22 November 2007

the peroles of "whore"

i was watching the pregame coverage of the Packers - Lions football game today and noticed the continuation of a somewhat disturbing trend: strange pronunciations in the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner. now you should know that i'm certainly no prescriptivist, so this has to be offending some other sensibility of mine. my one peeve is certainly more legitimate than the other.

prior to today's game, the singer (whose name i unfortunately missed) pronounced the word perilous rather strangely, with a definite [o] as the nucleus of the middle syllable. i know that singing coaches often fiddle with vowel quantities, but i wonder what motivated the distinction to change [ɨ] or [ə] to [o]. it certainly wasn't by analogy to the stem which perilous is formed from, namely peril, in which the corresponding syllable is pronounced with [ɪ], which is perfectly acceptable in most voice coaching systems, to the extent that i'm familiar with them. based on some standard assumptions about back-formation and english orthography, you would guess that the stem is perole. but as i said, this is a bit more of a peeve than anything else—it doesn't really detract from the song.

what does detract from a national anthem, designed to honor our country, is the gratuitous aspiration of vowel-initial words when singing. sometimes it's even more pronounced than some sort of aspiration, and is an actual addition of [h] to the beginning of the word. this is dangerous within the context of the phrasing of our national anthem. i have heard several performers turn "o'er the land of the free..." into what very distinctly sounds like "whore the land of the free..." this sounds like an imperative verb with the interpretation "sell out the land of the free for sexual favors." now i think the whole ho ho ho debacle with the Australian Santa Clauses is absurd, but clearly pronouncing the word whore in the middle of the national anthem—even unintentionally—is really a bad idea, regardless of who it's offending. so please, respect our country, and watch your pronunciation, at least when you're singing on national TV.

07 November 2007

quick takes; hiatus

this is a very very short post, as i'm very busy. i won't be around to make any new posts until at least monday night, and probably not until tuesday. so here we go!

immature moments in phonology
in my phonology class yesterday, we were looking at a data set. i had to stifle a few giggles as i looked over one of the examples. this is probably funny even if you don't know IPA: fʌkkʌrʌ. i'm glad it was only referred to as "example 3" and not read aloud.

resumptive pronoun sighting
i noticed this yesterday while reading an article about file-sharing lawsuits:

It then demands the institution to turn over the identities of the individuals to whom the IP addresses were assigned to.
these constructions made the headlines over at language log a while back. no time to add anything new to that, but it stuck out to me!

gotta run now. have a good weekend!

04 November 2007

as winter approaches...

it can be dangerous when you gather together a bunch of linguists, give them alcohol, and sit them down around a bonfire. or it can be a lot of fun, but you might get some strange conversations. one such conversation that happened last night was an argument about the possible lexical categories of the word blizzard. i have, as far as i can remember, always used it as both a noun and a verb. other people, some of whom are from regions where blizzards are common enough occurrences, maintained that they couldn't ever use it as a verb.

we'd already had a conversation earlier in the night about how Google is a great quick-and-dirty corpus tool, so i combined the two discussions to find the following results:

wordlex. cat.# hits

the noun form obviously is dominant, but the verbal forms are also attested pretty well. although Google's sorting of results is a definite bias, in the first few pages there are more uses of blizzard to refer to things that are not snowstorms (including the video game company, the Dairy Queen ice cream concoction, and a minor league sports team or two), but i'm fairly confident that in less popular results the prevalent meaning refers to the weather.

next i turned to the OED to see whether it has an entry for blizzard as a verb. they only give a past participle, which i thought was a bit strange. i can equally well say both:

it blizzarded twice in Cleveland last year
it's blizzarding outside now

like other weather verbs in English, i cannot use a simple present form of the verb, but only the frequentative

it blizzards/snows every winter here
*it blizzards/snows outside now

the only thing that puzzled me more than the OED's inclusion of only the past participle is their lone example of it, which has nothing to do with weather phenomena:
1892 GUNTER Miss Dividends I. vi. 67 Then he suddenly ejaculates ‘Well I'm blizzarded!’
therefore i have to return to my own intuitions to figure out anything more about the verbhood of blizzard. as far as i can tell, i use it in the exact same distribution that i use storm, as both noun and verb. this makes sense, since blizzard is semantically a subset of storm. there is, however, one blizzard-like phenomenon (note i don't say blizzardly, despite the fact that the OED attests it, but only with examples from the 19th century) which is strictly a noun in my mental lexicon: white-out. it falls in the same category as fog, not storm. the difference to me is that a storm or blizzard is a process, whereas a white-out or fog is a state. therefore it fogged, is fogging, is whiting-out, is white-outing, whited-out, or white-outed are all awful to me. i don't know if anyone wants to disagree with me on any of those points.

i think that's all i have to say about blizzarding for now, other than the fact that i hope it doesn't snow for at least a few more weeks.