Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Adam’ Category

Doug and Adam Say Peyton

Posted by Neal on February 15, 2010

A couple of posts back, I wrote about my pronunciation of Peyton and similar words. My ordinary pronunciation, you may recall, was [pʰejʔtn] or [pʰejʔn], illustrated in the spectrogram below:

My ordinary pronunciation of Peyton

(Sound file: My normal pronunciation of Peyton)

My wife says it the same way. Here’s a spectrogram of her saying Peyton; note the 75nmilliseconds of silence, highlighted in orange, where she has a glottal stop:

My wife's pronunciation of Peyton

I discussed two other pronunciations as well, which I called the careful pronunciation and the weird pronunciation. Commenter Dw said:

Another possible pronunciation in words like “Peyton” is an alveolar stop with nasal release (in IPA, [pʰejtn]). That is the one I myself would most likely use in normal conversation. One could easily imagine it becoming [pʰejʔn] over the generations.

In other words, my only pronunciations where the final vowel dropped out and the final [n] became syllabic also had the insertion of the glottal stop [ʔ]. Dw is pointing out that you don’t have to insert a [ʔ] in order for that to happen. I responded to Dw:

Funny you should mention this other pronunciation. … Despite this physical possibility, I’d still thought that only people who inserted the glottal stop did the syllabic [n] … until I learned someone very close to me was an exception.

I promised a follow-up, and here it is. Take a look at Doug’s pronunciation of Peyton below. When I recorded him saying it, it sounded like he was pronouncing it the same way as I did. But when I created a spectrogram for it, I was in for a surprise:

Doug's pronunciation of Peyton

(Sound file: Doug’s pronunciation of Peyton)

As best I can tell, the ey and syllabic [n] parts are as labeled, leaving only the teeny little sliver of silence between them. I think this is where he says his [t]. In any case, there’s definitely no stretch of silence corresponding to a glottal stop like there is in my and my wife’s spectrograms. Once I realized this, I wanted to get a recording of Adam, too, to find out if his pronunciation was more like Doug’s, or my wife’s and mine. Here’s a spectrogram of Adam saying Peyton:

Adam's pronunciation of Peyton

(Sound file: Adam’s pronunciation of Peyton)

Adam’s spectrogram is even harder to read than Doug’s. There doesn’t quite seem to be an area of silence, so I’ve made my best guess at where his [t] is. But as with Doug’s spectrogram, one thing is clear: There’s no glottal stop in there.

So is it coincidence that the two adults in my house insert a glottal stop in Peyton and the two kids don’t? Is Doug and Adam’s pronunciation like those of their peers? What about when they pronounce pate? So many questions…

Posted in Adam, Doug, Phonetics and phonology | 18 Comments »

Nick Impersonates Charlie

Posted by Neal on January 18, 2010

Doug and Adam like visiting their Aunt Carrie and Uncle Mark, because they have a flat-coated black retriever named Charlie that Doug and Adam like to play with. They’ll usually bring him a new toy, and Charlie is always eager to get it. He comes bounding up to the car, sniffing at us as we get out. My wife will pull the new toy out of the bag it’s in, and throw it into the yard for Charlie. He’s so used to the routine that it caused a problem one time when we didn’t bring a new toy — but did bring one of Doug and Adam’s stuffed animals. Charlie was so excited and so eager to get to work on that stuffed animal that we had to hide it in a bedroom drawer.

“Aw, Charlie,” the wife and sons were saying, “That’s not a toy!”

“Ooh, goody, let me have my new toy!” Carrie was saying, speaking as Charlie. Doug, Adam, my wife, and I sometimes put words into Charlie’s mouth, too. The Charlie voice is somewhat like the voice of the Abominable Snowman in the Looney Toons cartoons, the one who picks up Daffy Duck and says, “I will hug him and squeeze him, and call him George.”

I was reminded of this when I listened to Deborah Tannen’s invited talk at the LSA conference. She’s done a study on how family members will use other family members in order to change the tone of a tense interaction. For example, I’ve sometimes asked Doug or Adam, “What would your mother say if she knew you were walking around in the cold house with no socks or slippers on?” It’s kind of a weenie’s way out to fob off the sock requirement on my wife, but hey, it makes me look a little less like the bad guy. And besides, she really would tell them to put on socks or slippers!

Other times, people will actually imitate the other person’s voice, instead of just invoking them like I did. And it turns out that a really popular target of this kind of ventriloquizing is the family pet. Tannen had several examples of people doing this, and even wrote a separate paper just on this more specific topic, called “Talking the Dog”.

