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:
- Doug hears the phrase at least and parses it as one word.
- 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.)
- 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.