Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Might double negatives not be such a no-no anymore?

The double negative is one of those forms that many prescriptivists believe can be decried on 'logical' grounds. J.E. Metcalfe says in The right way to improve your English, "'different to' is wrong simply because it is illogical." And the argument against a double negative denying a positive uses the same appeal to logic and mathematics to say that one negative cancels out the other. So "I didn't see nothin'" 'logically' means that I did see something. This argument has been made long enough to have elicited a counter. Language isn't math. Other languages use the double negative. English previously used the double negative. People still understand the intention of the phrase, etc.

Here some prescriptivists like to bring aesthetics into their corner. In his attempt to chart the territory between descriptivism and prescriptivism, Alex Rose writes

It’s the difference between playing a scale and playing a sonata; between eating for nourishment and eating for pleasure. One way gets the job done, the other gets it done well.

Why do so many prescriptivists think descriptivists are unaware of eloquence. Is my writing plain. Is it very plain. And is it boring. Is it really boring?

So some will claim that a phrase like I don't have nothin' more to say just isn't eloquent. Or at least it doesn't communicate culture and education as well as I don't have anything more to say. Better yet would be I have nothing more to say.

I'll get to the point. Some double negative forms are marked and easily noticed even though they occur in casual standard English. These are forms that we would not expect to find in writing. Certainly not in formal writing. But some double negative forms are making their way into standard speech and even writing unnoticed. Just this morning I heard an articulate speaker on the radio say "I wouldn't be surprised if we don't find [this] out later," meaning, as I gathered from his tone and the context of his claim, that he expects that yes, we will eventually come to the realization. This is sometimes called "overnegation." It has been discussed on Language Log several times.

In one post Mark Liberman asks, "Could (some) overnegations in English be a formal residue of a stubborn hankering for negative concord?" I like the question. It's a nice retreat from his initial conclusion (oxymoron?) that this form is "not a dialect form or an idiom, it's just a mistake."

Of course the argument for a mistake based on confusion is nicely supported by the common use of multiple negation to deliberately clutter and entangle a claim or question. Now I can't remember the exact wording, but I remember the end of one episode of Cheers when Diane vowed to say "no" to any question Sam asked, and he quickly asked her if there was any way she would not object to not going to bed with him.

Where are those online scripts when you need them?

[Update: The Language Guy has just written a post about Nonapologies Apologies. Commenting on Richard Nixon's resignation apology TLG writes "Notice that 'any injuries that may have been done' does not concede that any injuries were done. If none were not done, why would he need to resign?" (emphasis mine)

I may be trusting my ear too much here but it doesn't sound like a deliberate affectation to me. I include this example not to show that knowledgeable linguists make mistakes too. Better illustrated, I believe, is the increasing acceptability, or decreasing markedness, of double negatives in standard and even written English.

further Update:

Who needs a script? I was just watching my daily dose of reruns and the episode of Cheers came on. As Diane plays coy promising to answer either 'yes' or 'no' in whatever way will reject Sam's advances he teasingly asks "Is there any way that you would not object to not going to bed with me?"

Apparently my memory's still okay.]

Sunday, February 25, 2007

More on/about/with/for prepositions

To extend the discussion of prepositions I'll make an observation from a C-SPAN panel on Covering the Bush Presidency moderated by Tony Snow. Towards the end of the conversation, April Ryan (American Urban Radio) in an exchange of comments regarding President Bush's demeanor and personality explains that the president likes to give people a hard time and she recalls one conference when she asked him not to "pick with" her. I'm pretty sure she repeated it. (How's that for scientifically collected data?)

This ties in quite snuggly with the thoughts I posted several days ago regarding prepositions. One important distinction I failed to make back then was between produced prepositional phrases and frozen phrases. This is an important distinction to make when working with the syntax and morphology of a language.

In Chaucer's English we find nouns and adjectives with a final 'e' in frozen or "petrified" forms. Moore and Marckwardt in Historical Outlines of English Sounds and Inflections identify this alternation in the phrases "out of towne" and "of the toun." Another "petrified dative" is found in the phrase "with-alle" (in which the adjective "all" is used as a noun.

When the words in some phrases lock arms and insist on working as a unit we find they resist trends that have affected other forms. Because the phrase "of towne" was very common, the dative inflection was preserved, or petrified, even though the dative was generally unused by (in? at? on?) Chaucer's time.

