phonetics and phonology. I have one to add: a recent concoction that I’ve developed to illustrate the goings on in a chain shift of vowels. In trying to put myself back in the shoes of an undergraduate, I was imagining that seeing a static vowel chart with arrows leading away from IPA symbols might be a little cryptic. (Especially in a lower-level class about language and society in which I’m not pushing them to learn IPA through and through).

Turns out wicked little Powerpoint now lets you move existing slide objects around with its animation tools, which I decided to take advantage of. I have posted some examples for you to check out: the idea is that words (representing phoneme classes) move in two-dimensional vowel space when you advance the slide. (I used words since moving the phonetic symbols is uninterpretable).

The examples are the Northern Cities Shift and the Canadian shift. In the NCS, I do not commit to a push or pull chain, but the Canadian animation suggests a pull-chain precipitated by the low-back merger. The fronting of /u/ is also to be taken with some salt; I have heard it from many Canadians, but by impression is that it has not quite arrived in the quirky little dialect of Urban Eastern Ontario English that I speak.

The Canadian slide also demonstrates a bit of a problem with the approach: limited dimensionality. Since the slides only manipulate height and backness, but not length or roundness, they risk illustrating a non-existent merger. (This is why I left off my Scottish vowel space). It is also difficult to illustrate diphthongs and monophthongs, which is why I left off my Southern vowel shift.

I’m leaving the comments open, so if you think these are (a) cool or (b) dumb you can say so.

The slides are in Office 2003’s PC version of Powerpoint, so I apologize if your platform doesn’t display it well.
Note that I had implemented a similar idea with an animated gif in the Language Samples Project, but constructing these is fairly time consuming. Also: the st__ck series is one I find particularly illustrative, and I found in it a paper by Charles Boberg.


I didn’t foresee this happening last summer when I joined the phonoloblog team, but I have started a new blog. It has been apparent that although I’ve always restricted my posts to language phenomena, some of them fall outside the phonoloblog mission of “all things phonology”. So the new blog, piloklok, is for the linguistic-but-not-quite-phonological. I plan to continue contributing to phonoloblog regularly, but keeping the discussion to phonology within the scope of the academic and the pedagogical.

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Ultrafest 3 report

Here is a brief report on Ultrafest III, a conference dedicated to ultrasound as a tool in linguistic research. It was in Tucson this year, hosted by the U of AZ, whose gang did a terrific job organizing the event. There is no website for the conference, but we are all to be looking out for a wiki to be established at some point, and hosted by one of the participating labs. If you want to look up any of these labs in the meantime, QMUC has a list of links for them. As does UBC.

The conference was similar to last year’s at UBC in that it was divided into segments focusing on research, methodological issues, and analytical issues. Judging by the progress in methods of participating labs, and the swelling membership, it appears that good things are going to be coming from the ultrasound linguists. Continue reading

X Counter{bl/f}eeds Y

During all the recent discussion about counterfeeding and counterbleeding relationships, Eric and I had an email exchange over the role of illustrations in elucidating the usage of each. The short story is, I had hoped that I’d found a way to corroborate the definition of X counterfeeds Y given by Koutsoudas et al., which had served as the arbiter for Colin and Eric’s bet. But at the risk of sounding vague, we ended up agreeing that I might not have.

It started with me remembering that this was not the first thread about counter[_]eeding to appear on phonoloblog; the concept also appeared last fall in a post by Eric about the use of pictures in a phonology textbook. Continue reading

what else is new

OK, I’m trying to be good about finding at least a whif of phonology to highlight in my posts. I know I haven’t always stuck to this, but you know the updated rules. This headline, by way of Yahoo!, is one I couldn’t let pass. The link may die, but here’s the headline and lead:

Health – AP

Study: Cloned Meat, Milk Nearly the Same
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Here’s another passage I’ve been forgetting to post.

Recently (15 March 2005) on Jeopardy, a contestant failed to move on in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions (whose pinnacle will be a chance for two 5-time champions to compete against Ken Jennings) because of an answer judged incorrect in Final Jeopardy. I forget the details of the clue, but it was a quotation by Vincent Van Gogh (unnamed in the clue) about one of his paintings. The answer is supposed to be “What is Starry Night?”, but the contestant pluralized night. So “What is Starry Nights?” was wrong, and the guy’s wager would have been enough to move him on to the next round, had he used a singular. Continue reading

and that makes me Bert

Indeed, truncations to unstressed elements are “not supposed to happen”. But they do, which makes me think of several things.

