Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A word peculiarly my own

A number of things have me thinking about productive language — how the words we understand peel themselves out of our brains and onto our tongues.

While on retreat I was twice the psalmist .  The music director had asked me a couple of weeks before I came if I would sing Paul Inwood's lovely, but not trivial, through-composed psalm for the day.  I had a @#$% of a time with one word in the third verse: glorious.  "Enunciate", I heard a voice teacher's clipped voice reminding me.  "Glo-ri-us."  I could. not. get the word out without needing an extra note.  Until I realized that syllabification was not my friend. It's "glor-yus."  Two syllables, accent on the first.

And then there are these very cool maps of US speech patterns. A while back I blogged about my (New York born and raised) mother's desire to wipe the Midwest out of her children's vowels.  I can still remember her trying to tune our ears to differences in the initial vowel sound in Mary, merry and marry and her explanation that most people said them differently.  The maps show that my mother's lack of a pre-rhotic merger is actually limited to a very small geographical area (see question number 15), which suggests this was my mother's view from the city.

Paul Campbell, SJ at People for Others is wondering about language production as well, in particular the words we can't quite roll off our tongues no matter how hard we try. Mine is peculiarly.  (The OED shows the "r" sound elided between the schwa and the /l/ (you say /pɪˈkju:lɪəli/ not /pɪˈkju:lɪərli/).  Phonics was in when I was learning to read - I have a very hard time ignoring that /r/!)

Finally, I'm trying to systematically learn koine Greek this summer (as opposed to the random approach I used several years back).  The first chapter insists that you learn to write (no problem for a scientist) the alphabet and pronounce the sounds.  It's the latter task I'm finding peculiarly difficult...

If you have the time, try the questions on language and see how you match up with the US map.  The questions are fascinating and go well beyond the sounds, to the choice of terms and even some behaviors. So what do you call the a sweetened carbonated beverage?

No comments:

Post a Comment