Author Archives: Lisa Davidson

Small paper, big names

The New York Observer, a small paper in New York City, has an article today on the “City Girl Squawk“. The particular dialect features they’re discussing don’t come across very well in the article, but at least they played clips when getting quotes from the prominent linguists they interviewed: Bert Vaux, John Singler, Bill Labov, and Walt Wolfram.

At NYU, we sometimes get requests from the media to talk about different aspects of linguistics (e.g. why some names, like “Bennifer” or “Brangelina”, make good blends.) Since these requests have come from New York Newsday or even from Fox News, I think sometimes we’re wary about being portrayed negatively or in a “gee whiz, look at that stuff they study!” kind of way. But this article does a good job of using experts to shed light on a pop culture phenomenon that intersects with the academic world.

When you're on an airplane…

Yesterday I threatened my introductory phonetics class by telling them that by taking my class, they were consigning themselves to a torturous life. All of a sudden, anything anyone says will become fodder for observation and analysis! I told them that they’d find themselves sitting on airplanes, thinking about things like what I’m about to write.

Say the word “continental”. Quick! Write it down in IPA before moving on!

{blank space here to distract you}

Now say the word “sentimental”, and write that one down in IPA too.
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Underlying representations on google

As many of you know, I spend a lot of time thinking about consonant clusters. More specifically, I’m interested in what the production of non-native clusters may tell us about the phonological processing and representation of such sequences.

In general, it seems at least plausible to me that for borrowings with phonotactically illegal onsets, literate people who produce CC sequences as CVC may nevertheless represent these words with an underlying CC. At least in English, a lot of the relevant words are proper names or brand names that people may learn by reading. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence from the loanword literature that the output of “first generation” speakers who repair offending sequences serves as the input to the “second generation”, who then reanalyze the underlying form.

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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?”

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More on the IPA

A student in my department is working on the use of a particular variant of /t/, usually called fricativized /t/, in the speech of Irish English speaking immigrants in New York. Phonetically, this /t/ is characterized by a coronal closure followed by a particularly noisy sibilant-like release. She asked me what would be the best symbol to transcribe this phoneme with. The only researcher to previously discuss this sound and give it a symbol is Raymond Hickey, who has used a [t] with a carat underneath (i.e. the voicing symbol, only upside down). I asked her why she didn’t just use [ts], and she said that she really didn’t want people mistaking this variant with an affricate.

So my question is, what has the symbol [ts] been used for in the past, and would it be an appropriate transcription for the fricativized Irish English /t/ described above?

Teaching articulatory phonetics

Last year when I taught Sound and Language (Intro to Phonetics) for undergraduates, I decided not to put very much emphasis on the “articulatory phonetics” part–in other words, I didn’t really spend much time having them pronounce “strange” sounds like clicks or uvular trills or ejectives. I know that production is integral to many phoneticians’ classes, but I have never really understood how to grade students on oral production quizzes or exams. It seems to me that being able to produce [||] is not as important as learning that it’s an alveolar lateral click and being able to explain the vocal tract configuration necessary to produce this sound. If they’re unable to accurately produce the click, do they get a failing grade?

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Re: More vowel fragments

My favorite topic, vowel insertion in second language speech. Thanks for pointing this tidbit out Eric!

The first thing I’d like to say is that I’m very surprised that the Iraqi woman epenthesized instead of prothesizing. As far as I know, Broselow (1987) and others (Heidi Fleischhacker? I don’t have her paper here) have shown that while Egyptian Arabic speakers often epenthesize into English loanwords with initial /s/-clusters, Iraqi speakers usually prothesize. Examples (from Broselow, and see these authors for more on the epenthesis vs. prothesis distinction):

[isnoo] ‘snow’
[istadi] ‘study’

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