And of course the opposite can happen. A change in a phrase can easily take hold when the phrase is common enough to set the usage. Phrases about voting are so common every few years that any slight change can be cemented quickly. So we find the vote for/vote on alternation. (This use was probably reinforced more by the high frequency of casting votes for/on internet articles and posts.)

It seems that "pick with" has not reached the same level of usage. It looks more like an inadvertent and perhaps erratic syntactic blend. A Google™ search produces mostly results related in the phrase "a bone to pick with [X]." Ryan's use is probably a combination of "pick on" and "mess with." The meanings are almost identical and in conversation this blend is understandable.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The conquistador

It's hard to say what's so amazing about the site, but I've wasted enough time there to know that something about Wordcount makes pain go away. The site lines up a list of 86,800 words in order of their frequency. They are also sized in a corresponding scale. According to the "about" page the data was compiled from the 100 million word British National Corpus®.

I found the link over on Hosstuff (to which I've added a link in my sidebar).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Babbling brook floods over

I've posted a few times about the pronunciation of babel and I've noticed that the most common Google™ searches leading to my page are looking for information about the pronunciation.

Today on Charlie Rose I heard Alejandro González Iñárritu pronounce the word as a rhyme with "babble." That's the most common pronunciation I've heard in the media and from actors. I don't think I've heard anyone in the media refer to the film using the pronunciation [bejb] rhyming with stable.

And now I've seen that the issue has made it onto the AP wire. Granted, as far as issues go, that doesn't put it in very select company.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jumping the "jumping the shark" shark

On C-SPAN yesterday a panel of political bloggers discussed the effect of blogging on political races. They addressed not only the conversations being run by the pundits; they also talked about the blogs and websites being run by the candidates. All the major candidates run websites, most of them run blogs and a few of them have decent blogs.

When asked which candidate has the best understanding of blogging and its network John Edwards got the general nod. The panel also mentioned the ambitious website just recently launched by Barack Obama. Most noteworthy about Obama's site is its design as a social network similar to or Facebook. Responding to Obama's site format one member of the audience asked the panel to comment on Obama's "jumping the blogging shark" and going directly into his form online networking.

I remember that episode of Happy Days very well.1 and I've visited the website and gotten into good natured shouting matches with friends who disagree about when various shows "jumped the shark." Now the meaning of the phrase is become the subject of some debate.

The way the audience member above uses it sounds like a sense of to jump over or avoid part of a common process. According to her use, Obama avoided the usual convention of blogging in favour of web networking. One of the obvious connotations of a shark is the danger it presents. The blogging panel did mention blogging techniques and habits that might harm a candidacy, and perhaps this question intended to highlight the risks of blogging. If so, she might see jump the shark as similar to the phrase dodge a bullet.

A web search for "jump the shark" and its various forms (-ed/-ing/-s) finds all sorts of uses, and even a few discussions specifically on the meaning of the phrase. Quite a few of the uses are in headlines that use the phrase to get attention and don't define revisit or defend the intended usage. One web log that used the phrase in a title elicited an extended discussion, some of which dealt specifically with the phrase and its meaning. Some examples:

I demand the immediate return of the sage, sane, wise Joel Spolsky of years past. But maybe it's like wishing for a long-running television show to return to its previous glories.

This use remains close the meaning of the phrase as I understand it. A show jumps the shark when it resorts to cheap and predictable ploys to gain viewers and so egregiously compromises its quality that the inevitable effect is the demise of the show. (For examples and discussion just go to the website.)

I wouldn't really say he's jumped the shark or gone insane - he's entitled to his opinions.

This is an ambiguous conjunction. Does this writer mean that jump the shark means to go insane? Or is he simply offering two possibilities?

Jeff...I love your stuff, but man...lay off the wasabi. =^)) I don't agree with everything Joel says either (the conspiracy theory on VMware almost made me laugh out loud) but I think that you may have jumped the shark on this one!

This usage isn't clear, but combined with the previous comment and the considering the context of his own comment he appears to use the phrase in a sense of "lose control" perhaps by similarity with the phrase "jump the rails." But then this user adds the following disclaimer:

(ps. Umm...being an uncultured pac nwesterner...I haven't a clue what "jumping the shark" means...)

One commenter lightly refutes any claims of shark-jumping saying "the quality is there," thus implying that to jump the shark means to simply lose quality.

The last mention is from a commenter who offers this opinion:

I think the phrase "jumped the shark" has jumped the shark.

