Tag Archives: phonology

Countdown to Christmas Quiz: Day 3 – Tuesday 3rd December

Watch this video of a well-known cartoon character from Warner Brothers and then decide what his problem is.

Is it;

(a) Stopping
(b) Fronting
(c) Gliding
(d) Palatalizing

ANSWER: (c) Gliding!

Sounds such as the “l” and the “r” are known as liquids. They are “liquid” in that they are made with the tongue slithering and sliding around in the mouth, behaving as if it doesn’t know whether it wants to make consonants or vowels. So, in a state of permanent indecision, it takes the middle ground and stops the airflow just a little (like a consonant) but hardly makes any real contact with anything in the mouth (like a vowel).

In the popular sit-com, The Big Bang Theory, Professor Barry Kripke has a serious case of gliding, as this excerpt with him trying to use Siri on his iPhone demonstrates:

Gliding is a normal phenomenon in but becomes a potential problem if it’s still around after the age of 5 years.


When do common childhood phonological processes disappear? From Caroline Bowen’s Speech-Language-Therapy dot com website.

Common Phonological Processes: Printable single-sheet handout from SuperDuper Inc.

Talk Like a Pirate and Be More Efficient

Ahoy, mateys! In case ye not be knowing, the 19th day of September be Talk Like A Pirate day, and ye be encouraged to bedazzle yer sentences with “avast ye” and “yo ho ho.”

From the linguistic point of view – and I am, of course, a Speech Pathologist so these things matter – talking like a pirate is a really good example of how we could make English easier by one simple change; remove all the morphological variants from the verb, to be, in a single stoke – or a single slash of the cutlass – we can consign these linguistic fossils to the depths of Davy Jones’ Locker.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the conjugation table below for English versus Pirate English (PE):

Table of "to be" phrases

By replacing am/are/is with the single word be, we’ve both made the lexicon smaller and helped everyone learning the English language by removing all the complexities surrounding which form of to to use with which pronoun. [1]

For the negative forms, you have two choices – and both of them are equally simple!

1. NOT-insertion: PRON + “be” -> PRON + “not” + “be”

Example: He is drinking -> He not be drinking
You are not helping -> You not be helping

 2. AIN’T insertion: PRON + “be” -> PRON + “aint” + (“be”)

Example: He is leaving -> He ain’t be leaving

The question forms of the AIN’T insertion are also spectacularly easy:

Example: Ain’t we be needing to leave?
I ain’t be hungry now.

You’ll notice that I have marked the word be as optional in the AIN’T insertion rule because I think there are times that a pirate can get away with omitting it altogether – I may have to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies a few more times and take more notes for some “field data.” So if Captain Jack Sparrow were to say, “You ain’t stealing my ship, ye scury knave,” that’d be perfectly OK.

Pirate ship aflame

“No more Disney cruises for me!”

Another construction popular with pirates is the future. English, as we know, doesn’t actually have a future tense as such but marks future events by using the verb will, the phrase “be going to,” or conditional verbs (shall, could, would, might etc.) But in Pirate English, it’s standard to use the contacted form of will, as in “You’ll be wanting to come aboard, will ye?” or “Ah, he’ll be swabbing the deck now.”

Note that the general form is as follows:

PRON + ‘ll + “be” + VERB+ing

The negative simply requires the insertion of not before the be; “You’ll not be coming aboard” or “We’ll not be dropping anchor here, me hearties.”

These basic syntactic forms – and there be others [2] – can be augmented by learning a simple phonological rules:

Final /ŋ/ -> /n/: Velar fronting

OK, so this can happen in other forms of English but it appears to be particularly marked in PE. The sentence “He’ll be drowning” would be pronounced;

/ˌhil bɪ ˈdɹɑʊnɪn/

Or “They’ll be swimming with the sharks” would be /ˌðeɪl bɪ ˈswɪmɪn wɪ ðə ˈʃaɹks/, which is typically written in pirate literature as “They’ll be swimmin’ wi’ the sharks.” Notice how “with” also undergoes a final consonant deletion to /wɪ/.

But enough of the theory; how about some mindless practice 😉 For all of us with a Facebook account, here’s how to change your Facebook page to use Pirate English:

1. Click on the drop-down arrow at the top right of your page next to Home and find “Account Settings.”
Facebook Account Settings

2. Click on the Edit button for the Language settings.
Facebook Language Settings

3. From the drop-down button select English (Pirate).
Facebook language English (Pirate)

4. Choose the Save Changes  button.
Facebook Save Changes

Ye now be sailin’ as a pirate!

There are some “useful” resources to help you become more linguistically proficient on Talk Like a Pirate Day, and here’s a selection.

(a) Post Like a Pirate
Lets you type in text and have it coverted to Pirate English. Not 100% accurate but a good start!

(b) Website PE Converter
Turn any website into its Pirate English equivalent. Funny stuff indeed!

