Log in

No account? Create an account

cultural literacy

Before this morning's class, two students in the front row had a bizarre disagreement over pronunciation: is the first syllable of "waterfall" more similar to the "o" in "otter", or to the "a" in "father" (although they didn't put it that way)? After listening to a minute or two of this, I brought in the whole class and got into a discussion of language: different pronunciations, different word choices, and what they tell people about you. Is your soft drink a "soda", a "pop", a "coke", or something else? I asked how many students had ever seen the movie "My Fair Lady": zero (although one student had read the play "Pygmalion"). I asked how many had ever heard the song "On the Street Where You Live": nobody. So I sang the first few lines, and one student (not the same one) recognized it. Wow.

Then I went around the room and asked each student to describe, in a minute or so, what topic (s)he was working on for the research paper, and why the rest of us should be interested. Somewhere in the course of this, I mentioned this talk (which none of them had attended), and said something about how Dr. Bauerlein's hand-copying exercises might sound sadistic and Luddite -- wait, does anybody in the room know the word "Luddite"? No, not one. Anybody familiar with the "Ballad of John Henry"? One. So I summarized John Henry's story, and how he won by a nose, but then "lay down his hammer and he died," and suggested that technology putting people out of work isn't just a 19th-century phenomenon. Which led us back to the ostensible topic of the course, which is computer technology and its effects on people's lives. Not only costing them jobs, but changing the way they learn and remember things, hence the hand-copying exercise.



is the first syllable of "waterfall" more similar to the "o" in "otter", or to the "a" in "father"...

Those are pronounced differently?

Are these kids (or you, for that matter) pronouncing the O in "otter" like the O in [Noo Yawker] "cooawffee"?

This is making my poor brain hurt....
I wondered the same thing. I pronounce the otter "o" and father "a" the same way: like the "a" in "awe".

Re: Ummmm...

Hmm... I realize that your IU connection always makes me think you grew up near there, but I begin to think that's incorrect. I *did* grow up in the Broadcast Standard Midwest, but when I step through those three words, I can feel the vowels shift in my mouth. Subtle, but I could probably map them in full IPA.

This is the kind of thing that makes being a TA for historical linguistics kind of a dubious party. ;)

Re: Ummmm...

I realize that your IU connection always makes me think you grew up near there, but I begin to think that's incorrect.

It is. I didn't grow up near IU, I grew up near Notre Dame--big difference, linguistically speaking :->

Yes, we both grew up with Broadcast Standard (although my home is, I believe, part of the area undergoing the Northern Cities Vowel Shift). That said, I agree that the three words "feel different" in my mouth, but I don't know how much of that to attribute to vowel placement and how much to the fact that the vowel is colored by the consonant (or lack thereof) preceding it--and the difference is less strong, in my ears, than the difference between "otter" and "daughter."

I don't think that this is an example of the Cot/Caught Merger, in any case....

Re: Ummmm...

True - pure vowels only exist in books and the hopeful minds of choral conductors. ;-)
You're so dreamy sometimes.
I might have actually learned something about computers when I was in school if any of the lectures were this interesting.

And Speaking of "Water"....

Long ago, when I was seeing Le Bâtarde Anglais (a pharmacologist who usually ended up teaching biochemistry), he told me that he started every semester by writing <H₂O> on the board, and saying [approx.] "This is the chemical symbol for dihydrogen monoxide. I am physically incapable of saying "WAAH-durr," so if you hear me say 'WO-tah,' this is what I'm referring to...."

Edited at 2012-03-09 07:11 pm (UTC)

"Anyone know the word 'Luddite'?" **sporfle**

On the other hand, no one asked, "What's a hammer?", did they?

I find collective cultural references an endlessly fascinating subject, as it ties in to historical humor. Someone elsewhere wrote, "Comedy ages badly", and part of the reason is comedy's reliance on shared knowledge. Culture is a huge part of that. Yet somehow, "There are really no new stories (or jokes)."
Some jokes last pretty well, but maybe they are the exception to the general rule.

I've been told this one by someone who should know:

How many ox's tails will reach to the moon?

One, if it's long enough!

.... is medieval. I think it's pretty funny.
I like that one--it sounds like the snappy comebacks in "Tales and Quick Answers" 8)

Re: "Anyone know the word 'Luddite'?" **sporfle**

We had a section of jokes in Latin class - Catullus I think - and while they aren't exactly roll on the floor material, they are probably as funny now as they ever were.
When I was in college, a debate raged outside my room one day between some local (Ohio) girls and a guy from Flushing about the pronunciation of Horrible. "No one says it like *that!" I finally came out and told them that I say it the way he does... which was then the talk of the dorm for days, as I'm not certain there is any other word in the language that he and I pronounce the same. ;-) New Yorkers, Unite! (Oh, yeah - he was of the Noo Yawk persuasion - I'm from Noo York. I sometimes even do say New York.)

And, looking at this again - I do say father and otter the same way... and horrible... They said (Whore)rible. I say Hahribble and fahther.
But I say (Whore)rible and fahther--I know, I know--Tomato, Tomahto :-D
BTW, how do you pronounce the popular, tawny-skinned citrus-juice fruit?

I *definitely* have a NYC accent - it just isn't the one many people expect... For one thing, it is Manhattan.

I was looking at the Vowel Shift link you gave. I used to joke, in Cleveland, that the test was my name... (Anne, for those who don't know me.) There were more pronunciations of that initial A... I'd know which guy I had on the phone the second he said my name. The only one who said it the way I do came from Long Island... (Not Lawn Guyland. The girl who did said my name... not that far from the Cleveland A.)