Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

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Phonics, Phonetics, and Variation

Posted by Neal on August 3, 2008

Wow, August. Why, it’s just about time for back to school. I finally got around to sorting through all Adam’s schoolwork from last year, throwing out the boring stuff that didn’t highlight his creativity or personality. One of the items that survived the culling was an illustration with the caption “When I am 100 years old…” He had completed the sentence with “I will be dead”, and drawn a tombstone. Another one was his personal timeline, with six milestones of his life illustrated on a big laminated piece of construction paper. Starting first grade is the last item; in the middle are a couple of family vacations and cat acquisitions; and at the beginning is “I was born”, illustrated with the story his mom tells him about the day he was born. Specifically, about how he peed on the doctor when he was lifted up. All the caption says is “I was born”; the rest is told in the full-color pencil-and-crayon picture. I can see from the fading on parts of the construction paper that this one must have been up on the wall on display for a while.

I poured a whole boxful of Adam’s less memorable schoolwork into the recycle bin yesterday, but I’m still hanging on to his spelling worksheets for a little while, because I’ve been curious about how a number of phonetic issues are handled in phonics-based instruction. One unit is called “Words with /ɘ/”, and it lists these words:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Vowels | Tagged: | 20 Comments »

Hinkery Pinkery

Posted by Neal on April 8, 2008

I’ve been reading Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, and in the chapter on phonetics he reveals an interesting pattern. Here’s what he says:

Why do we say razzle-dazzle instead of dazzle-razzle? Why super-duper, helter-skelter, harum-scarum, hocus-pocus, willy-nilly, hully-gully, roly-poly, holy moly, herky-jerky, walkie-talkie, namby-pamby, mumbo-jumbo, loosey-goosey, wing-ding, wham-bam, hobnob, razza-matazz, and rub-a-dub-dub? I thought you’d never ask. Consonants differ in “obstruency” — the degree to which they impede the flow of air, ranging from merely making it resonate, to forcing it noisily past an obstruction, to stopping it up altogether. The word beginning with the less obstruent consonant always comes before the word beginning with the more obstruent consonant. (p. 166)

All his examples, naturally, fit this pattern perfectly. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Phonetics and phonology | Tagged: | 19 Comments »