Thursday, April 17, 2008

You rain?

About a year ago I mentioned that Carl's Jr had filed a lawsuit against Jack in the Box claiming that commercials were creating phonetic and aural confusion between the words Angus and anus. (Unfortunately the ads are no longer available on YouTube. They were pretty funny.)

I didn't comment on it then but I thought the claim of phonetic similarity was a stretch. As I heard them the words were quite distinct and not too likely to be confused.

Consider that [æŋɡəs] and [eɪnəs] differ by a different initial vowel a different nasal and a full segment [ɡ] missing in the latter.

By analogy: how likely is it that angle and anal would be confused? The comparison is similar: [æŋɡl̩] / [eɪnl̩]

I figured the similarity of orthographic form was an important influence. That and the paradoxical attraction of a word to a clearly inappropriate context. Perhaps it's so odd to use words like delicious and tasty to describe anus that we're a little more likely to mistakenly see it with a slight nudge. Sort of a lexical forbidden fruit effect. A Chomskyan slip?

But then I'd overlooked the obvious possibility of very similar phonetic forms. All it requires is two common processes.

First: [ɡ] deletion. Not that the actual process of deletion still occurs commonly in a synchronic analysis but <ng > is typically read as [ŋ].

Second: pre-velar raising of [æ] to [e]. I should have thought of this given that Buffy's speech patterns this way.

It's easy to see how [eɪŋəs] it could easily be confused with [eɪnəs]. Only one segment different. And place (alveolar/velar) is the only major feature change.

But I never considered this pronunciation until a couple of days ago when I heard a Golden Corral commercial. What kind of steak? I asked myself when the announcer raised the [æ] just enough to confuse me. It didn't sound too tasty at first.

1 comment:

Thanks for reaching out.

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