A Joke That Only Linguists Will Get

One thing that drives me up a wall is when an American president cannot properly pronounce the word “nuclear”. I’m sorry, but if you’re so ignorant that you say [nukliɹ] when you mean [nʲʉːkʲʉlɝ] then you have no business being anywhere near the button!

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6 Responses to A Joke That Only Linguists Will Get

  1. Fred says:

    Cute…and because I’m a nit-picker, I’ll pick some nits:

    i) standard phon* usage would have square brackets around the first transcription, and possibly the second as well, depending on my next point

    ii) “say X when you mean Y” seems like an odd construction…what does “mean” mean, here? Is the joke chastising someone for having /njukjulɚ/ as an internal representation that is externalized as [nukliɹ], or is the intent closer to “don’t say [nukliɹ] when standard usage is [njukjulɚ]”?

    (yes yes…too much time on my hands, clearly!)

  2. W.P. McNeill says:

    You’re right about the notation convention. I changed the slashes to square brackets, and intentionally put square brackets on both transcriptions. I won’t fully spell out my intent because I spend enough time ruining jokes on this blog and I want there to be a little mystery, but here’s a hint: it’s a sociolinguistics joke.

  3. I am shocked, shocked, that you do not properly transcribe [nʲʉːkʲʉlɝ].

    • W.P. McNeill says:

      Yeah, the way I transcribed it was the way a total hick writes IPA.

      I like your transcription better and changed it in the post. By the way, does [nukliɹ] look plausible to you? I was going back and forth about this with the newly hired computational linguist who sits next to me.

      • “Total hick” == hilarious. I’d go with a “syllabifier” (don’t remember offhand what it’s called) diacritic under the [ɹ], but I don’t know if WordPress would handle that nicely.

        Also, good blog (I only just found it the other day)…and where can a Canadian bro get a job in comp ling?

      • I think, since we’re using square brackets, that probably you should never use [u] for an American English transcription, even for [nʉkliɹ] (<< how I'd transcribe prestige form, if I had to use the square brackets). We've almost entirely lost the true lip-rounding; that's why I (facetiously) insisted on [ʉ] in the non-prestige form.

        Tangentially: on the non-prestige form, the palatalization on the [nʲ] is optional, though mandatory on the [kʲ]. Second vowel might be [ɨ] instead of [ʉ], but unstressed vowels are kinda messy no matter how you slice them.

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