Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pronunciation note: seagull

For obvious reasons (at least if you follow baseball), it's taken a couple days to be able write this:

On Tuesday night, as our Milwaukee Brewers were being no-hit by the Detroit Tigers' Justin Verlander, the great Brewers' radio announcer Bob Uecker (a Wisconsin native) kept talking about the [si:gəls] flying around. (Sometimes, I think there was a schwa, sometimes a syllabic /l/.) Was it some weird mechanical mascot? Something for some promotion? Even with the context of things flying around in Detroit, I only figured out what this was when he used a variant of the word: gull. There was no hint of secondary stress on the second half of this compound. In fact, it was like those sailing terms where the compounds are spelled in pretty transparent ways but pronounced without a hint of their history: starboard, coxswain ([kaksən] in my limited experience, although Merriam-Webster gives two pronunciations) and gunwale (now sometimes spelled like it's said: gunnel). But I don't find this as a variant pronunciation anywhere — DARE has lexical variants for the bird name, but no entry for seagull itself, M-W doesn't give this variant, etc.

Oh god, what a bleak game it turned out to be. But the Brew Crew bounced back last night and took the Tigers, 3-2.

8 comments:

Cassady Rasmussen said...

For another nautical term showing this pattern, 'mainsail' (the big sail on the boat) is commonly pronounced [meynsəl] which always baffled me... but then again, there's that whole nautical line vs. rope thingy too...

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, that might be the best example, since the written form is so obvious.

The Ridger, FCD said...

I know quite a few people who pronounce seagull that way. I've always figured it to be the last stage in the compounding first-syllable-stress phenomenon.

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, that's surely what's going on historically, like in those sailing examples.

tulugaq said...

Pardon me for being obtuse, but what other pronunciation would there be?

Mr. Verb said...

Oh, that's easy: The second syllable is prounounced like the independent word 'gull'. In the compound, as the Ridger hints, it's the loss of secondary stress on 'gull' that's the change.

Anyway, it sounds like this is much more common than I would have figured. Odd that I didn't find it as a pronunciation anywhere.

tulugaq said...

I read the original post over and over again thinking, "Yeah, and?" Sat at my laptop pronouncing them both and trying to find any difference, and failing miserably. Must be my west coast dialect?

Granted, English stress isn't my specialty, but wouldn't it be strange for a two-syllable word to have secondary stress in any case? Or at least not surprising?

Mr. Verb said...

Compounds typically start out with that fuller pronunciation of both element but in lots of cases, like the nautical terms, the second half just become a reduced schwa-like syllable ('schwallable', as many phonologists say). For me, the second element of seagull is still like gull, for present purposes, whlle people like Bob Uecker say it like the name Segal.