Monday, October 6, 2008

G-G-G-G-G-Granville! (#3): Cunning Linguists

In previous posts I’ve covered how stammering made a me a dancer and a fan of popular music. In later ones I’ll tell you how it gave me an access-all-areas pass to the spirit world and the abilities to talk with animals and to pass undetected through the realms of the mad. A list of high-achieving stammerers is also planned, as is a generous offer to share a little of our coveted victimhood status with you. But now as promised, and laying all false modesty aside, I’m going to explain how stammering made me a linguist. Casual observers may think this strange: “Why’s he want to study languages? It’s not like he’s gonna be able to speak them!” Yeah, right. Well, I’ll discuss another time the perfectly possible business of grappling with a foreign tongue; but first I’m going to explain the stammerer’s special relationship with the structural concepts that underlie human language. (This might be considered appropriate recompense for the tax-payers money spent training me as a computational linguist, though, as I shall explain, I didn’t really need any training, so it was a waste of your money, but thanks anyway). Like stammering, linguistics - in any sense that is worthy of the name - is a long run rather than a 100 metre dash. Of course as a stammerer you’ll start at the back of the linguistic pack, less able to talk to the nice barmaid than the barfly who’s already got the previous 3 up the duff, but it ain’t over till it’s over. If you hang in there you’ll see there are advantages; oh yes; advantages that like a fine port wine you can only appreciate over time; advantages that are specifically and paradoxically linguistic in origin. I relate them here to provide, I hope, a little encouragement for any young stammerer who’s yet to espy the prize.

The stammerer’s journey on the Road to Wellville is, like that of the constipation sufferer, an inner journey. But while the much-awaited petite mort of expelling something meaningful can be just as exulting, here the similarity ceases; for while the former has no choice over which shit to spit the latter has the golden treasury of all possible sounds available from the human vocal organs! Yes, you learn to make word substitutions - English is particularly rich with such alternatives. Get stuck on your haitches? you say “pensione” instead of “hhhhhhotel”; trouble with voiced alveolar plosives? it’s “hound” instead of “d-d-dog”; “seafood” instead of “fffffish”, “old lady” instead of “mmmmummy dearest”; (but of course it’s “g-g-get it on” not “make love” if you think the the sympathy factor kicks in). You see, you’ve already learned to use twice as many words and phrases as your average non-afluent! And there’s more. Some words can’t so easily be ignored, like names* and pronouns. But here’s where it gets really clever: it’s easier if you don’t have difficult sounds at the start of a sentence. You therefore learn to switch the grammar around before you speak. You’ll learn not to say “Yyyyyou are getting on my tits!!” but, “The one who’s getting on my tits is yyou!! or even better “There’s one who’s getting on my tits, ‘tis thee!! See, it’s the perfect training for a poet, and after a while these linguistic gymnastics come as naturally as breathing (more so, in a stammerer’s case). Bingo, you’re the next Percy B-B-F*****g Shelley - and then the crumpet’s for free. (Ding dong!) And finally, I’ve only now realised that I’ve got into the habit of using the variant “stammering” rather than the more widely used “stuttering” simply because it’s easier to say. B-cheerio!!!


* This is obviously how epithets started back in the days of oral tradition: Homer can’t say his Zs so Zeus is “He who Releases Rain”. Kennings too: an Icelandic scald can’t say his Ss so it’s a “wound-hoe” not a “sword”. And you can make up entirely new names - Lewis Carroll was a stammerer.

33 comments:

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Phil Collins too, as his hit song "Su-suss-ssudia" will attest.

scarlet-blue said...

Brilliant! I have trouble pronoucing words, I'm not a stammerer . . . but people have been known to fall about laughing at my pronunciation. I understand where you're coming from.
Sx

Gorilla Bananas said...

Very discerning. I always thought Tintin secretly fancied Brains. The Tracey boys were so vanilla.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Ah, so it's the voiced alveolar plosives I have problems with these days. Ta.

And "voiced alveolar plosives!" is such a great expletive in it's own right I can avoid a couple of the buggers.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Daffers, that would have been a first-suggestion for one of the earlier posts!