The phrase jumping the shark has probably passed its perigee and is now swinging away from us. Phrases tend to do this in their orbit. They enter general usage, and more importantly they get attention, then the shape of the orbit is revealed. Some orbits stick around in a tight elipse. Some are just stopping by once in their hyperbolic path. Jumping the shark definitely had its fanfare, tied as it was to that great electro-magnet of social discourse, television. The intention of the phrase is so separate from a literal interpretation that I don't know how fit it is for survival. The phrase can easily take on several meanings, but its intended role (i.e. the intention of the website that propelled it) is so narrow and that it could crack once it begins to shift.

1. I even remember doing some water skiing in Puerto Rico. When my father was done with his turn he let go of the rope and coasted along for a while before sinking into the water. I thought "Wow. If he had just coasted onto the shore that would have been just like Fonzie in that awesome episode of Happy Days!"

Thursday, February 15, 2007

It tolls...on thee?

The other day when presenting a Grammy Award Kanye West exchanged a lame joke with Common. In his set-up he used the phrase "I voted on you." This didn't strike me as too odd. I figured he meant that on the previous year's Grammy ballot he cast a vote regarding Common, and I wondered if he was implying that he voted in favor of Common. I wasn't sure.

This is a regular construction when speaking of a vote. Legislators and committees vote on issues all the time. The verb phrase 'to vote on' doesn't typically indicate a vote in favor of either direction. To vote on 'proposition X' means that a vote was cast either for or against it.

I wasn't sure why Common would care to know that West voted on him. Or why West phrased it that way. To say he voted "on the category" would have made more sense to me since I've always assumed that the votes are not yes/no on each performer, rather they are a choice of which performer should receive the award. (Some might argue that not to vote on a performer is a 'no' vote.)

Then West delivered his punchline and revealed that he had not in fact voted on Common. "I voted on myself" he said.

So he didn't vote "on" Common but he voted "on" himself. Since they were both nominated for the same award that's not compatible with the "cast a vote regarding X" meaning I had read into the phrase. Now I have to assume that when West says "voted on" meaning voted in favor of, or for.

Obviously I'm imposing some semantic constraints on these prepositions. And the historical flexibility of prepositions sometimes causes us discomfort. Only a few years ago I was writing about the meaninglessness of a construction like different than. I tried to argue by analogy with far that it made no sense to be different than - I claimed that one must say different from because the word different is not a quantitative comparison. I went on to argue that only when different is used to mean odd or weird could we use than in the phrase more different than. After all, we would never say "I parked far than the front door" would we? Surely those with ears tuned in to logical constructions would agree that both different than and far than sound horrible.

But an analogy can only go so far. X might act like Y in some ways, but X is not Y. If X jumped off a cliff.... The truth is that what works well for one word doesn't have to work for others even when they share some semantic and/or syntactic properties. Consider that in OE there were constructions as læded on westen meaning "led to the wasteland." Though PdE with can have connotation of either cooperation or competition OE wið (or wiþ) was "against" and mid was "with" (in the cooperative sense). And æt could be used as PdE "at" "from" "upon" "into" "into the hands of" and several other prepositional functions.

And the British/American English comparison usually includes some discussion of the alternating preposition in "different {from/to}"

So I won't say that there is any semantic reason for Kanye West's phrase sounding wrong to me. I will admit that it only sounds wrong to me because I've never heard "voted on." And instead of trying to support my reaction with argument I find myself searching for the phrase in our very accessible English corpus: Google™.

It wasn't until the 8th page of results for the search term {"voted on"} that I noticed several uses of "voted on" that seem worked like "voted for." Netscape Tracker lists stories that had been "voted on" by various users. Next to each link is a note that says when a comment is posted, a story is submitted, a member registers or a vote is "cast on" a story. Such a vote denotes a vote in favour of the post. The buttons on the sidebar offer either "vote!" or "sink". So on this ballot it's impossible to cast a 'no' vote. One section heading reads Who voted on this story? and another reads Who sunk this story?

A third section combines prepositions in its heading, reading Members who voted for this story also voted on…. So is it a list of other stories that got positive votes from those who voted in support of the first story? Or is it a list of stories that received votes (i.e. judgment for or judgment against) from those who shared an opinion (~for ~against) on the current story?

So it seems that this phrase has its users. I'm trying think of phrases that alternate the preposition for and on and retain the same meaning. I've come up with the following:

- wait for/on (though for some speakers wait on means "serve")
- ummm...that's it so far. Help?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Faux Etymologies

Every once in a while I question the ambition of my posts. Usually right after I hit the "publish" button. One of my interests is etymology and several of my posts have done little more than report on the Middle English, French, Old English, Old French, Latin, Greek, or Indo-European roots of our words today. This requires little more than a trip to the OED to plot the history of the word in English, then a trip to Webster's New World and American Heritage to trace it back to IE then identify a few cognates. There's little analysis going on when I decide to do one of these quick reports.