One is something I’d tentatively call Aggressive Footing*, as long as Philip (uh, Lip?) doesn’t mind this bit of terminology: processes that require feet may create them. Eric’s example is the footing of the truncated {chris}topher as [tofər]. Topher wasn’t a foot before truncation, but it sure is after. Continue reading

Flap, tap, and insert

Eric’s preceding post contains a “note to self” to compile a list of phonoloblog links that bear on the current tighty whitey thread unfolding at Language Log. Well, Eric and others, I have already compiled such a list, because I think phonoloblog has quite a bit of content in its archives that pertains to diphthongs and/or flaps. It’s posted as an update to an old post of mine, and to cut to the chase I added an anchor that takes you directly to the update.


By way of Sun Media, the following linguistic oddity showed up online today:

Copyright kills movie title

TORONTO — A Toronto woman who owns the trademark for the word “wannabe” says she’s the reason the title of an upcoming film starring singer Ashlee Simpson has been changed. Robin Devine said she trademarked “wannabe” in 1985 after hearing her husband say it.

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How hard can it be?

The LA Times has a story by Steve Lopez this morning about how local voters have trouble pronouncing the name of mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa. Transparently it’s a practical issue, if indeed the name is such a challenge. If you read only the headline and first few paragraphs, you’d believe voters want leaders whose names are easy to pronounce. Read a little more, and you discover what the piece ought to have mentioned a little earlier: the more pressing issue is the willingness of voters to vote outside ethnic lines. Continue reading

Scripted reality

Feedback courtesy of Grant Barret reaches me via secure channels regarding a recent post of mine about observing linguistic data in participants of reality-based TV shows. It appears I was a bit cavalier in my overview of the structure of such shows, and I may have implied (unintentionally) that I believe the course of events in any such show is free of the producers’ influence. In light of Grant’s response, I should (a) acknowledge the influence of producers and (b) comment on the degree of scriptedness in reality TV.

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Homophonous linguists and spam

At the most recent LSA I found out that there is more than one set of “homophonous linguists”: a pair of scholars in the field who share the same name. Turns out that not only are there two Stefan Frisches, there are also two Matthew Gordons. And one of the Stefans has a way of combatting spam that I thought I’d share here, since spam has had a direct effect on the structure of phonoloblog.

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Apprentice phonology

Reality TV seems to generate good linguistic data. A case in point came last December, but this was on the part of a viewer rather than a cast member. But the casts of reality shows offer gems of their own, because of the nature of the production: despite the contrived premise of (nearly) any reality show, there are prototypical features that distinguish reality-based TV from fictional TV. For example, reality TV is unscripted, and the participants are not actors (except in the celebrity-reality subgenre, where the participants are celebrities, but not “on”, or not in character). Much of the footage is also candid and never re-shot.

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pentasyllabic is pentasyllabic

But it’s not monomorphemic.

Tatamagouchi is both, though, (at least for English speakers) because it’s a place name. The cool thing about place names is that they can get pretty long, without internal morpheme boundaries to mess things up. Long names (four or more syllables) are good for telling us where secondary stress likes to go when there’s no derivational residue. So, perhaps, are active ingredients in heartburn medication.

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Did you mean: tverdovsky

Lisa’s post got me to revisit the name Tverdovsky, apparently the standard Anglicization of the Russian name Твёрдовский, if I’ve got it right. Like Dvorak and Vlasic, Tverdovsky has an initial cluster which is illicit in many non-Slavic languages, and which is often resolved with epenthesis. Further, since the Anglicized form of Tverdovsky carries penultimate stress, the epenthetic vowel is before a weak syllable, so in speech it sometimes is stressed, being realized as [ɛ]. When I first remarked upon it, I did not look for Google misspellings, but I have done so now and can report on the results. Updated 2/7/05.

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Thematic Superbowl

Sounds like a showdown to determine the World Champion of Syntax… but actually, the upcoming Superbowl provides a particularly rare collocation of team names. I’ve been playing with this post for a week now but didn’t know what to do with it, since it’s not really phonological (although that hasn’t stopped me before, nor is it technically against my reading of the rules. But while out for the morning walk I realized that a lot of the active discussion on phonoloblog starts with something one or another of us reads on Language Log. Examples include our recent flap debate, gaydar, nucular vs parapalegic, and trendy IPA usage.

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Philip is right… when it comes to developing terminology, I’ve scored some real zeroes. Underoptimization may sound icky, but I’d meant it to evoke underspecification in an OT frame, while maintaining a distinction from Lexicon Optimization. Meanwhile his post persuasively suggests that the distinction may be an unnecessary one.

