Saturday, July 23, 2011

Daily Story 255 - Science is Awesome

(Main source for this one: An Introduction to Language, 9th Edition by Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams. Similar information on phonetics can be found here or by doing a google search on either linguistics or phonetics.)

It is no question that the human capacity for language is astounding and complex. Much is still not understood about how we have been able to form such a sophisticated method of communication, and yet we still find ourselves in trivial debates over simple concepts, such as whether a word is spoken with one syllable or two. Why is this, you might ask? It is simply because some of us have nothing better to do. Take, for instance, the following argument. Now, it may be necessary to provide the reader with some scientific background so that they might better understand the point I am about to make. Thus, let us go into the field of linguistics for a quick look at the basics of phonetics.

Phonetics is the study of speech sounds, and each sound a person makes is formed by a specific place and manner of articulation - that is, each sound is formed based on both the position of the tongue, lips, and teeth within the mouth and the ways in which the flow of air from the lungs is altered or obstructed as it exits the body. To sum up these different places and manners, allow me to refer you to these lovely little charts, which contain the sounds found the English language (American English, to be specific).



Bilabial: lips together
Labiodental: upper teeth against bottom lip
Interdental: tongue between teeth or at lower back of upper teeth
Alveolar: involves tongue and alveolar ridge, which is the ridge just behind the upper front teeth
Palatal: front of the tongue against the palate (flat part at the top of your mouth)
Velar: back of the tongue to the soft palate/velum (behind the palate)
Glottal: down in the throat somewhere
Voiced/voiceless: indicates whether the vocal cords are used to produce the sound. When one is whispering, all sounds become voiceless.
Stop: airflow is completely blocked for a brief period of time before being let out
Nasal: air can exit through the nose
Fricative: airflow is obstructed in a way that causes friction
Affricate: sort of a mix between a stop and a fricative
Glide: slight obstruction of the airstream that is always directly followed by a vowel sound
Liquid: small obstruction that isn't enough to cause any real constriction or friction

Now, many words in the English language feature two or more consonant sounds right next to each other. These combinations tend to use sounds that are similar to each other, something that is known to linguists as assimilation. For instance, if a vowel appears before a nasal sound such as "n," the vowel itself will become nasalized. Also, if an "s" is added to the end of a word, whether it is voiced or voiceless is dependent on the voicing of the sound before it. "Cats" ends in a voiceless "s" sound, whereas "tubs" ends with a voiced "z" sound. Place of articulation also comes into play with assimilation, which is why we say "impossible" and "intolerant" but not "inpossible" or "imtolerant." There is also a tendency to omit sounds from a word. This can be a case of syncope - the deletion of a sound, most often an unstressed vowel, from a word ("camera" pronounced as "camra"), or it can be a case of haplology - the deletion of one of two identical or similar syllables that occur next to each other ("probably" pronounced as "probly").

So, with all this in mind, let us move on to the main point of my argument. First, we shall take a look at a few specific sounds: f, v, b, and p. All four of these are pronounced using the front of the mouth - b and p are bilabial, and f and v are labiodental. Both also feature a strong obstruction of the airway. Thus, it can be said that these four sounds are very similar. Not only that, but all four sounds can be combined with an "l" sound directly following - even "v," for while there are no examples of words beginning in "vl" in the English language, there are approximately two hundred words in Flemish, the language of Flanders in Belgium and as close a relative to Dutch as American English is to British English, that feature the "vl" beginning, including their own words for Flemish and Flanders (Vlaams and Vlaanderen, respectively). This comes as no surprise when you consider that "v" is only different from "f" in that "v" is voiced when "f" is not.

Finally, let us look at two separate words that are contrived from the relatively new term "blog." First, we have "vlog," a term that was popularized by Shaycarl. Second, we have "yolog," a term coined by AngryAussie. Now, if we look at these two words as being contrived from the term "blog," then it appears that "vlog" has more in common phonetically with "blog" than "yolog," as a voiced labiodental fricative is much closer on the chart to a voiced bilabial stop than a voiced palatal glide/vowel combination. When looked at separately, one might argue that a palatal glide is closer to a liquid consonant than a bilabial stop or a labiodental fricative, but let us not forget that a palatal glide must be followed by a vowel, which requires an additional syllable in order to be spoken. This does not occur with a bilabial stop or labiodental fricative, as both of these can be said directly before another consonant regardless of whether they are voiced or not. Therefore, from a strictly phonological viewpoint, the term "vlog" is, in fact, a one-syllable word and easier to say than "yolog."

Sorry, Andrew. I still think yolog's a cool term, but science has spoken. Vloggin's just easier.

P.S. despite disagreeing with him on this small matter, I am of the opinion that AngryAussie >>>>>>>>>> Shaycarl.

No comments:

Post a Comment