Thursday, May 31, 2012

A kiwi at the spelling bee ...

Last night, Rachel Maddow's "Best New Thing in the World" segment was about the Scripps National Spelling Bee, specifically the participation of a young fellow from New Zealand. The whole segment is worth a watch but the key stuff starts around 2:10.

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So, the word in question, taupe, is easy even by the standards of the early rounds, I imagine -- it's one that even I could have spelled (a low bar!), though I  cannot identify the color. (It's joke color vocab for me, like mauve stuff.)

Rachel Maddow and the judges seem pretty baffled by his pronunciation of the word, and she at least hears it as having an 'r' in there. (Mrs. Verb definitely heard it too.) I don't really quite get that, but without having this in connected speech, it was not instantly clear what he was saying. The kid seemed like the only one who wasn't bothered by the situation, at least until everybody wigged out when he pronounced the word. And he eventually  spelled it fine, suggesting that he got the deal immediately. But the Americans had real trouble understanding his pronunciation of the word.

It happens that there was a piece on New Zealand English pronunciation not long ago (Bauer, L. et al. 2007. "New Zealand English". Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37.97–102.) and they give [ɐʉ] for the GOAT vowel, along with this wicked figure (click to embiggen):

Anyway, all's well that ends well, at least in that round. (I don't see him among the finalists.)


Jonathon said...

It sounds a lot like "tarp" to me.

Adam Ussishkin said...

As a first-time visitor to New Zealand currently wrapping up a three-week trip to Christchurch, I can safely say that being here is like being on a vowel safari. The shifts are incredibly cool, especially coming from American English.

edittide said...

In Australia and New Zealand taupe is pronounced /toːp/, not /təʉp/ !!