Friday, January 02, 2009

Linguistics -- Funny Stuff

So many English gags depend on the difficulty speakers of other languages have with our language. Part of that is that so many people, from so many countries, study English -- so we have a lot of different accents to make fun of. (But trust me, English speakers are not alone -- every language is made a butt of some joke, somewhere.)

The fact that speakers of many Asian languages cannot wrap their lips around the English liquids /r/ and /l/ is probably the most demonized of any pronunciation problem. I did my BA in Linguistics and taught English as a Second Language for 12 years, 3 of those in Korea, so pronunciation is one of my interests.

Simply put, English /r/ and /l/ are two completely different phonemes -- two distinct sounds. In languages like Korean, what we hear as /r/ and /l/ are allophones of the same phoneme -- essentially the same sound, used in slightly different ways. To a Korean ear, 'pirate' and 'pilot' are the exact same word. Korean has its own complexities, and if more non-native speakers learned it, there would be (and probably are) loads of gags about how we pronounce their language. Hell, they have 3 completely different phonemes for where we would have the /p/ and /b/. [Fascinating stuff.]

All of that said, one of the funniest (and poignant) elements in the movie Team America: World Police (2004) is the characterization of Kim Jong Il of North Korea, especially his song, "I'm So Ronery":

I saw the movie for the first time this week, and had to watch it again last night 'cause it was haunting me a bit.

Imagine my surprise when this morning in my inb0x is a video of a Korean toddler singing "Hey Jude":

So cute, my teeth are melting.

Have a pun day! (Koreans also do not have the phonemes /f/ and /v/, they use sounds similar to our /p/ and /b/ instead.)


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