Friday, January 11, 2008

The vowel {ee} and respectability

Random end of the week quote:
[B]y all accounts, et es perfectle pesseble to have a thoroughle respectable language wethout the vowel i.
— Guy Deutscher, The Unfolding of Language, p. 13

Now, I'll leave it to you to guess at what the heck he's talking about. Better yet, go read the book — it's a fun and utterly accessible overview of many issues in language change.

But what I can't figure out is why he has pesseble for what was presumably supposed to be possible? Surely he didn't mean pissible. I can easily imagine such a word, e.g. with regard to small kidney stones ("No need for surgery, Jones, this one looks utterly pissable".) or someone who can be annoyed ("Don't push that joke too far ... Smith is pissable.") But not here.

Now, while this blog clearly isn't widely read by fans of hair bands, a couple of copy editors and related professionals do visit this corner of the internet. I'm figuring this is the kind of situation that would give you major nightmares. It's obviously not something you can spellcheck, and it takes someone who knows about how letters relate to sounds to be sure what to substitute. In fact, it's easy to imagine this getting introduced at some point in the production process.

Image from here.


Anonymous said...

I guess it could have been peaceable, but I think possible is the best fit semantically and pragmatically, even if it doesn't make sense phonologically.

Anyway, I'm guessing this has something to do with the shape of the Neanderthal vocal tract....

Mr. Verb said...

Brilliant guess! If only I had prizes to give out ...