Monday, October 27, 2008

The edges of alliteration

In yesterday's column, Safire continues his recent language play — trope-a-dope might be the best example — but actually gave a datum that I'd been half wondering about. In discussing media names for the fiscal catastrophes of late, he notes:
The Guardian, turned to tried-and-true alliteration in dating days of dreary drops, with “Meltdown Monday,” which came along “nearly every other week nowadays, along with ‘Frantic Friday’ and ‘Tsunami Tuesday’ and ‘black’ any old day.”
Then he goes into Manic Monday, sadly without reference to the great 80's song. (Raise your hand if you remember the Bangles.)

When I'd first heard and read Tsunami Tuesday, I definitely did not think of it as alliterative. In fact, it struck me as not quite working. For most Americans, I imagine it's [su:] + [tu:] or [tju:]. For those who get closest to pure alliteration, people who pronounce the affricate of the original form, it's presumably [tsu:] + [tu:]. (That is, I'm assuming nobody says [tu:] + [tu:] here, certainly not Safire.)

Does that feel like alliteration to English speakers? There aren't many parallels for those who use the affricate, maybe tsetse flies teeming or something.

Image from this wonderful website, How Stuff Works.


The Stranded Preposition said...

I'm for near alliteration. If the affricate is a strident stop, then the two are off by one distinctive feature from /t/. Or as you note someone produces "chews-day", then again the two initials are only off by one distinctive feature for place. I find that I want to do something with the /t/ in Tuesday more than repair the /ts/, which might be an indication that the "chew" sounds go together.

John Cowan said...

The traditional rules of Germanic alliteration allow C1V to alliterate with C1C2V, with the exceptions of /sp/ and /st/ which alliterate only with each other (except in Old Saxon, where they are allowed to alliterate with /s/). However, this does not apply to affricates: Old English ce, ci, pronounced /tSe/, /tSi/, did not alliterate with /t/. My personal Sprachgefühl says the closest alliteration for /ts/ would be simply /s/.

I strongly suspect, though, that the simple truth is that both Old Bill and the Grauniad think that "Tsunami Tuesday" alliterates because both words begin with the letter T. They are in good, if ignorant, company. Pope spoke of "apt alliteration's artful aid", but as Tolkien pointed out, "alliteration" alliterates on /l/, and the other three words alliterate only because they all lack an initial consonant -- "old English art" would have alliterated just as well.

Ollock said...

I don't know anything at all about traditional Germanic poetry and alliteration, but I would definitely say Tsunami Tuesday is not alliterative. I pronounce Tsunami with [ts] and I believe the standard pronunciation alternates between [ts] and [s]. The only place I have seen the [t] pronunciation consistently is in an unfortunate play-on-words: Toonami. (No, I don't actually watch it.)

{randomness: By some odd chance, my captcha is a somewhat recognizable word: Schips}

Computational Linguist said...

Agree with Stranded Preposition. In my own dialect (North Carolina), it comes close to being alliterative - [tsu:] + [tju:]. Maybe not technically an alliteration, but they "feel" close enough on pronounciation that I don't think this is just a case of rhyme.