Wednesday 14 July 2010

an enemy anemone

There seems to be something particularly difficult about VCVCV strings involving nasals at different places of articulation. We can manage enemy ˈenəmi, but an enemy ən ˈenəmi can start to feel slightly like a tongue-twister. By the time we get to the flower anemone əˈneməni and give it an indefinite article, an anemone ən əˈneməni, we may have to monitor ourselves carefully.

I remember as a child being shown some wood anemones by my mother and thinking they were wooden enemies.

What started me on this line of thought was an email in which someone was discussing an employee’s “renumeration”. This should of course be remuneration. But the m-n pronunciation problem in riˌmjuːnəˈreɪʃn̩ is reinforced by an evident etymological/semantic confusion involving words such as numeral (count the salary!).

The prevalence of the spoken form (mispronunciation) with -ˈnjuːm- instead of -ˈmjuːn- leads often enough to the written form (misspelling) with -num- instead of -mun-.

Etymologically, remuneration has nothing to do with numbers. The -mun- part is the same as in munificent ‘generous’, and goes back to the Latin mūnus, mūneris, a word with several meanings, one of which is ‘gift’. Cicero used the term remūnerātio, -ōnis in the sense of ‘recompense, repayment’, and the word has been in use in English since around 1400.

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  1. Doesn't get easier if your accent has mergers as discussed yesterday. So, a bad guy's flower in a region that was left dry is "an enemy anemone in an uninundated area." Inane, I know, sorry.

  2. It's no inane feat to twist any competent phonetician's tongue.

    I had no difficulty with "an enemy anemone" even in rapid repetition, and that was not because it's one of the inanities I can gabble because of early exposure, like "Imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie", to quote another rather superior inanity within this range. I think the enemy anemone must be a JW original, inspired by the childhood misunderstanding he mentions.

    But yours, Lipman, is such a good extemporization on it that after a good few attempts it's looking as if the only way I can say it is by upgrading the schwa in inundate to ʌ, much against my principles, which I have so far managed to spare you on yesterday's blog

  3. My "reMuNeration" mnemonic is "MoNey". Nyum!

  4. I would expect that AmE is fairly resistant to this error, because -num- has a coronal before historical /ju/ and has lost its /j/, whereas -mun- does not and hasn't. (Which sentence demonstrates, though I didn't intend it to, the AmE rule that negating have as a main verb requires do-support, making I haven't any money bad AmE, though good BrE.)

    Still, on examining the OED I find renumerate 'remunerate' as long ago as 1587 (with a doubtful extension back to 1549), whereas remunerate itself first appears in 1523, so the error may not be an error any more, but simply a variant of long standing. Google shows remunerate as 10 times more common, however. (There is a distinct verb renumerate, a rare variant of re-enumerate, which may confound the Google results somewhat.)

  5. Thanks for sending me to the OED. I would have bet on a comparatively recent confusion, as JW seems to, and gone along with his statement "The prevalence of the spoken form (mispronunciation) with -ˈnjuːm- instead of -ˈmjuːn- leads often enough to the written form (misspelling) with -num- instead of -mun-."

    But it looks as though the reverse has also long been the case, especially in the light of the typographical factor, as is made even clearer by the entry for renumerative (for which only the meaning "remunerative" is given). Again with examples from centuries before the linotype, let alone the typewriter and WP, which must have accelerated the process.

  6. jwl says
    In my Phonetiblog 065 of the 4th of March 2008 I suggested that confusions of /m/ & /n/ occur because their common nasality reduces their mutual contrastiveness. I also suggested that the word criminal uttered completely fluently in mid sentence would largely pass unnoticed if articulated as /`krɪnɪml/. And indemnity as /ɪn`denməti/ likewise.
    Many Spanish users of English confuse m’s and n’s. The histories of Romance languages and our loans from them have of words like solemn & sullen and pilgrim & peregrine that reflect the problem or /`prɒdlen/ as a Spanish woman once seemed to have sed to me. Hanks and Hodges in their invaluable Dictionary of Surnames say that the name Maugham has three different Celtic origins but they all ended with /n/. I’ve he’rd various people saying the
    name as /mɔːn/ but I guess these unorthodoxies are not survivals but confusions.

