Saturday, December 09, 2006

Teggin id izi (or Taking It Easy)

[Update: Welcome Spectrum Blog readers. Johnny A. Ramirez Jr. has kindly provided a link to this post--offering a kind estimation. I'm glad he finds this interesting. He also says I'm "not Adventist". I wonder if my comments on his website and on the Spectrum Blog have led him to that conclusion or if it's the implication of the following data that these comments about babdist-ism were directed at me. I should make it clear that these are comments that I read on another web log. Cheers.]

I saw the word "babdist" a while ago. Apparently as a phonetic spelling for "baptist". I first saw it in the question (asked on another web log) "You sure your a babdist?" Because of the colloquial grammar and the use of "your" instead of "you're" I wondered if it was a mistake. Then the same writer posted another note making a correction: "you’re a babdist". So since the writer took the time to post a correction I have to guess "babdist" is exactly what he meant to write.

I looked around and found several instances of the spelling. Some of them actually referring to the spelling. (Should "referring" or "to" be stressed in that sentence? See John Wells on accents and insists.) The spelling is used derisively by some and affectionately by others. Some people took offense or assumed an attack was intended. One writer explains

"Now, I don’t mean to poke fun by writing ‘Babdist’ instead of Baptist; that’s just the way folks talk in these here parts, and there’s no point sugar-coating it"

Then another comments on this usage saying
"Your persistent use of the misspelling "Babdists", in conjunction with the ways you otherwise talk about them, communicates to me that you despise them and think you are better than they."

I could go a lot of places with this. Why are accents so charged? Why is representation of an accent so easily considered ridicule? Is Chaucer's Reeve really mocking the students from Soler Hall? Can we learn anything about a culture from its pronunciation? I'll say no to the last one while granting that technically we can learn about its phonology, about the influence of foreign languages, about its historical cleaving from other dialects--basically we can learn about its pronunciation.

But with socio-linguistics aside I'm curious about the pronunciation implied by this spelling of "babdist".

AmE commonly flaps the [t] between vowels or between a vowel and an approximant [l] [r]. The rule can be refined to exclude an environment like after [l] (as in "alter") or before a stressed syllable (as in "retain").

The flapping rule doesn't apply when another consonant is adjacent to the [t]. A similar rule either deletes or completely assimilates the [t] regressively to an adjacent alveolar nasal [n]. So we get forms like [ɛnɹ] for "enter" [ænɪbaɾi] for "antibody" or [pæniz] for "panties". We might not get [dejni] for "dainty" as often as [dejnti] because of a strong semantic force of the word--we take care with its pronunciation because it helps to communicate the care and precision of a 'dainty' type.

And after a voiceless stop the [t] is never flapped--at least in my dialect. And I haven't noticed it in any other AmE dialect. (I'm not implying that it can't therefore exist. I am after all a beginner.) And since [p] doesn't get voiced intervocalically--"happy" doesn't become [hæbi], "topple" doesn't become [tabl] etc--why does is the word baptist becoming "babdist"? Is there a progressive voice assimilation rule flapping the [t] before the [ɪ] then another one voicing the [p] before the [ɾ] that used to be [t]? Either these rules do exist in a dialect, or some other rule merging the segments allowing [pt] to undergo the common flapped-t rule, or this spelling is a misrepresentation of the smoothed lilt of an accent. If the accent sounds "soft" and easigoin' maybe all consonants are represented by voiced lenition and all vowels are centered--a common AmE version of vowel reduction.


  1. Tangentially, a fellow student in my Biblical Lit class wrote Andy Oches instead of Antiochus. The aforementioned Chris Blake brought it to my attention.

  2. That reminds me of the old joke about G-d's name being "Andy" (or is that -ndy?) because of the line "Andy walks with me. Andy talks with me. Andy tells me I am his son."

    What strikes me (that's such a "Terry Gross" phrase) is the complete deletion of a [t] after [n] while [d] is retained. You would think that this type of lenition/deletion would either affect both or the voiced segment first. Or that if it does affect the [t] it would just voice through assimilation turning into a [d] which does remain.

    But there's this strange leapfrog effect.

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