Another icky word that still makes me chuckle is stipulativity, which I included in a title of a paper I presented at the LSA in Boston. Continue reading

Corporate bilingualism

Another interesting chapter unfolds in the language-policy domain of Canadian store sign regulation, by way of This time the regulator is small-town municipal rather than provincial, and in a different province (barely). The story is brief, so I have pasted the whole thing below, with some background notes for those of you unfamiliar with the history or the players.
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Spam and the suppression of dialogue

This post is partly to thank Eric publicly for giving comments a shot on phonoloblog – as a contributor I enjoyed seeing what readers had to say in response to my posts, but agree that the effects of comment spam make the comment function unworthwhile. It’s like trying to have a conversation in a loud restaurant … and not only does the ambient noise drown you out, it actively seeks to interrupt and co-opt your conversation. It’s bogus.
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Who do you wanna win?

An interesting piece of data came up the other day worth sharing. I’m trained to notice funny constructions, as are we all, like the time someone close to me said the sentence in (1):

(1) These bottles drink better.
(context: longnecks, as opposed to stubbies).

Usually discussions like this can’t go on phonoloblog, because they’re not phonological, like the funny coreference I heard from a broadcaster in (2):

(2) Nobody draws more comparisons to hisi father than Brett Hulli.

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Speak American, please

Last week my sister sent me a link to an online supplement for a feature CBC had done on the air. The story was about a dialect coach in Calgary who trains Canadian actors to sound American. Thought you’d mind this amusing, she said. Well, I did, for several reasons. First was the obstacle any lay discussion about accents faces, which is the inability of the standard orthography to express dialectal contrasts at the phonological level. This, despite the intrusion of IPA into pop culture (a short-lived fad?).

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Only if and except when

I’ve been scribbling about triggering environments for diphthong raising in Canadian English for the last few days, because I keep hearing examples in my own speech that illustrate a complication in the process. The canonical pattern is that the low-nucleus diphthongs acquire a raised central nucleus before voiceless consonants (in the same word). Thus (roughly) [aw] and [aj] become [ʌw] and [ʌj]; the contrast is observable in pairs like ride [rajd] vs. write [rʌjt].
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Amateur transcibers

I have been scrolling through the pronunciation guide I mentioned in a comment about broadcasters’ rendering of Russian and other polysyllabic names. I guess I was thinking it would be a good source to check on how names are anglicized, since it provides “foh-NEH-tihk” pronunciations, including STRESS and a key for deciphering the transcriptions. Let me say here that I don’t consider it a fully reliable source for data.

A closer look on my part shows that it might need its own Cliff notes, since there are a few problems with symbol consistency. Continue reading

[aj] [aj]

Here’s a follow up to the [aj] discussion – I promised my own formant plot in an earlier post.

It’s below, including a trajectory of the [aj] in five against the vowel in cot, and it appears as if the nucleus of the diphthong indeed goes through the same space as the plain back vowel.

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[aj] stand corrected

Judging by Mark Liberman’s vowel plots it looks like I was off the mark on the rarity of back nuclei in the [aj] diphthong. At least, it looks like the nucleus in Mark’s five passes through the same space as the back vowels in his caught and cot. My excuse here is that my Canadian ear hears them all as central. I’ll try to get a microphone and record similar plots for my own speech, just for fun.

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Don't start me on diphthongs…

Eric, I was going to post this as a comment, but couldn’t figure out how.

Just a quick reaction to the diphthong bit. Nice of Eric to blame the journalist instead of the linguist. Anyway, among my thoughts about diphthongs here, I might have some hairs to split.

I think we’ll agree that [aj] is usually not front. And it’s probably too understanding of us to attribute such a statement to an awareness of its underlying specification.
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So I was looking up veridical on Yahoo’s dictionary today and was surprised to see its entry included information regarding syllabication. I thought, funny that a dictionary would misspell a word. For a quick frequency test, I typed “syllabication” into Google to see how many hits there’d be: 157,000, whereas “syllabification” got a mere 11,400. Not a favourable exchange rate. Although many of those 157,000 sites could be dictionary entries.

“Veridical”, incidentally, hits 18,000 sites, while “verdical” is limited to 321.

Anyway the idea was for me to jump back into the fray with the recent posts in the overgeneration and attestation vein, and I’m happy to see Charles Reiss adding to it.

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Re: Speaking like a Maine-ah

Well, I wanted to add to Kie’s and Lisa’s discussion of the Maine accent, but my unicode-ready machine has not yet arrived and I’m using an old home PC. So, I’ll have to so without special characters.

Anyway, I enjoyed Kie’s careful transcription of the pre-orthographic-/r/ vowels (leftover vowels?) especially since (anecdotally anyway) I have not often seen this degree of description for non-rhotic American dialects. It made me think of several things to share:

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Re Publish data

Thanks, Eric, for setting this up.

This is partly a test and partly a followup to Paul de Lacy’s query about data availability.

I’ve been facing a similar issue lately and think the means of addressing it depends on the medium of the data. For transcribed data, it may be pretty simple to make it available online, but not for audio or video.
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