Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Stephen King: Horror Master, /l/ Uvularizer, Overnegator

Posted by Neal on January 27, 2006

In a recent posting on the Linguist List (hat tip to phonoloblog‘s Eric Bakovic) Karen Chung tells about hearing Stephen King in an interview pronouncing some of his /l/s as uvular nasal consonants, just like I did when I was a kid:

I had trouble with my /l/, too; well into elementary school I pronounced it as [N] (i.e., a uvular nasal consonant–what you get if you start to say the ng sound and then slide the body of your tongue as far back along your soft palate as you can without cutting off the airflow or gagging).

But nevermind Mr. King’s phonetics, how about his semantics? In the January 27 issue of Entertainment Weekly, I read an excerpt from his latest novel, Cell, and found this gem:

Clay could remember the words from the days when he’d had no reason not to believe his marriage wouldn’t last forever.

OK, let’s see…

reason to believe his marriage wouldn’t last forever

Oh, that’s bad. He thinks his marriage might not last forever.

reason not to believe his marriage wouldn’t last forever

Ah, that’s good! He thinks it will last forever!

no reason not to believe his marriage wouldn’t last forever

Oh, that’s bad. He thinks his marriage won’t last forever. But wait a minute–that was then, which the text implies is different from now, but we already learned a couple of pages ago that he currently doesn’t think his marriage will last forever. Stephen King must have committed an overnegation.

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2 Responses to “Stephen King: Horror Master, /l/ Uvularizer, Overnegator”

  1. I couldn’t fail to disagree with you less.

  2. [...] Until recently, I was the only one I knew who’d had that particular pronunciation error, but then Karen Chung reported hearing it in Stephen King’s speech. More recently still, I became aware that Tom Brokaw is often lampooned for his /l/ pronunciation. I listened to Brokaw’s interview of New York Public Radio’s Leonard Lopate here, and it sounds like he might be using a uvular nasal for an /l/, too. And most recently of all, Adam has stopped pronouncing his /l/s as [w] or [n] as he was doing a year and a half ago (see here), to follow in my footsteps by switching to [N]. [...]

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