Saturday, September 13, 2008

Syllabification watch

A contributor has just passed along this note from what he described as an observant young person, sent with the subject line 'annoyed':
i was like, other than obvious reasons, why does this headline bother me?
and then i thought, oh odd choice for syllable breaks ...
I'm with you, young person, in your annoyance.

The paleontology ~ Palintology pun might have worked the first couple of times I'd heard it, if the press was actually digging deeper and more carefully. Sure, she's mired in a set of scandals, but how dirty do you think she really is, if you scrape off the makeup and hype? Well, the Obama memo seems to suggest how it would look.

Then I got the point: It's hyphenation breaks, not syllable structure! But why the heck use that? To create the sense of a dictionary entry? Doesn't quite work, does it? Help me out, dear readers.

Image from here.


Wishydig said...

it spoonfeeds the joke doesn't it? the hed writer must figure too many readers would believe she's a scientist.

Ollock said...

Looking at it I saw that in the title P T and O are capitalized. ACK! Now that I explicitly typed that I realize that doesn't work. I was thinking that there was some sort of reference to her touting her PTA membership. I can't think of any other reason to break apart the -(t)ology suffix, let alone with questionable syllabification (which I think is really not the point).

It seems that the writer did intend to separate the suffix. Perhaps this writer thinks that it's actually a compound suffix (though I can't see how it could be).

Cassaday Rasmussen said...

I don't think the syllabification is actually too crazy. The /l/ isn't an onset when the following vowel is reduced to schwa.


is much better for me than


in normal to fast speech.




Ollock said...


Do you not have final-L darkening? That's the main reason I'd put the "l" as an onset -- it's not realized as a dark "l".

BTW, anyone else have a problem with the pronunciation of Palin? I keep wanting to say P/æ/lin even though the only pronunciation I've heard is P/ej/lin.

Cassaday Rasmussen said...

Hi ollock,

I do have dark coda /l/s and it varies in palentology based on which syllabification I'm forcing on myself. Might have to get a mobile ultrasound or something to see what I do when I'm not metalinguistically motivated...

My real point was to call attention to the fact that English is a little weird with 'maximize onset' effects. There are subtle 'weight to stress' effects that pull onsets into codas in some varieties. I find this the case especially with 'syllabic sonorants'. Bottle (and others like button, writer, etc.) is definitely

bat-l and not ba-tl

in normal speech for me regardless of whether we transcribe a schwa in there or not. The lack of aspiration supports this too.

Note that this discussion is definitely geared to the enlightened people who read Mr. Verb and does not suggest that the original observation of the funky syllabification reflects any of this knowledge...