Wednesday, February 20, 2008

some pronunciation links

I'm still trying to get a project done during my limited computer time. I can type with a sleeping baby on my chest, but not with a wakeful baby...and sometimes (ok, nearly constantly) one needs to use sleeping-baby time for laundry and sterili{s/z}ing and (joy of joys!) sleeping. So, the blog has been suffering. I miss (northern AmE) you guys.

So, as a placeholder until my next bit of blogging time, here are a couple of links that were pointed out to me this week.

First, an academic link. Linguists at the University of Edinburgh have put together a website called Sound Comparisons that allows you to hear the sounds of a variety of English accents from around the native-English-speaking world. You can either click on a region/dialect and get the full set of sounds for that dialect, or you can click on a word and see/listen to all of the different pronunciations of that word. I'm sure this site will come in handy for future discussions here.

Second, a fairly silly link: the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre has a Doctor Who-themed video that plays a bit on the spelling/pronunciation confusions that are possible in non-rhotic dialects --as we've discussed before. For you to discuss: do the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets have Scottish accents?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

bangers and bashers

Some actual work (of the publish-or-perish variety) has been encroaching on my maternity leave, which has left me little time for blogging...but here's a quickie.

Channel 4 has been advertising a documentary program(me) called 'Baby Bible Bashers'. Now, to American ears, this sounds like it could be about miniature Richard Dawkinses or Madalyn Murray O'Hairs, since we're used to hearing the word basher in such contexts as gay basher--i.e. someone who hates and beats up gay people. In BrE, however, Bible basher is the equivalent of AmE Bible banger--i.e. a fundamentalist an evangelical Christian (giving the image of a person who thumps their Bible while preaching). The program(me) seems to be about American child preachers. No surprise there, really, but it strikes me as ironic that the name of the documentary paints them as the opposite of what they are in their own dialect.

According to the OED (1989), both Bible basher and Bible banger are originally Australian/New Zealand terms, and the UK equivalent would be Bible pounder, Bible puncher or Bible thumper (the last of these would work in AmE too). I'd expect that this information will be updated significantly in the new edition (though it'll take them a while to get to B, as they started with M), to reflect the spread of the terms (a)round the globe. In the meantime, all of the OED's examples of Bible banger are antipodean.

Banger has other meanings in BrE...click here to find all discussions of banger on this blog... (Scroll down past this post after hitting the link.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

scoff and scarf

I found myself doing something that I take others to task for: assuming that a usage that differs from my own is 'wrong'. Well, at least I had the good sense to look it up before blogging about it. You see, I was reading along (belatedly as ever) in the 22/29 December 2007 issue of New Scientist, in an article titled 'Death by chocolate' by Claire Ainsworth, and I came across this sentence:
If you're reading this after scoffing your fifteenth chocolate Santa, don't panic: we humans have been safely enjoying the beans of the cacao plant, Theobroma cacao, for millennia.
I wonder how many other readers would find the use of the verb scoff strange here. I only know scoff as meaning 'to deride, mock', and so I assumed that what had happened here was that a BrE-speaking author or (BrE) subeditor/(AmE) copy editor had misspelt the verb to scarf because in their dialect, the /r/ wouldn't be pronounced--and so if they'd not seen the word written down before, they might reason that it's really scoff--a familiar verb that is also onomatopoetic for the action of whipping food into one's mouth. (Some linguists call such errors--where an unfamiliar word is replaced with something that seems to 'make more sense'--eggcorns.)

Except that my reasoning is completely backward. It's fairly frequent that, when faced with two versions of a word, people believe that the version that they came across first is the older version. But, of course, the world doesn't work that way. The OED records scoff as meaning 'devour' from 1846, and lists it as 'slang and dialectal'. Another version of the word, scaff is dated back to 1797, and a slang dictionary records the variant scorf in 1864. On the other hand, the OED doesn't have documentation of AmE scarf until the 1960s. (Though others have found it as early as 1938.) So, instead of an 'r' being lost by speakers of a BrE non-rhotic dialect, we probably have speakers of an AmE dialect (probably one of the non-rhotic ones) inserting an 'r' in the spelling of the word.

The 'eating' meaning of scoff is not particular to BrE--it's used in AmE too, though not by me. (And, of course, the unrelated 'deride' meaning of scoff and the 'neckwear' meaning of scarf are both dialect-neutral and unrelated to the 'eating' homonyms.)

I would have known all this earlier had I not been on my honeymoon in August when the issue was raised and discussed on the American Dialect Society e-mail discussion list. Once again, my personal life interferes with my quest for know-it-all-dom.