Author Archives: Nancy Hall

phonology teaching job, SoCal

The linguistics department at CSU Long Beach is looking for an instructor for a graduate (M.A.-level) seminar in phonology and phonetics for the  fall 2010 semester. The course meets once a week on Monday evenings, 5-8, and the instructor will also need to schedule an office hour.  A PhD is preferred, but advanced graduate students in phonology or phonetics will also be considered.

To apply, send a letter of interest, CV, and three letters of recommendation to dept chair Malcolm Finney (, and CC me ( Dr. Finney can give an estimate of salary, which is dependent on degree level and teaching experience.

The position is open  until filled.

Homophony avoidance in acronym pronunciation?

During a discussion in our department meeting about whether to rename our TESL program a TESOL program (snore…), I learned that TESL is pronounced [tɛsəl] while TESOL is pronounced [tisɑl]. I’m curious as to why the pronunciation of the first vowel changes depending on the second vowel. I can think of two possibilities:

1) To emphasize the presence of the O in TESOL, speakers want a full vowel in the second syllable, which requires putting a secondary stress on the second syllable, which requires making the second syllable a foot, which in turn requires that the first syllable be a foot by itself: (t__)(sɑl). Being a single light syllable, (tɛ) would not make such a good foot, so (ti) is chosen instead.

2) Maybe [tɛsəl] and [tɛsɑl] would sound too similar, so an additional sound difference was introduced to disambiguate.

More aggressive reduplication?

Since reading Kie Zuraw’s work on aggressive reduplication (changes where “already-similar syllables are made more similar”, with no apparent phonotactic rationale), I’ve noticed several other possible cases of this in English. As I will probably never use this list for anything else, I offer it here as data for anyone interested in this topic.

As in Zuraw’s paper, rough popularity is indicated by number of Google hits.

Non-standard form ghits Standard form ghits
Barbar the elephant 1,230 Babar the elephant 21,900
Yuri Gargarin 3,780 Yuri Gagarin 312,000
Klu Klux Klan 132,000 Ku Klux Klan 1,700,00
buproprion 95,500 bupropion 4,020,000
snuffalufagus 23,000 snuffalupagus 7,800
snuffleufagus 1,250 snuffleupagus 115,000
onaconna 850
marscarpone 45,400 mascarpone 2,290,000

(“Onaconna” is a deliberate misspelling of “on account of”.)

As evidence of how these pronunciations arise, I can attest that my daughter (3;8) spontaneously starting saying “Barbar” although I was careful to use the correct pronunciation in her first exposure to the Babar books.

Another possibly related case is the Biblical pair Priscilla and Aquilla: Kenyon & Knott 1953 note that Aquilla is often incorrectly given second syllable stress, apparently to make it rhyme with Priscilla. But since this involves making two words rhyme, perhaps it better falls under the rubric of “paradigmatically echoic words” than aggressive reduplication.


Kenyon, J.S. & T. A. Knott (1953) “A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English”. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster.

Phonology and celebritology

 Anyone interested in syllable contact and metathesis should take note of the current news reports about Britney Spears. Her manager, whose real name is apparently Sam Lutfi, is frequently called Sam Lufti by reporters.

Currently, “Sam  Lutfi” gets 76,700 Google hits, while “Sam Lufti” gets 60,000.

Assimilatory /r/ insertion

In an earlier post (7/20/2006), I asked for examples of liquid dissimilation in English, such as omitting /r/ in the(r)mometer, Feb(r)uary, su(r)prise, etc.

There also seem to be cases where an /r/ is inserted into words that already contain an /r/. Some examples I’ve heard or had reported to me include:

  1. farmiliar
  2. contractural
  3. ardurous (the OED gives this as a ‘poetic variant’)
  4. verneer (would you trust this dentist?)
  5. fruneral (African American English)
  6. borogroves (this has entered the epigraphic record, conveniently for future philologists)
  7. perservere
  8. sherbert
  9. phertographer
  10. catergorize
  11. lavartory
  12. Kervorkian
  13. intergral
  14. perjorative

There are also historical examples like cartridge from cartouche, and treasury from thesauria.
This process is interesting because it is the reverse of long-distance dissimilatory loss of /r/. The existence of such a reverse process is predicted by Ohala’s theory that dissimilation results from hypercorrection on the part of the listener. According to this theory, the long-domain acoustic cues of /r/ can cause the listener to be uncertain whether there is one source of rhoticity in the word or two. Errors are possible in either direction.

Has anyone noticed other cases of this?

Films with phonology-related names

While Googling for new examples of intrusive vowels, I keep running into a 1976 film called “New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops”. It’s apparently a 10 minute artsy kind of thing. Has anyone seen it?