  7. jwl,

    not all N&Ms behave like syllable-ending ones, though.

  8. I doubt that TV subtitlers "have to type the text instantly". I thought they used speech recognition software and could no more keep up with editing the results than I guess any of us can. I have thought this for at least ten years, seeing things like "Sherry Blare". But you would think that any such software would be able to deal with "the very large proportion of inflections of words ending with -y which don't in fact receive the orthodox conversion of it to -i- but instead show eg not policies but policys."

    I remember reading The Changing English Language originally published in 1968 by a Dr Brian Foster (1920-1977), so that may have been when I too started to notice "emnity", but I don't remember reading that bit, and I'm sure I've heard "emnity" all my life.

    And I don’t think it's surprising that Spanish speakers are among the "speakers of English as foreign language can be very vague about which nasal consonant to end a word with". I think that both that and "the fact that Biblical names such as Abraham, Adam, Bethlehem (Sp. Belén), Jerusalem etc end in n in their Spanish spellings" are determined by Spanish phonology. And phonetically they often seem to use pretty much as indeterminate a nasal for that n as the Portuguese do for their corresponding spelling convention with -m (if you can sort it out from the diphthongization).

  9. My impression is that native speakers of Spanish have quite clear sounds for those, ie m before [b] (including spelt -nv-), [ŋ] before [g] and [k], [n] before the other consonants and at the end, and no nasalation of the vowel before.

  10. I meant final n in pan-Spanish and nasalization in Portuguese.

  11. Surely emnɪtɪ is a product of simple assimilation. The alveolar t feels better if the nearer of the two preceding nasals is also alveolar.

    The existence of the word indemnity must also be a help.

    I don't believe I've ever heard krɪnɪməl. If I'm right, it could be because krmɪnəl with repeated alveolar articulation is more natural.

    The assimilation principle would argue against Somerset mɔ:n, though. I used to think that was his name. I suspect that the song Mountains of Mourne was largely responsible. (Guess who isn't rhotic.)

  12. David, isn't it articulatorically easier to say -mn- than -nm-, even before your brain reaches the -t?

    Maugham is an individual thing, I think, actually involving dissimilation. Maybe statistics, too, with more names of that pattern ending in -n?

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  14. Lipmann

    It's easier still to say -mm-, as many of us do in inmate or the ubiquitous Dunmore Hotel.

    I feel no urge to say emmɪtɪ, though.

    On reflection, perhaps I should. It might counter the urge to say emnɪtɪ.

  15. @mollymooly:
    Well, the first thing I thought after reading this post was wondering whether munus and money could be cognates...

  16. Yes I felt sure they must be, although I also felt sure I had had that idea knocked on the head before. So I went back to the OED, which had probably done the knocking the last time round, and had it knocked on the head again. But such etym as there is there for the name Moneta is dub and feeble –"associated (from ancient times) by popular etymology with monēre to warn, remind" – I suppose the idea may have been "a reminder of value".

    With the root of munus probably common to munis and communis, and gifts, rewards and obligations being typically pecuniary, it seems strange that nothing can be pinned down etymologically.

  17. I seem to remember that "Moneta" was a title of the goddess in whose temple the Roman mint was. Wikipedia seems to agree with me:

  18. Yes, I didn't make it clear that the OED was merely reporting popular speculation about the etymology of the goddess's name when she and the mint both inhabited the temple.

    Many years ago I got to know a woman called Moneta after that goddess, but I guess the names pretty rare now.

  19. In secondary school there was a teacher (I never took a class from her, but the fact was notorious) who had an unconscious habit of saying "junivile" for "juvenile".


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