A Lesson in Linguistics

A Lesson in Linguistics

Have you ever thought about how the strangest of mistakes while pronouncing words could actually lead to developing a name for them (the mistakes in pronunciation)? Well, some Linguists throughout history have actually come up with some interesting ways to call some of those errors, bright idea right?

Error is the engine of language change. And throughout history, this method has helped to visualise and come up with various jargons in Linguistics that would explain some of them.

  1. Rebracketing

When an utterance is broken down into its constituent parts.

Rebracketing often focuses on highly probable word boundaries: “a noodle” might become “an oodle”, since “an oodle” sounds just as grammatically correct as “a noodle”, and likewise “an eagle” might become “a neagle”, but “the bowl” would not become “th ebowl” and “a kite” would not become “ak ite”.

Rebracketing has also had a role in forming new words;

An example, the word hamburger’s origins were in a form of ground meat dish originating from Hamburg, Germany (where it is still called Tartar steak). A possible bracketing for the original may be [[ham+burg]+er], but after its introduction into the United States, it was soon factorised as [ham+burger] (helped by ham being a form of meat). This led to the independent suffix -burger: chickenburger, fishburger, etc. In the original etymology, burg was town and burger was a resident, or something related to the town; after refactorisation it becomes a chunk of meat for a sandwich, although a hamburger does not contain ham.

  1. Metathesis

You know when kids say words like “spaghetti” as “pasketti” and we think it’s quite cute and adorable? Okay, of course it is. But, there is actually a word for that; the transposition of sounds or syllables in a word or of words in a sentence and this is known as Metathesis. Pretty cool right?

It is a very common, perfectly natural process.

So the next time you hear someone say “aks” instead of “ask”, fret not, it happens.

  1. Syncope

In phonology (a branch of Linguistics dealing in the organisation and usage of sounds in language), Syncope refers to the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word.

As a poetic device, you can see English words like “heaven” written as “heav’n” or “over” as “o’er”. Another example is with informal speech, for example, “I’d’ve” for “I would have”. Better yet, “Christmas”, who uses the “t” in it?

Quite interesting, isn’t it?

  1. Epenthesis

Nasal sounds like “m” or “n” when moved to a non-nasal one can make a consonant pop in between. Words like “thunder” and “empty” previously existed as “thuner” and “emty”.

You can see the same process happening now with words like hamster, which often gets pronounced with an intruding “p”.

  1. Velarisation

In Phonetics, which is the study and classification of human speech sounds, Velarisation is defined as the secondary articulation of consonants by which the back of the tongue is raised toward the velum during the articulation of the consonant.

Not quite clear? No worries.

Here is an example to help, sometimes while pronouncing the dark “l”, this tongue raising can go so far that the “l” ends up sounding like a “w”. Think of the “l” in folk, walk and talk. Almost everyone uses a “w” instead- we sometimes say fowk, wowk, and tawk.

  1. Affrication

You know when guys place a delicate “y” sound before a vowel, in Linguistic jargon, that can be explained.  For example, changing the word tune to sound like tyune. Well, the word tune is pronounced as “choon”, this is indeed the correct way to say it. But, the addition of that y sound that changes a consonantal speech sound to an affricate is what is known as affrication.

It would be interesting to say, in as much as we work to perfect our articulation of words, something beautiful could actually come from making a mistake in speech. And that mistake or notice in error could actually lead to a whole new classification of those kinds of errors, and have a theory formed? Whoa!

Quite an oxymoron, isn’t it?