In just the last day or two etymology has ridden a swell of attention on my own posts and in linguistic conversations elsewhere. Just scroll down (or click here or here) to read my posts on conceive and human. Earlier today on the ADS-LISTSERV Laurence Horn suggested that William Safire needs to open the OED before he guesses about etymology:

Tell it to Safire, who noted toward the end of yesterday's "On
Language" column:

And when anticipating the surge of the politically hot word surge, I
wrote that it came from the Latin surgere, ''to rise,'' which is
correct, but speculated that it may also be the root of surgeon. Not
so; Cynthia Wolfe and a bunch of cheery folks waving scalpels pointed
out that the word comes from the Latin chirurgia, based on the Greek
kheir, ''hand.'' An antiquities dictionary defines the Greek word as
that ''which cures diseases by means of the hand,'' distinguishing
surgeons from physicians, who treat with medicines.

There is to be sure a place for etymological speculation in columns
on language--linking "Cry Uncle" to the punchline of a late 19th
century joke, as in Michael Quinion's recent column, or deriving "the
whole nine yards" from Montagnard references during the Vietnam War
may qualify--but publishing an incorrect etymology that could be
easily be quashed by cracking *any* dictionary (with etymological
info) somehow doesn't strike me as mere "speculation"...


On Languagehat is a discussion of the origin of dodo.

On Language Log Barack Obama's first name gets some attention.

I'm not sure there's any real danger in not knowing the true history of a word. But it is amusing and then a little frustrating when hokum hinders honest inquiry.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Disoriented West

A quick observation. Tonight on C-SPAN I watched the broadcast of the State of Black America presented by Tavis Smiley. On the panel were several speakers who shared their visions and concerns for American race issues openly and passionately.

Cornel West spoke ambitiously. And he made a powerful etymological claim. According to West the word human comes from the Latin humando which means 'burying.' Yes humando means 'burying' in Latin. No, human does not come from humando.

I did a little searching to see if this is a favourite claim of West's. It appears he does like to use this claim when he speaks. He made the claim at Stanford in 2004. And at the Commonwealth Club of California a few days later, where he says "our English word human derives from the Latin humando which Vico reminds us in the twelfth paragraph of The New Science is defined as burying...burying...."

He didn't develop the device recently. On the website for Loma Linda University (my sister's alma mater) I found a transcript from 1997 when West addressed the Black Alumni of Loma Linda and La Sierra Universities (BALL). He has apparently simplified his claim in the last few years. Back then he said

Let us always remember the word, "human," comes from the Latin Humanicus, derived from Humando which means "to bury." To be human is to bury your dead, to bury your loved ones, to put those beloved corpses in the grave, and somehow connect yourself to them. To never forget.

Human comes from the Latin adjective humanus. Humanicus* means "affairs of humans" or "events of life." Neither "came from" humando, though they are related to the verb by a shared Indo-European root *(dh)ghom- or *dhghem- meaning "earth." I'm sure I'm not the only one to call him on this etymology. It may be an honest mistake. But it's probably based on the common mistake of overeager etymologists to overlook the important difference between a direct historical derivation and a more complex etymological relation.

[Update: It's amazing what an active link will do to bring you back to a forgotten post. And how helpful comments are in highlighting mistakes and needed clarifications. *I can't defend humanicus. It should be humani, plural of humanum.

When I say that human and humanicus [sic] are related to "the verb" I mean an actual verb that meant bury: humo, humare, humavi, humatum -- not humando: a word I don't know. Thank you for pointing this out.]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Immaterial conceptions

A curious friend has been hounding me for an answer about semantic development and dating. Regarding the verb conceive he's been wondering about the original meaning. Specifically, which meaning came first: "become pregnant" or "get and idea." We see Shakespeare using the word as a pun in The Taming of the Shrew --

Widow: Thus I conceive by him.
Petruchio: Conceives by me! How likes Hortensio that?

And in Hamlet --
Hamlet: ...Have you a daughter?
Polonious: I have, my lord.
Ham.: Let her not walk i' th' sun. Conception is a blessing, but as your daughter may conceive, friend, look to't.1

And elsewhere. Many of Shakespeare's uses of the word don't lend themselves so easily to a pun. He leans heavily towards the verb meaning to understand, perceive or consider.

