Archive for the ‘Prosody’ Category

Which witch?

July 9, 2015

Today’s Bizarro:

Two phonological issues here: the initial consonants in witch and which, which are identical for the bulk of current English speakers (as a voiced approximant [w]), but are distinguished (as voiced [w] vs. the corresponding voiceless [ʍ]) for some; and the prosody associated with the questions

(a) Witch one stole your broom?  VS.  (b) Which one stole your broom?


Ruthie’s classic

October 29, 2014

Yesterday’s One Big Happy, with Ruthie treating the word classic (which she had surely heard before but clearly had not figured out what it meant) as a phrase:

Prosodically, classic and class sick are quite different: the first has an accented syllable followed by an unaccented one, the second has two accented syllables, with the first heavier than the second. Segmentally, they are very similar; although in a careful pronunciation, there are two occurrences of /s/ in class sick, one from each word (but only one occurrence in classic), in ordinary connected speech the first /s/ is suppressed, so that the two expressions are segmentally identical.

On the portmanteau beat

October 7, 2014

Today’s Zippy:

A complex portmanteau in the last panel: marshmallegro has all of marshmallow and all of allegro in it (thus combining the otherwise disparate marshmallow-toasting and musical-tempo themes), but the shared material — /ælo/ — is discontinuous, first /æl/ in the middle of the portmanteau, then /o/ at the end. (The portmanteau is also prosodically pleasing: a double trochee, S W / S W, which could easily be set to music.) (more…)

Female archetypes in the movies

October 2, 2014

The first, summary, paragraph of the abstract for a Qualifying Paper in the Stanford Ph.D. program — by Sunwoo Jeong — on “Iconicity in Suprasegmental Variables:
The Case of Archetypal Hollywood Characters of the 1940s-50s”:

Films are potent vehicles that not only reflect common linguistic practices, but also create new social meanings for linguistic variables and actively shape dominant language ideologies of the era. This was especially the case for films made during the Golden Age of Hollywood in which several distinctive film genres, featuring highly stylized female characters, emerged as important cultural phenomena: femme fatales in film noir, independent brunettes in screwball comedies, and dumb blondes in musical comedies. This paper argues that systematic variation in suprasegmental linguistic cues like pitch, prosody, and voice quality was employed by the actresses to index the three prominent archetypes mentioned above, and more importantly, that the realizations of these variables were not arbitrary in that they created an iconic tie with the archetype that they indexed. Combined with other cinematic devices that fortified this iconic relation, the underlying ideologies behind these linguistic variables were more easily naturalized, resulting in wider dissemination.

(I’m way behind in posting on Neat Stuff by Stanford Students, but this one came in this morning and I thought I’d seize it before it fell into the To Do pit.)


Medicinal meter

May 3, 2014

For some years, I’ve been taking a diuretic with a long name that lots of people, including some medical personnel, have trouble pronouncing, though I don’t. What works for me is that the name is in trochaic tetrameter (with a final short foot):

hydrochlorothiazide: HY dro CHLo ro THI a ZIDE

Trochaic tetrameter is the meter of most English folk verse (folk songs, nursery rhymes, etc.), many advertising slogans, sayings, and more. People didn’t frame these with the trochaic tetrameter pattern in mind; they chose expressions according to what “sounded good” to them — that is, according to an implicit or unconscious aesthetic.


Porn prosody

August 29, 2013

Another installment of material on the (gay) porn register, following up on this posting, where I looked at some lexical features, saying about

man pussy, boy pussy, man cunt, boy cunt, man hole, [and] boy hole. These are terms strongly associated with gay porn (fiction, scripts of videos, and descriptions of videos) but not much used by gay men in everyday life; they are part of a specialized porn register, akin to the specialized registers in some other domains

Today there’s some more lexical stuff, but mostly it’s about the prosody of some writing about porn; like some other advertising copy, there’s some tendency for it to fall into metrically regular patterns.

The text is the copy on the front cover of the Dream World (1994) DVD:


In quotation marks

July 18, 2013

Today’s Dilbert, with Dogbert weaseling words to the boss:

The strip has Dogbert speaking in quotation marks, indicating a prosody that sets off the word storage, suggesting that the word is not to be taken literally: it’s in what we’ll call storage, but nothing is actually stored there (a message that is close to ironic or sarcastic).

Sticky expressions

March 31, 2013

Yesterday, a Zippy with the “found mantra” Vampire Manga Dog condo — an expression that lends itself to obsessive repetition. Such sticky expressions are a recurrent theme in Zippy, and they’re related to another sort of sticky expression, the “verbal earworm”, an expression that you can’t get out of your head. In my experience, verbal earworms often originate in found mantras.


Ilse Lehiste Memorial Symposium

August 16, 2011

From the Linguistics Department site at the Ohio State University, an announcement of the Ilse Lehiste Memorial Symposium: The Melody and Rhythms of Language, November 11-12. Invited speakers: Jaan Ross, Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre; Janet Fletcher, University of Melbourne; and Linda Shockey, University of Reading.

Opening remarks by Keith Johnson, UC Berkeley; closing remarks by me. Submitted abstracts are invited; see the website.


Watch where you put that accent

June 24, 2010

Reporter Lisa Morehouse, “North Coast Native Tribes Unsure on Marine Life Protection Act”, on KQED’s California Report on June 22:

They argue that tríbal knòwledge shouldn’t be discarded in favor of Wéstern scìence.

(Tribal members are concerned that setting up protected areas “will limit food gathering and ceremonial and spiritual uses of the coast”.)

The default accent pattern for Adj+N combinations is afterstress (though there are many special cases), that is, accent on the N (trìbal knówledge, Wèstern scíence). But discourse functions, like emphasis or contrast, can override this default. So the forestress in tríbal knòwledge and Wéstern scìence above sets up implicit contrasts, between outsider’s knowledge and tribal knowledge, between Western science and  (something like) “the science of tribal tradition”.

The way the sentence was read then treats tribal lore as a kind of science, entirely parallel to “Western science” — as an “alternative way of knowing”.

We’ve been here before; see my postings “Experience and evidence” (of 12/17/09) and “More on experience and evidence” (of 1/19/10). The focus there was on “alternative belief systems” (alternative to science) based on “personal experience, impressions, anecdotes, and speculations”.

Alternative belief systems can also build on “theoretical” reasoning (without the support of experiment or the assessment of systematically collected data) about causes and effects. Think the doctrine of signatures or the doctrine of humors in the maintenance of health and the treatment of disease.

Alternative belief systems can also be based on the accumulated wisdom of a culture, passed down as cultural custom and lore.

(You don’t have to deny that alternative belief systems can incorporate potentially useful elements to resist treating them as “another kind of truth”.)

Such lore can range from the relatively trivial to the fundamental. On the relatively trivial side I give you the widespread practice, in the U.S. at least, of eating stewed prunes or prune juice, on the grounds that they are naturally laxative and so can serve as a gentle way to avoid or treat constipation. The practice involves prunes (dried plums) specifically, for reasons I’ve never understood, since other dried fruits (for instance, dried apricots and dried figs, which I happen to prefer to prunes) have similar virtues. But prunes get all the press. Constipated? Have some stewed prunes or prune juice, that will do the trick.

Systems of everyday advice — on (among other things) nutrition and diet, health and medicine, exercise and fitness, child rearing, sexual practices, and of course linguistic usages — incorporate elements of all three sorts of alternative belief systems. I’ll post in a while on diet advice and advice on exercise and athletic performance from this point of view.


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