Thank you kindly, young Scarlet. I hope you've also found a way to turn your speech irregularity to profitable use. Can you put an mp3 of yourself pronouncing something daftly on your blog??

Thank you too, Bananas. You've lost me though. I don't know The Tracey boys and I was never a Tintin reader, but I do remember Brain the dopey moggie off of Top Cat!

That's it Kev, euphemisms are also word substitutions in their own right. The work "plosive" itself starts with a plosive (voiceless bilabial) and so can be tricky, but fun if you are say it really loud and close to someone's ear and it surprises them.

scarlet-blue said...

I know this isn't going to read right . . . but I sound very dumb when I say the word 'Aluminium' and I used to say 'demin' instead of 'denim'. I have a problen with 'L' and 'M' sounds.
I now say 'Aluminium' the American way, as in 'Aluuumian' . . . not that I have the need to say it very often.
I also used to have a problem with 'bollocks' . . . but I practiced it and I can manage it now. [True]

Sx

scarlet-blue said...

I think I should have previewed that . . .
Sx

Gyppo Byard said...

Gadjo - I hail your stammer-avoidance. My problem is less enunciation than remembering the word I'm trying to say in the first place, leaving my sentences frequently hanging in the

Scarlet - a friend of mine once greeted the dropping of a tray of food with the phrase "Oh no! Tradegy!"

And don't forget poor Dr Spooner...

Gadjo Dilo said...

Young Scarlet, that sounds like a most enchanting quirk of speech - you'll find it attracts more than it repells, I'm sure :-) And everybody should have a problem with bollocks, as they really are most ridiculous of things and why they haven't evolved into something more modern-looking by now I do not know.

Thanks, Gyppo. Leaving sentences frequently hanging in the... was also my stammering father's conversational modus operandi. He'd then gaze into the distance with a beatific smile on his face like he'd just discovered the secret of the universe; thus, rather than piss people off continually he'd give them the impression he was some kind of guru of a very poetic disposition. Conclusion: stammerers end up being just as duplicitous and manipulative as real speakers!

The Dotterel said...

Are you sure this post's about stammering, Gadj? (Very F-F-Freudian, if it is!)

Mrs Pouncer said...

Gadjie, as you can probably imagine, I have absolutely no problem with pronunciation or diction, but there are a few people - about four of them - who render me incapable of comprehensible speech. Before them, I fall mute. The whole thing is beyond reason. None of them is particularly attractive, or superior, or alarming,but there is something, something, that grips me, and I shrink. One of them is a Bank Manager, so that's probably understandable. But none of them is a Dentist, before you ask.

Can Bass 1 said...

Did you know that singing cures a stammer? (Yes, of course you did!)

inkspot said...

Yes, but none of this, although very clever, works for palindromes. "Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas" cannot adequately be rendered as "Beelzebub, move rhythmically my mid-periodic table musical pieces", and it's pointless to pretend otherwise.

Gadjo Dilo said...

It's definitely about stammering, Dot, but I always have to emphasise the sexual angle here if I'm going to get any readers. I'm sure Dr Freud would have blamed my speech impediment on my mother's constantly demeaning comments about my bizarrely-shaped penis, but I'd have told him to f-f-f-bog off!

Mr Can Bass, great to have a professional here. I know that a stammer miraculously vanishes when singing... but a cure?? You may be right though.

Dearest Mrs Pouncer, I'm sorry to hear of your predicament with your bank manager. But it's good to be in awe of something, even if it is only money, and the look it gives a lady really rather adds to her prettiness in my opinion.

Mr Inkspot, welcome! Wow, is that a true palindrome? Yes, I see it is. Quite true, the whole point of saying that phrase is because of the characters it contains, and rendering its meaning using other words might reduce its usefulness a little.

Mrs Pouncer said...

Oh Gadjie, I am so glad you've now met Inkspot! He is so clever and amusing. Scarlet and I are always hanging around at his place with our mouths open in amazement.

scarlet-blue said...

My mouth is always open.
Some may say it's a tradegy . . . [took me ages to work out how to say this and now Gyppo has confused me again]
Sx

Gadjo Dilo said...

Hey guys, I think this computer may just have acquired a virus. And also we are moving house this weekend. So not sure how or when I'll be able to get back on the blog. Have great weekend.