(c) The Five A’s of Piratese
Th’ Pirate Guys offer a video on Piratese.

(d) A Pirate Dictionary
What it says… a list of piratey words.

(e) Teaching With Pirates
UK resources for pirate-based teaching activities.

[1] This phenomenon is the basis for “The Case for Ain’t” or “Why Using ‘Ain’t’ Ain’t So Bad.” When someone use ain’t instead of “am not,” “are not,” or “is not,” they are not being lazy but efficient! Just as using be instead of am/are/is simplifies the system, so does using ain’t. This view ain’t going to score me any points with the grammatical prescriptivists but that doesn’t stop my point from being accurate.

[2] One obvious example is that the first person singular possessive determiner, my, and the first person singular object pronoun, me, become one morphological form, /mɪ/. That’s apparent in sentences such as, “Avast ye, me hearties” or “Pass me me grog.” In the case of “you” becoming “ye” (/ji/) that’s just a phonetic change of the /u/ sound to an /i/.

Indiana Jones and the Search for the Pot of Ink

I am a firm believer in always maintaining a low-tech backup system for those times when such basic necessities as electricity and WiFi are not available. It may be hard to believe but there are places in the world where iPhones, Droids, and laptops won’t work! I know, crazy, yes?

Which is why I carry two pieces of technology that operate in such extreme conditions. One is called a notepad and made of pieces of paper bound together inside two hard covers. The second is critical for the success of the notepad and it’s called a pen. This is a small, hand-held tube containing ink, a colored liquid that you can use to mark the paper.

Moleskine Notebook

Moleskine Notebook

I’m mentioning these in detail because it is possible that some people in the not-to-distant future may not have any direct experience with these items. They may also be unfamiliar with the process of scratching marks on paper, which we call writing. Unbelievable? Maybe not.

From Fall 2011, the State of Indiana will no longer require students to learn cursive script as part of the school curriculum. It will become “optional” – which is as good as saying “ignored.” Hawaii has jumped on the bandwagon by adopting a similar stance, along with Illinois, Ohio, and apparently a good number of others. Doubtless kids will be required to take a stab at hitting keys on a keyboard or iPad, provided it doesn’t eat into their “Angry Birds” time; and of course, it will be essential to learn to spell in order to send text messages and tweets. Well, sort of spell. But the actual skill of using a pen on paper could be on the way out. Once credit card technology can handle fingerprints, we won’t even have to sign receipts.

All of this has been steadily creeping up on us as can be evidenced by the fact that trying to get ink for refilling a fountain pen is becoming a tougher task than tracking down a crystal skull – or the scrolls in the Ark of the Covenent. Hell, it would be easier to find the scrolls than to write them if you needed to use a bottle of ink!

Fountain pen

Cross Torero Pen

My low-tech backup system currently consists of a Moleskine reporter’s notepad and a Cross Torero Diamondback fountain pen. In truth, I’ve been a Moleskine notebook scribbler for a few years now and the pen can vary, but essentially, armed with these two pieces of equipment, I can keep track of ideas, save contact details, draw maps for people, and use the International Phonetic Alphabet to knock out a phonological analysis. My first draft was “..to knock up a phonological analysis” but I am aware that “knock up” in the US means something different from the UK meaning of “knock up” that I am referring to!

Phonological analysis

At this point in evolution, it is still possible to refill these pens using ink-filled plastic cartridges but as we become more eco-conscious, using a refillable cartridge makes more sense. And after all, this is precisely how you could do it less than 30 years ago. Now I’m not talking going back to the quill and dipping into an inkwell, just being able to suck ink from a bottle into a pen. Hardly rocket science.

But how easy is it to find bottles of ink? Amazingly enough, these are now “specialist items.” In fact, if you type the work “ink replacement” or “ink cartridge” into a search engine, you find printer inks. Go to Staples and you’ll even find fountain pens as “fine writing instruments” and not “pens.” Trying to get hold of a fountain pen is like taking a trip to Diagon Alley and finding Ollivanders (“The pen chooses the writer, Speech Dude. It’s not always clear why.”)

Notebook AAC

AAC device

In the absence of Hogwortian powers, I’m afraid that the quest for ink meant having to go to a variety of stores, which included Staples (one bottle of black ink), Wal-Mart (no ink), a local craft store (lots of calligraphy equipment but no bottled ink), and a book store (no ink, no books – it was the local Borders and tragically its last day. Now there’s a sign of the times.)

It’s somewhat ironic that in order to maintain this quaint, old-fashioned art of writing on paper with a fountain pen I ended up having to use the internet, the very thing that is hastening us toward a new phase of literacy, or even illiteracy. After all, if I can talk to a computer and have it speak back, why do I even need to write anything?

Perhaps Robert Graves was more prophetic than he knew when he wrote the words of the final lines of his classic story, I, Claudius; “Write no more now,  Tiberius Claudius, God of the Britons, write no more.”