Archive for the ‘Phonology’ Category

More Dingburger bar bat

March 12, 2014

In today’s Zippy, we return to the Poindexter bar bat; see “The Poindexter bar bat, or barbat”, here, with extended discussion, including material from the Zippy archives and an analysis of bar bat. From that posting:

Poindexter bar bats: Poindexter is just one of those names that entertain Bill Griffith because of the sound; but what about bar bat? Like many things in Zippy, this is surely meant to be absurd but suggestive.


Now we have the extended plaid Poindexter bar bat, which Muffler Bunyan enjoys because of its sound. A little festival of bilabial plosives ( /p p b b/ ), and tetrameter, the dominant English folk meter.


Yet another pun

February 15, 2014

Today seems to be pun day. Passed on by Barbara Need on Facebook, this Bizarro from 2009:


Groan: phero- vs. pharaoh. These are homonyms for some speakers, near-homonyms for others (who have have [æ] in pharaoh and a higher vowel, [ɛ] or [e], in phero-).

Rising pitch

January 26, 2014

In the Stanford freshman seminar on language in the comics, the topic of rising intonation at the end of intonational units came, with the predictable impression from some (by no means all) of the students that it was associated with asking questions. And then I was pointed to a piece by artist Taylor Mali, “Speak with conviction”, complaining about “invisible quesion marks”. There’s a deep but understandable confusion here.


Briefly noted: emphatic prenasalization

October 27, 2013

A commercial for Fiat of Burlingame that goes past me with some frequency ends with the name of the firm blared out emphatically — with strongly prenasalized [mb] in Burlingame.

Prenasalized stops do occur sporadically for some American English speakers, most notably in monosyllabic renditions of ‘bye (goodbye), with [mb], and ‘kay (OK), with [ŋk].

Two cartoons

October 21, 2013

Monday morning comics: A Bizarro with word play, A Pearls Before Swine with a slogan reworked:


Another kind of hypallage (see here), with a VP adverbial (here, a little) converted to a modifier of a N: play guitar a little > play a little guitar. This particular hypallage has become conventionalized: play some / a lot of / occasional / etc. guitar.


KEEP CALM — CARRY ON is an excellent slogan phonologically: good prosody, near rhyme (note calmon). PANIC — AND THROW A FUCKING FIT isn’t quite as compact as the model, but it has its own virtues (includling the alliteration in FUCKING FIT, plus panic - fit).


Yes we can

October 7, 2013

This image came to me via Ann Burlingham on Facebook (I don’t know the ultimate source):

[Added 10/8/13. Arthur Prokosch posted the source on Facebook: Preserving TraditionsPreserving our harvest, our heritage, our community, and our future.]


A pun on can ‘be able’ vs. can ‘preserve (food) in a can’ (or, in this case, a Mason jar).


Like, uptalk, and Miami

September 10, 2013

I’ll start with a three-strip series from One Big Happy:




The two features at issue here — the discourse particle like and “uptalk” (a high rising intonation at the end of declaratives) — have been much discussed in the linguistic literature. The popular, but inaccurate, perception is that both are characteristic of young people, especially teenagers, especially girls, and both features are the object of much popular complaint.


Tasty names 2

August 30, 2013

Follow-up to the Häagen-Dazs gelato campaign here, with its tasty names: a story in Stanford Magazine of July/August about research by my colleague Dan Jurafsky: “Why Ice Cream Sounds Fat and Crackers Sound Skinny: Words carry weight. A linguist explains”. The brief version:

… front vowels are used in words for small, thin, light things, and back vowels in words for big, fat, heavy things

… Since ice cream is a product whose whole purpose is to be rich, creamy and heavy, it is not surprising that people seem to prefer ice creams that are named with back vowels.

… In a study for an upcoming book based on my freshman seminar The Language of Food, I checked to see whether commercial ice creams (like Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s) make use of this association by using more back vowels in their names, and conversely whether thin, light foods like crackers would have more front vowels. I found more back vowels in ice cream names — Rocky Road, Jamoca Almond Fudge, Chocolate, Caramel, Cookie Dough, Coconut — and more front vowels in cracker names: Cheese Nips, Cheez-It, Wheat Thins, Pretzel thins, Ritz, Krispy, Triscuit, Chicken in a Biskit, Ritz bits.


The hangman’s tale

August 28, 2013

The Bizarro of the 25th:

An imperfect pun: hanger /hæŋǝr/ vs. anger /æŋgǝr/. Note the divergent treatment of orthographic NG in medial position: typically /ŋ/ before agentive or instrumental /ǝr/, but /ŋg/ otherwise. (There are well-known exceptions, like dinghy, with /ŋ/; and medial NG sometimes spells /nǰ/, as in dingy.)

Piratical Pope

July 15, 2013

Talk Like a Pirate Day isn’t until September 19th, but George Takei posted this entertaining piratical moment (passed on to me by Victor Steinbok) recently, and I don’t want to wait two months to post it here:

That would be Alexander Pope (“To err is human; to forgive, divine”, from An Essay on Criticism) crossed with stereotypical pirate talk (“Arr, me hearties!”).



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