Monday, June 09, 2008

Sue-Doe-Coo

Why can't Americans say "sudoku"? Suduku, soduku, sodoko... I've heard 'em all. It's easy. Repeat after me: Sue-Doe-Coo. Sue-Doe-Coo. Good job! Now, tomorrow we'll work on Kakuro.

Mr. Verb suggested that it must be the pervasive vowel harmony of English. I said, that's right, Mr. V, and patted him on the arm. The old darling.

9 comments:

Mr. Verb said...

Goll darned kids, with the patronizing attitudes toward their senior colleagues. Get off my yard. Shoo.

hysperia said...

Does anyone know why so many people can't say "nuclear"?

Mr. Verb said...

Monica will no doubt comment on this, but there's been a fair bit written about the pronunciation of 'nuclear' Bush uses. That's a dialect pronunciation, not an idiosyncratic thing or mistake. That's been discussed at Language Log and on the American Dialect Society's ads-list. Have a look through their archives for details.

Monica said...

Yeah, exactly (Mr. V). I guess I should take a less prescriptive approach and view the sudoku pronunciations as the emergence of new dialect forms. If the craze for sudoku continues, we'll have to see if a particular pronunciation dominates.

Monica said...

I reflected a bit more on this as I stood in the shower this morning (where I do my best thinking). At first I thought, my god, am I non-prescriptive about English but prescriptive about other languages? But then I thought, no, because I'm the first to mispronounce things in French (very guilty of hyperforeignisms like coo de grah). I think it's the transparency between Japanese spelling (Romanized, that is) and the pronunciation. While my post was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, I am actually acutely aware of how clear that correspondence is (full disclosure: I took 2 years of Japanese in grad school, failing miserably to learn anything beyond how to pronounce English words as if they were borrowed into Japanese) and I guess it surprises me that others aren't.

The Elephant's Child said...

lol. And I say it "SOO-doke" (approximately), which gets me odd looks. Reason: that is how you would say it in Japanese. I discovered the puzzles while waiting around a bookstore for a Japanese friend to show up for language exchange, and unfortunately, I have barely put 'em down since!

The Elephant's Child said...

Hmmm. I just read Monica's last comment above and wanted to say, this is one place where the romanization is not accurate. It OUGHT to be romanized as suudoku. The "suu" is written with the character for number and the "doku" with the character for "alone". Because the first vowel is lengthened, it gets marked with higher pitch. And "ku" is often kind of swallowed. Also, I gotta say NONE of my Japanese friends have heard of these puzzles before, though they're said to be popular in Japan. But I am a middle-aged lady and so are my friends, so maybe it's a demographic thang.

Monica said...

Okay, this gets more and more convoluted... the romanization isn't even right! But your explanation does explain why it's written SuDoku in some places. FYI the "kind of swallowed" ku is final devoicing - that means the vocal cords don't vibrate. We sort of do that in English in the first syllable of "potato" when we say it fast. Anyway, thanks for the additional info, EC.

The Elephant's Child said...

You can't count on romanization to get the vowel length right. Think of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kyushu and Honshu... to name a few off the top of my head. And if you're going to be scandalized at mispronounced Japanese words, my personal favorite is "carry-oaky", lol.

However, the problems Americans have with Japanese vowels are nothing compared to the problems Japanese have with English vowel pronunciation. They start going wrong, I think, in grade school, when they put katakana beside vocab words to remind themselves of the pronunciations. I tell my friends that if I were queen of Japan, I would outlaw writing English words in katakana, which generally gets a good laugh. Early on with each student / exchange partner, I teach a class on the schwa. It's fun because they have NEVER been told about it before, and they are excited and a little scandalized when I explain it. They always want to know how to tell where the schwas are, if you can't tell by spelling, and that leads us into English rhythm. Despite their well-publicized problems with consonants, in my experience Japanese ESL students are more often misunderstood due to choppy rhythm and strange vowels than due to mispronounced consonants.

Though not always. I did have one friend come to me with a problem, to see if I could help. Whenever she and her husband wanted to go shopping, they had to ask their doorman to bring their car around. He could never understand which one they wanted.

"What kind of a car do you have?" I asked.

"A shirubaa gorufu."

My suggestion? Buy a new car!