Sunday, December 13, 2009

Unusual Phonology

Many interjections, especially expressions used to express emotions with no further syntactic support, sometimes contain phonological features not present in the normal language (I say this apropos of nothing in particular, but I've been collecting examples and the subject strikes me as interesting):

Tsk- used to indicate disapproval, often ironically, contains no vowel and has a voiceless affricate not found in normal English, /ts^/, although it is common in some languages, for example Czech. The only affricates regularly found in English are the sounds of 'church' and 'judge', although some pronunciations of /tr/ and /dr/ are identified as affricates;

Uh-oh- to indicate that a problem has been spotted, exhibits tonality, since there must be a marked drop in pitch from the first to the second syllable in order to express the intended emotion; in fact the meaning may be said to be more in the tone than in the phonemes. Tonality is very common in the world's languages, and exists in the great majority of the languages of Asia and Africa. It is much less common in the Indo-European languages, especially in Europe, though Swedish exhibits some tonality;

Whew- to indicate relief, usually begins with a bilabial fricative not present in normal English;

Uhhr- to indicate horror, is often pronounced with an ingressive airstream, a method of phonation not found in normal English, and very rare indeed in any of the world’s languages. Nearly all sounds in nearly all languages are pulmonic egressive, which means that the air is pushed out of the mouth by the lungs, but several other ways of making sounds can be found here and there ;

Chkchk- to encourage a horse or express fondness for an animal, is a post-alveolar or palatal click, found only in the Khoisan and a few surrounding Bantu languages, and in Damin in Australia. Damin is a constructed ceremonial language spoken by initiated elders of the Lerdil tribe, who live on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is notable, remarkably so, for being the only language outside southern Africa to have click consonants;

Tut-tut- to indicate disapproval, is often pronounced as a dental or alveolar click.

As I say, hardly the pressing issue of the day, but there we are. All links are to Wikipedia, because it describes the phonemes pretty well.

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