Friday, April 13, 2007

A gap in linguistica Simpsonia: 'Implosion'

The whole world of linguists and 'language heads'* owes a big debt to HeiDeas for her fundamental work in opening a new frontier in the empirical basis for serious linguistics, "The Simpsons". The value of this material as a tool for public understanding of language structure and for linguistic pedagogy outstrips almost anything out there. It's to the point that if i want to have a good example of something for a public talk about linguistics, I turn to her stuff quickly.

Now the word has slipped out that the person behind most of the Wisconsin Englishes Project, Tom Purnell, has used the speech of the 'slack-jawed yokels' on the show (Cletus and his family) to start unraveling the issue of possible 'implosion' in initial b, d, g in some dialects of American English. (Implosives are produced, it's generally said, by lowering the larynx while you've closed off the airstream, see here; it's different from this.) I don't know the details of Tom's work yet, but stay tuned.

*I've heard 'language head' in Wisconsin linguistics for a while now, couple of years. It's like 'Dead head' or something: 'head' means someone who's really into something. Here, it's mostly people who really like learning languages and learning about them as opposed to linguists. Maybe this is the positive word we need in the place of the badly stained maven.


Ben Zimmer said...

I recall my Intro Linguistics professor illustrating implosives by imitating Jim Nabors' pronunciation of "Gomer Pyle" with an implosive /g/. Perhaps Cletus was partially modeled on Gomer?

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, it's a widespread way to imitating mountain English. I don't recall it from the Beverly Hillbillies, so maybe it didn't extend to Ozark English, at least in the popular imagination?

Adam Ussishkin said...

Let's not forget, however, the use by The Simpsons of the *other* "implosion" - I believe it's the episode whose plot eventually involves Homer and Ned going to Las Vegas. At the beginning of the episode, the town of Springfield is gathered in front of a large building about to be demolished. Bart comments, "Here comes the implosion", immediately before some guy sets off the dynamite, and said guy responds, "IMplosion??".

Mr. Verb said...

Yup, I think it is that episode. Thanks.