The office desktop Webster's doesn't provide much help, telling us only that it came from Old French then giving the OF form without a gloss. One rule of thumb for dictionary etymologies might be that when the etymon is provided without definition the meaning is the same as the last one mentioned. The word has been borrowed as is.

But his Webster's doesn't give root words and morphemes thorough attention. So we can go to the OED for that. Surely there we will find out what the early roots meant and what the word first meant: we'll get a look at the entire dossier of to conceive.

According to the OED the Latin word was concipĕre, comprising con- altogether and capĕre to take.

We also find that "Nearly all the senses found in Fr. and Eng. were already developed in L., where the primary notion was app. ‘to take effectively, take to oneself, take in and hold’."

This isn't either of the definitions in question. We have here a more concrete meaning from which two other narrowings developed in French and English as well as in the original Latin. So which meaning branched first?

Of the two meanings (become pregnant and understand) the OED cites Cursor Mundi a pre-1300 northern text that refers to Mary's conception, through the holy spirit, of "þat blisful child." This transitive form is accompanied by an intransitive form in the same text which asks "Womman þat neuer neghed man, Conceiue hu sal sco?" ("A woman that never knew man: how shall she conceive?")

The OED cites John Gower's Confessio amantis in 1393 possibly using the word as a "conscious reference" to a passive sense (to be conceived) and the intransitive mentioned above.

This same text is cited as using a sense as we currently use "catch" in the phrase "catch a cold," without the necessary connotation of illness. The citations demonstrate this usage with such conceptions as sickness (Gower 1393) and putrefaction (Bonet 1684), but in one example a plant blooms after conceiving water (Golding 1587), and flax and tinder are described as being "apt to conceiue fire" (Hakewill 1621).

That's just the first branch of the word. Branch II "To take into, or form in, the mind" gives Richard Rolle of Hampole's Psalter vii, pre-1340 as its earliest citation: "He hais consayued sorow."

"To form and entertain (an opinion)" is an obselete usage first cited in John Wyclif's Selected Works c1380: "We wolen seie opinli þe sentence þat we conseyven." And its contemporary meaning "To form (a purpose, design, etc.) in the mind; to plan devise, formulate in idea" is cited as well, even as early as 1340.

Other very closely related uses are cited from c1340 in Hampole and c1330 in Robert Manning of Brunne's Chronicle.

To speak more of the origins before or outside English, the third branch is identified by the OED as being variegated and "mostly after Latin." Having previously seen that Latin saw pretty much all the meanings that we find in French and English, this looks like our catch-all category. Many of these uses are cited with later sources. We didn't expect to find the influence of Latin ending without a fight did we?

Many of these forms are very similar to those we've already considered. There are some specific uses such as the executing a legal action, formulating or uttering a prayer or other speech, or taking an oath.

Another very early citation is of King Alisaunder c1300. "How hent the gentil knyghtis, How they conceyved heom in fyghtis." This is a reflexive verb meaning "to comport oneself."

The answer to your question Casey? Though we're dealing with citations and approximate dates (note all those c's and a's before dates) I like the clarity offered by the Latin etymon. A verb meaning "to take together" might prudently be considered the general verb that eventually narrowed. Because English conceive reflects the semantic spectrum of concipĕre in Latin we should not be surprised to see no clear precedence of one meaning over the other in English. Whether an idea or a fact or some water or fire or a zygote was "taken in" first doesn't look to be a salient detail of the word's English time line.

I'm sure somewhere the bifurcation in Latin might be more clearly placed temporally. But not in the OED.

The OED does not give much attention to IE roots. For those I like to consult Webster's New World. Following the word back to the IE root we find the base *kap- meaning "to grasp." Following this forward then leads us to the Latin capĕre which Webster's claims had the primary sense "to hold, have in hand."

The hand is about equidistant from the belly and the mind.

1. The line in F1 reads "but not as your daughter..." This changes the pun slightly. It directs the meaning more clearly towards become pregnant. I like the editions excluding "not" and focusing on Hamlet mocking Polonious' desire to keep Ophelia innocent/naive. Because the old man has previously warned Ophelia about tendering him a fool the semantic ambivalence is nicely preserved.

Aspiration. It's all about persbective.

A friend of mine recently told the story (on her own web log) about teaching her ESL class. For some reason she thought it appropriate to teach them the word "supercalifragilisticexbealidocious." At the very least this word can generate an interesting discussion of what makes a word a word. Would we consider this a lexeme? What is semantic content to this word? I'm pretty sure it's an adjective. And it probably means something like "super." I can't remember the lyrics of that part of Mary Poppins but I remember the tune clearly. It gives me headache. Is there a lyric something like 'lumdiddle-iddle' in there?

