Thursday, 31 December 2009

more silly names

There seemed to be quite a bit of interest in my Christmas list (blog, 23 Dec). Among the comments an anonymous contributor identifiable from internal evidence as Jack Windsor Lewis supplied a link to his own list of potential mishearings.
Of the King family, Ma and Pa are really no trouble
(Marking is what teachers do to pupils' work and parking is the driver's stationing of a vehicle)
but their children may all turn up including
Baby Lee (leaking) Comedian Joe (joking)
Gardener Ray (raking) Counterfeiter Fay (faking)
Creative May (making) Scandinavian cousin Vi (viking)
Note that these are in a list headed Failure to … make pre-fortis reductions. The point is that Ma King — even when King loses its accent because of this particular King standing in contrast to all the other Kings, thus ˈmɑː kɪŋ — remains phonetically distinct from marking (non-rhotic) ˈmɑːkɪŋ because her first syllable is not subject to pre-fortis clipping (= reduced duration before a voiceless consonant), which is blocked by the syllable/word boundary between Ma and King. The ɑː in marking ˈmɑːkɪŋ, on the other hand, is subject to pre-fortis clipping. The effect is more noticeable in close vowels, as in Lee King vs. leaking.
In the first example in Jack’s “miscellaneous” list, at anchor vs. a tanker, the crucial phonetic difference is absence vs. presence of aspiration. When the ship’s at anchor, the t is syllable-final, and is accordingly weakly pronounced and susceptible to such possible processes as t voicing (AmE) and glottalling (Cockney). But when the ship’s a tanker the t is syllable-initial, and therefore strongly pronounced with aspiration.
Jack’s lists may be interesting to study because in almost all cases there is some phonetic difference involved, which it may be fun for EFL students to work out.
In the fifties and sixties structuralist phonemics was extremely interested in such “juncture pairs”, as they were known.
Anyhow, those of you who do not live in Britain may not be aware that the satirical fortnightly Private Eye has for some months now been running readers’ letters signed with improbably appropriate names. The current batch includes these.
Sir,
Pseudo Names will not be over until the fat lady has sung her last carol.
CY LENT-KNIGHT HOLLY KNIGHT
ALISSA KALM
ALICE BRYTE.
Sir,
Will there be a special Christmas edition of Pseudo Names? We certainly hope so.
DEE HOLLY
ANDY
IVY.
Sir,
I trust that Private Eye will be celebrating the Yuletide season with a traditional, holly-draped cover story?
MARY KRIST (Ms)
Sir,
Have you any plans for a compendium of Pseudo Names?
CHRIS MASPRESENT.
Sir,
Please don’t leave the Pseudo Names without a home this Christmas.
A WAY
IAN A. MANGER
NOAH CRIBB-FAWE
A BED.

3 comments:

  1. Obviously I made the same identification as you, but I must say you give a more helpful link!

    In one or other of your books you refer to the marking of marking etc by a more marked clipping in old RP, featuring a NNS Pa King rather than Ma King, as in 'parking meter' with the same metre for meter, and compensatory lengthening of the second syllables. Is it conceivable that the diminishing marking of Ma and Pa means the NNSs are winning this battle?

    (Ghastly puns this time instead of ghastly names.)

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  2. I'm trying to see what the difference in AmE (where there is no phonemic length) between Ma King and mocking might be. I think loss of aspiration in the latter is the dominant effect, but there may be a tendency to lengthen vowels in open syllables under contrastive stress. In Can you see me? I can hear you, but I can't see you, the second token of see seems to me to contain a half-long rather than a short vowel.

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  3. Well in Northeastern New England, the vowel in "ma" would be fronted (like in New Zealand and Australia) and the vowel in "mocking" would be a low back rounded vowel (in the traditional accent at least). In the New York City area, the vowel in "ma" might be back and rounded and the vowel in "mocking" might be further front and shorter. But for the (probably vast) majority of Americans, I'm not sure.

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