Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Talking out your adenoids

I was surprised to see a piece in the November 14 New Yorker Talk of the Town section on linguistics. I was less surprised to see that it was about William Labov. And even less surprised to see that the reporter completely mucked it up.

Here are some choice quotes.

Apart from the adenoidal “oi” sound in words like “bird” (boid), which has largely disappeared from the area, Brooklynese has remained unchanged for the past fifty years.

There is a tiny portion of eastern New Jersey, along the edge of the Hudson, where you can hear Brooklynese, but by the time you’re in Paterson you’re well into what Labov calls the Jersey “nasal system.”

I don't understand why reporters can't or won't use the accepted scientific terminology for describing speech sounds. It's not like it's incredibly difficult jargon. Now, I admit to only vaguely knowing where the adenoids are, but I'm nearly 100% certain they have nothing to do with the production of the "oi" sound in any dialect. And what the hell is "nasal" about New Jersey's dialect? It's not like New Jerseyans use nasal vowels more than the average American. Maybe they gravitate to words with the nasal consonants in them.

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