So what makes this of interest to me is my friend's admission that she doesn't know how the word is spelled but when her students asked her to write it out for them she chose to spell it "supercalifragilisticexbealidocious." And sure. It works. I knew what word she meant when I read it.

But it's not the spelling I would have used. There's a letter sequence in there that I noticed when I read it: the "xbe". My guess would have chosen "kspi" for that sequence. Why do she and I see that sequence differently? Because I'm a big believer in onset maximization. To say it as simply as I know how...

In English, when stops are the initial sound in a word, they are aspirated. There's a slight puff of air audible right after the release. When an 's' comes before the stop there is no puff of air. (Well -- it's less audible.) Compare the following:

The /p/ in pin and spin
The /k/ in kit and skit
The /t/ in tab and stab

Since English does not differentiate between an aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stop the +/- aspiration alternation is more likely seen as a voiceless/voiced alternation. That is, since voiced stops are not aspirated, an initial unaspirated voiceless stop sounds like a voiced stop.

Now consider the two spellings I suggested for our long word above. Her use of 'x' makes me think that she syllabified the 'ks' as a coda cluster. So her unaspirated bilabial stop sounded like a voiced bilabial stop because she analyzed the onset as a single consonant [æ.lə...]. Analyzing the [s] as part of the coda she would have expected a [p] to be aspirated [...eks.phi.æ.lə...].

Because I love onset maximization I have just assumed that the syllabification is [...ek.spi.æ.lə...]. After the [s] an unaspirated [p] is what I'd expect.

After searching around I find that "xp" is probably the correct spelling. Even so...I syllabify "expert" with a maximized onset and an unaspirated [p].

A while ago on the ADS listserve there was discussion of a local pronunciation of "Wisconsin" heard by some as "Wisgonsin." Several people called attention to the aspiration alternation and suggested that it's primarily an alternation of syllabification. Where most will syllabify the word [wis.khan.sən] some locals (and surely some non-locals as well) will syllabify it [wi.skan.sən]. Note the difference in aspiration.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Labov calls it a full count

Let's be honest. Most readers of this web log are not professional linguists. The heavy majority are curious and intelligent patrons of the humanities. Probably a lot of English majors.

So when I mention that my studies are focusing on phonology and English language history you have a pretty good idea that I'm talking about the sounds of our language today and yesteryear.

Sometimes I'm asked for specifics about phonology. "What's that?...precisely?" I go through a couple of stock phrases. One standard answer is the mental representation of speech sounds and their relationships to other speech sounds. I know to expect the tilted squinting stare, meaning "huh?" I've had some trouble explaining to people that it isn't psychology. It might come close to some schools of psychology...sometimes...but not really.

One of the easier ways to illustrate a very basic phonological analysis is to ask my curious friend for the plural of dog. "Dogs" she says. So I then ask for the plural of cat. She says "Cats."

Here's the switch. I ask her what she did to make the words plural. "Added 's'" she says with that challenging half smirk that says "Uhhh...isn't that obvious?" So I explain to her that in fact she added a sound. And it wasn't the same sound for both words.

"So I don't add an ess?" She asks. It might be an ess that sometimes is expressed like a zee. It might be a zee that's sometimes expressed like an ess. It might be underspecified and take it's form only once it's articulated in its environment. But whatever we decide to say it is "before it's pronounced" phonology claims that both the [z] and [s] start off as the same segment.

My phonology II professor used an analogy from baseball and she applies it specifically to the difference between phonology and phonetics. She imagines a batter at the plate facing four pitches. He swings and a misses on the first pitch. He tips the next pitch (a fastball) foul. He tips the third pitch (another fastball) into the same exact place. He sits staring as the fourth pitch passes right over the plate at waist level. The umpire yells "Yeeeeur ouddaheeere!"

A "phonetic" umpire would say that these "events" fall into three types: Type 1) swing and miss. Type 2) called strike. Type 3) foul tip (2 times). The "phonological" umpire would say these "events" fall into two types: Type 1) strike. Type 2) uncounted foul tip.

I like this analogy. What I really like is that it establishes a form of analysis that most people have performed. They know the rules that need to be applied and in what order and they know which details of each event are relevant to the analysis. It's easy for a rational student to ask relevant and helpful questions. I've been trying for about a year to come up with a better illustration. So far I'm at a loss.