Sunday, August 12, 2007

Spoonerism → Freudian / Dialectal Merger __

I'll post about interface again at some point, although I'm feeling a little self conscious writing about something I'm so naive about. Today is a day for funny videos.

The video itself is an oldie but a goodie. Blake Bergstrom, a southern youth pastor tries to talk about how Lot "pitched his tents," but he says...

"pinch his tits." The poor guy!

Of course, this wouldn't have been an issue at all if he weren't a southern dialect speaker with a full blown pin~pen merger. Before /m/ and /n/, ɪ and ɛ have merged, to something close to ɪ, but a bit more tense. You can hear it elsewhere in his speech. Right at the beginning he says [ðɪn], and later on he says [frɪndz].

There are two reasons why the pastor would have been in less trouble if he didn't have the pin~pen merger. First, the shifted segments wouldn't have been as naughty. It's unclear whether just the /n/ was shifted, or whether it was the full vowel-/n/ sequence that shifted. Either way, neither [pɪnʧ.ɨz.tɛts] nor [pɛnʧ.ɨz.tɪts] are particularly risque.

The second reason, I have less well thought out, but it seems to me that [pɪʧ.ɨz.tɛnts] is less likely to experience a spoonerism than [pɪʧ.ɨz.tɪnts]. Myself as a non pin~pen merged speaker find "pitch his tints" to be a bit of a tongue twister. It would be interesting if this particular malapropism were some kind of evidence of the pastor's personal phonological representation of "tents" as /tɪnts/.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Chomsky and Cats

I've stumbled across a wonderful interview with Noam Chomsky from 1977 on YouTube, which I've bundled together into a playlist, which can be found here, or watched embedded below.

Tangentially related to things discussed in the interview, my mother said to me last night that "cats have the average intelligence of a toddler." It occurred to me that I hear many similar such things regarding animals and intelligence, and I'm not exactly sure who it is that says these things, and what they mean when they say them.

Certainly there isn't an intelligence scale from 0 to Human, with every creature ranked somewhere along the way. I don't know enough about general cognition to say for certain, but I believe that understanding "intelligence" as a monolithic trait is very misleading. If Chomsky is to be believed, then intelligence is very modular, and built for different purposes.

A cat's cognition, then, is terribly impoverished for a human, even a toddler, but particularly effective for a cat. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Strangely enough, though, I'd still want to say that humans are more intelligent than animals, and thinking so is more of a scientific fact than a cultural bias.

I think I'll try sticking more closely to linguistics in the future.

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