Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally


Posted by Neal on April 10, 2006

Doug has invented a new modifier for numerical quantifiers. It’s a lot like about, as in I have about a hundred Pokémon. Doug’s word is akleast. If he’s telling you about some videogame and says, “You need akleast 50 coins to get to this room,” it means you need 50 coins or more in order to get to the room in question. Or in other words, at least 50 coins.

Why does Doug have a /k/ where everyone I know has a /t/? Here’s my hypothesized sequence of events:

  1. Doug hears the phrase at least and parses it as one word.
  2. He furthermore divides the syllables into a- and tleast, by analogy with the similarly used about and more generally with words that start with an unstressed a-, such as among, afraid, alone. (This process is known as recutting, and in fact, alone itself is an example: It was originally a collocation of the words all and one, but after undergoing recutting gave rise to the adjective lone.)
  3. Since the cluster /tl/ at the onset of a syllable is ungrammatical in English (except for borrowings such as Tlingit), Doug replaces the voiceless dental stop /t/ with the voiceless velar stop /k/. Why not with the voiceless labial stop /p/? That I don’t know.

I wondered if something similar might happen with at most. If Doug broke it down as a-tmost, how would he fix the /tm/ at the beginning of the syllable? Or would the presence of an /m/ discourage the recutting in the first place, since /m/ appears in a lot fewer clusters than /l/ does? (Only in /sm/, in fact.) To find out, I asked Doug if there were any situations in his videogames where you could do something only so many times. So far, though, I haven’t managed to elicit an at most.


12 Responses to “Akleast”

  1. Philip Whitman said

    Is it possibly just a matter of mishearing? I mishear a lot of things. For example, there is an old song that has the line, “Bring your love to me, don’t send it, I’m so lonesome all the time.” But it was 20 years or more later when I realized that they weren’t saying, “Bring your love to meet on sandy [as on the beach] … ” Another example is the well-known Credence Clearwater (I think) line in “Bad Moon Arisin’ ” that I thought was “and there’s a bathroom on the right,” when they were actually saying. “and there’s a bad moon on the rise.” Not to mention a song from long ago that had a line that I heard as “Baby, take your clothes off,” but that I was since told was, “Baby take a load off.” No doubt, some of those misunderstandings had to do with the relatively poor quality of vinyl records, but I recognize that my hearing was also a major factor. Note also that it may be a dialect (if that’s word I’m looking for) thing; e.g., a lot of people say, “Let me ax you a question.”

  2. Rachel Klippenstein said

    “Since the cluster /tl/ at the onset of a syllable is ungrammatical in English (except for borrowings such as Tlingit), Doug replaces the voiceless dental stop /t/ with the voiceless velar stop /k/. Why not with the voiceless labial stop /p/? That I don’t know.”

    In case it’s of interest, I know I’ve misheard initial tl in a word from another language as /kl/, even despite seeing it orthographically represented as “tl”. I have a subjective impression, without a linguistic justification for it, that /tl/ and /kl/ sound more alike than /tl/ and /pl/.

    I wonder if it could also have something to do with the fact that /pl/ would require visible labial closure, which is obviously not present in “atleast”.

  3. Neal said

    Dad: I think there may be some mishearing going on, but I the story I told above is what I think is going on. Th emishearing comes in where he hears /tl/, but convinces himself he heard something else, since /tl/ isn’t allowed at the beginning of a syllable. As for dialectal variation, there may be such a pronunciation of at least out there, but the only one I’ve heard it from is Doug… and I know he didn’t get it from me!
    Rachel: I think /t/ and /k/ sound more like each other than either sounds like /p/, but I don’t have the phonetic chops to back up this claim, so I didn’t try to. Your idea about the visibility of the lip movement for /p/ is plausible, too.

  4. blahedo said

    Between /t/ and /k/ (and past them on either end, actually), there is a whole continuum of articulations that differ in little or nothing other than tongue position; /p/ uses the tongue instead of the lips and is therefore a “bigger jump”, as it were. Note that in Polynesian languages that lack /t/ (such as Hawaiian), it is /k/, not /p/, that carries the load for loan words involving /t/ (and /s/ and a bunch of other lingual consonants).

  5. Glen said

    Didn’t you say that Doug also tends to swallow his L’s, like you and I did as kids? If so, that could be part of the explanation. It’s very easy to transition from /k/ to the swallowed L, but not nearly so easy to transition from /p/ or /t/ to the swallowed L.

  6. Glen said

    Oh, and it’s even easier to transition from a glottal stop to a swallowed L. Are you sure it’s a /k/ and not a glottal stop you’re hearing?

  7. Neal said

    Glen: Doug doesn’t uvularize his /l/s, at least not usually. Also, I can definitely hear the /k/ sound in there. Finally, if he were doing a glottal stop, that’d sound perfectly normal, since it’s what a lot of people do with their /t/ before an /l/.

  8. […] As Doug and I walked the neighborhood this evening in our respective cockroach and chicken costumes, Doug hefted his trick-or-treat bag and mused: “This candy can last until April, and then I always get some candy for Easter, and I’m always invited to akleast a couple of birthday parties in a year where they give candy in a goody bag, so I always have candy!” […]

  9. Dan said

    I googled “akleast” because I personally know 3 people who say it instead of “at least”. It makes me smile inside every time I hear it

    • Neal said

      Thanks for reminding me of this post. I was prompted to google this word again, and this time I also searched for “acleast,” and found a few more hits, including a page in one grammar of Latin, which compared the Classical “vetulus” to the later “veclus” to the same kind of alteration seen in “acleast”.

  10. dw said

    This reminds me of the common “eksetera” for “etcetera”.

  11. R.R. said

    I know Dan & know the same 3 people that say “akleast” instead of the more common “at least”. We have become accustomed to hearing it and do not want to mess with a good thing. We will continue to support their interpretation of the ever so handy phrase “at least”. Or as they say, “akleast”. It is usually a bright spot in my day when I hear it and I just can’t help but smile when I realize that I am one of the lucky ones. I actually know 3 people that say it! That’s got to be like winning the lottery or something. Akleast I think so.

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