One of Tannen’s main points about talking in another person’s (or animal’s) voice is that along with the voice comes a whole set of personality traits belonging to the voice’s owner, traits that a speaker can temporarily assume in order to change the power dynamic between them and who they’re speaking to.

It was the point about a voice coming along with certain personality traits that reminded me of the Charlie voice. Trouble comes when we’re back at home, and Doug has the occasion to speak as our cat Nick. When he ventriloquizes Nick, he uses the Charlie voice. My wife can’t abide this. Nick and Charlie have two such different personalities that giving them the same voice is simply unacceptable. It bugged her so much that she even had me create separate voices for Nick and our four other cats. But Doug can’t do the Nick voice, so he’ll still sometimes use the Charlie voice for Nick. “No Charlie voice!” my wife tells him.

Well, maybe he’s not giving Nick Charlie’s voice. Maybe when he imitates Nick, he’s imitating a Nick who’s imitating Charlie! I’ll have to drop this suggestion to Doug and see how it goes over with his mother.

Posted in Adam, Cats, Doug, LSA, Pragmatics, The wife | 7 Comments »

Adam Discovers Singular They

Posted by Neal on December 16, 2009

For the past six months, Doug has been keenly interested in birds and other wildlife. He’s had us take him to local (and not-so-local) nature centers, installed with our help an elaborate configuration of bird feeders in the back yard, and been reading his collection of field guides (acquired mostly in one go, for his birthday) more or less cover to cover. He and his mom will have conversations about what they saw at the birdfeeder during the day.

“I saw a hairy!” he’ll say.

“And I saw a downy and a red-bellied,” his mother will tell him.

“And I saw a couple of woodpeckers!” I’ll put in. Other birds than woodpeckers come, too. We’ve had mourning doves, juncos, starlings, purple finches, nuthatches, titmouses, cardinals, and sparrows, which I’m slowly learning to identify. But more often, if I see something interesting at the feeder, I’ll say, “Look at that!”, and Doug will say, “What is it?”, and I’ll say, “A bird!”

Meanwhile, last week we got our annual letter of concern from Adam’s school, notifying us officially that he’d missed more than ten days of class. This happens just about every year, because Adam gets sick so much. As if to celebrate the occasion, Adam announced on Sunday afternoon that he felt bad, and had a fever of 100.5 to back it up. So now he’s spent two more days home sick, and I’ve been prompting him at every turn to get through some more of the makeup work he still has stacked up from his earlier absences, especially now that I’m picturing two more days’ worth piling up on his desktop at school.

As he was completing the questions on his worksheet about the prefix dis-, he suddenly said:

Sometimes they can be singular.

“Oh?” I said, trying not to divulge anything. “Give me an example.”

Adam showed me the question: “What might cause you to distrust someone?” His answer was, “One thing is if they let you down.” Someone was singular, and the they was talking about that someone, so they was singular here.

“You’re right, Adam!” I said. This was amazing to me. It was only a few weeks ago that his teacher gave them all a worksheet on personal pronouns, summarizing facts for case (e.g. I vs. me), person (e.g. I vs. you or he/she/it), and number (e.g. I vs. we). I’d gone over the worksheet with Doug and Adam during supper one night, and I suspect Doug forgot about it as soon as he knew he wasn’t in danger of me asking another question about it during the next five minutes. But Adam had evidently kept the information, and was now realizing that it didn’t completely match what he knew about his language. He made my day!

“You’re thinking like a linguist!” I told him. Doug, meanwhile, was just as amazed that Adam could notice this kind of stuff as he was that I could.

“You know what I think of when I think about me and sentences and pronouns and stuff?” he asked me. “I think of you and birds!”

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Posted in Adam, Pronouns | 3 Comments »

Odd Ones Out Are Not Like the Others

Posted by Neal on July 8, 2009

I see an odd one out!One Sunday morning not long ago, I was making breakfast for everyone. The grits were almost ready to dish up, but before I did that, I had to heat up the water for Doug’s instant oatmeal, because he doesn’t like grits! And after I’d cut wedges of watermelon my wife and Doug and me, I got out a banana for Adam, because for some reason he didn’t want any watermelon that morning. Then I got juice for Doug and Adam and myself; I didn’t have to get any for my wife, because she was just going to keep drinking the Diet Coke she’d popped open. So finally all the different combinations of food and drink were on the table, and we sat down to eat. That’s when Adam observed:

“Doug’s the odd one out because he’s having oatmeal.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Adam, Doug, Food-related, Morphology, The wife | 12 Comments »