March 30, 2006

Comedy central, linguistics field station

Two different language notes on tonight's offerings from Comedy Central.

First, from the Colbert Report. Tonight's Wørd was "Merrier". The concluding bullet point—often a repeat of the Wørd—was "Marry 'er". With a setup like that, how could I not blog about this famous minimal pair? In a lot of dialects, including my own, "marry" and "merry" are completely homophonous, making this a good pun. But a significant percentage of American English speakers pronounce them differently (and some with yet a third pronunciation for "Mary", also homophonous in my dialect). So naturally, I had to bounce the TiVo back and forth to see what Colbert did with it. The verdict? Though I've heard even-more-distinct pronunciations, he definitely pronounced the two differently. I wonder whether he came up with the pun, or someone else? No dispositive evidence either way, of course, since puns work just fine even if the homophony isn't perfect.

Second observation: In tonight's South Park, Trey and Matt have to voice some characters as being hopelessly smug. The number one feature? Uptalk.

(Minor third observation: The park ranger comes up with a lovely construction at one point: "Well, you should have ... , shouldn't-you-'ve?" Sure, why not?)

"An interesting thing...if you remove Garfield's thought balloons, it goes from an unfunny comic to a rather sad, poignant story about a lonely man who has wasted his life talking to his cat." --Lakin Malich

Posted by blahedo at 12:03am on 30 Mar 2006
Uptalk seems designed to make listeners pay attention by sounding like the speaker is asking for input from the listener now or soon. I have been noticing it more and more when someone is giving a report that they want others to pay attention to in a conference call. Parts of the report that the presenters are trying to slide by are generally delivered in a casual tone and rhythm that doesn't prick up the ears like uptalk. This casual tone is similar to the cross talk tone used to negotiate later meetings or ask and deliver clarification that is really clarification and not a staged interruption to get attention. The lilt on questions in those side conversations is minor compared to the uptalk reports and sometimes entirely absent. The uptalk report style seems to be replacing a more measured and drier tone used for reports previously although some speakers still use that tone. Others, especially when reciting a report that is customary, fall into a sing song pattern; the report along with the call to make the report and the acknowledgement that the report has been receive has become to them a litany. Listening to large conference calls like this is a lot more interesting than my more normal listening pattern. Posted by lee at 8:33am on 31 Mar 2006
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