Mrs Pouncer said...

Gadjie, NOOOOOOOOOO! Have just got in from an evening in a pub in Wargrave and so not entirely sober, but really I can't stand it. Please do something with all available haste. I don't know what. Love you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Gadjo Dilo said...

Mrs Pouncer, it's ok!! It may have a virus, but the immediate problem was runing out of disk space for some unknown reason. And yes, we are moving, from this communist block with it's ghosts of noble proleratian comrades to an old (and decidedly bourgeois running-dog) house we've been renovating in the town. And yesterday was 10th October, when you were supposed to be coming to Bonţida, but instead I find that you've been in Wargrave, whatever that is. Very naughty of you, but I still love you too, duckie.

You and Scarlet and Inkspot all know each other?? How super! Get those other Berkshire blogging types organised and you can all get on a plane and come to Bonţida!

inkspot said...

Mrs P is quite right, I am extremely clever. So clever that with one stroke of my keyboard I deleted my entire blogroll, and it only took me all morning to put it back.

PS. Watch out. She and Ms Scarlet are a pair of minxes. Keep your hairbrush handy if you want to maintain any discipline in your comment threads.

Rabbi Lars Shalom said...

well

Gadjo Dilo said...

Rabbi Lars, strewth mate! Hvad er det for Soeren??

M C Ward said...

Fascinating stuff, GD. I like the picture of Buster Bloodvessel too.

My mother is excellent at spontaneous spoonerisms. Spinger Spraniels, smug drugglers, hootball fooligans (a personal favourite), cake a touple, and the glorious "it's a little bit bugger than a Thrish", an acute ornothological observation.

Is there any link with your stammering, and if so, how do we cure her?!

Kevin Musgrove said...

Anybody who provides us with "it's a little bit bugger than a Thrish" doesn't need curing, they need a medal.

Crabtree said...

Gadjo Dilo,

And ...me...me here , The last one of...awkward !

Incomprehensible for some ,laughable for the others and however I made efforts :)

If a man have never stammered in front of a beautiful woman ,It is a liar, throw the first stone to it !

By virtue of what we must trail along, throughout our grown-up life, The memory marked in the red iron Of our first stammerings ?

Mrs Pouncer said...

Crabtree, you glorious old enigma! L'ecrire c'est une facon de parler sans etre interrompu.

Sorry, Gadje. But I find Crabbers irresistible.

:: Wendy :: said...

(silence)

:: Wendy :: said...

(SILENCE)

Can Bass 1 said...

My word, I am confused. What's all this about keeping your mouth open? No wonder you've caught some blasted European virus. Breath through your nose, Mr Gadjo, especially in jonny-foreigner land.

Can Bass 1 said...

Of course, that should read 'breathe', I hasten to add. My keyboard skills are sadly lacking.

scarlet-blue said...

Did the move go okay? Is the pc okay? My broadband connection has been playing up.
One thing that helps my pronunciation is to read out loud, little and often.
Sx

Gadjo Dilo said...

Hi everybody, thanks ever so for adding some nice coments while I was unavoidably absent. Thanks Scalet, the move went ok - just; and the PC is probably ok, but no Internet connection. More on this later. having to write this at work, and the boss has just come in.

Thanks MC. I'm also very fond of Buster, but I was wondering if anybody would know who he was. I don't think we should try to cure your mother; in fact I think she could teach us a great deal.

I've trained myself to breathe through every pore of my skin, Mr Can bass. This gives me a backup for whenever my nose is blocked or my mouth is busy with the stammering, but it does mean that I end up getting very very dirty.

Kevin, everybody who speaks without lying should get a medal - and the speakers of nonsense will get gold!

Crabbers (blame Mrs Pouncer - or Brian Johnson - for these diminutives), you are so right to bring beautiful women into the discussion, and it's only proper that it took a Frenchman (is that right?) to do this.

Mrs Pouncer, he's an enigma wrapped inside a Lorenz cipher wrapped inside a Colossus Mark 2 computer, isn't he (a reference - probably very inaccurate - for all we geeks).

Crabtree said...

No criticism it is exact! Do to pass "my words", of a brain in boiling to a machine idiot! gives crabtree:)