Thursday, September 1, 2011

My brain is weird (Linguistic Association)

Back in college I had a professor... well, he was more like a P.E. teacher, but skip that... whose last name was Pizza. He pronounced it "pie-zah", and took great umbrage at the suggestion that it really ought to be pronounced the way it was spelled. Unsurprisingly (perhaps), my brain simply refused to process the word as a name; I had to make a conscious effort, every time, to say it right. It didn't help that I didn't have a high opinion of the guy; I suspect my brain would have cut him more slack if I'd respected him more.

I was reminded of this a week or so back, when we received a note from the teacher for Secondborn's Mother's Day Out program (which is basically a shorter version of daycare). She introduced herself as Ms. Ally, and once again my brain insists that it obviously must be pronounced like the word ally - "owl-eye".

But there's a difference: it turns out that Ally is actually the teacher's first name. Which means it's almost certainly a short form of Allison, and pronounced more like "alley." Suddenly I have no trouble whatsoever remembering the correct pronunciation, apparently because it's her first name rather than her last.

My brain is weird.


  1. I have trouble with the word ally— which I don't pronounce like owl-eye; I've always heard the first syllable pronounced as a short a, like in the word dad— because my brain thinks it should be pronounced like alley. And I get irritated when people pronounce "Parmesan" like "parmezhan" instead of thre way it's spelled. Brains are weird with pronunciation and spelling— when I talk, I can hear the difference between "there," "they're," and "their," and my mind boggles at the thought that there are people who get them mixed up.

  2. I seem to recall a similar comment from someone in England about the clear differences in pronunciation between "Mary", "marry", and "merry." Here in Texas, they're homophones.

  3. Too, there's a running cultural gag where the nouveau riche (or pretentious of any class) change the pronunciation of their last names to something more upper class - Keeping Up Appearances has Mrs. Bucket (Boo-kay), and the Young Dr. Frankenstein (Frahnk-enst-ein) leap to mind, but there's lots more. We make fun of people with funny spellings/pronunciations of first names, too, but it's not as pointed.

    Besides, Professor Pizza is hi-LAR-ious.

  4. I know some ex-Texans who get really annoyed with depictions of the stereotypical Texan accent. They've got one, but it's very slight. No idea how most of you talk, though.

    They're homophones in Michigan, too. We've got a strange accent-- you know how people joke about Canadians saying "aboot"? My state's right up against the border, and Canadian raising has seeped in. It's really more like "ah-BAHoot." Too bad we also have the pin-pen merger.

  5. Texas is strange to talk about. There are actually about five major geological/climatic regions, but the main social division is between the very large cities and the small rural towns. You're likely to get closer to a Texas accent in one of the small towns, but the cities are something else altogether.

  6. I'm a visual person, and when someone introduces themselves I remember their name by picturing how it's spelled.

    But if I later see their name in writing and it's spelled differently than I'd pictured, my brain tries to override the actual way the person pronounced their own name to me and make me say it the way it's spelled.

    Example: I knew a woman named Alyssa. She pronounced it "a-LEE-sa" (which my brain parsed as Elisa). But once I saw the name in writing I had to fight not to pronounce it "a-LISS-a", as in Alyssa Milano. I suspect that this is not normal; I suspect other people pronounce a name exactly the way it was said to them, and spelling doesn't make a difference. But I always knew I was a weirdo.

  7. Nope, seeing it written out makes it difficult for me, too. If I haven't practiced different pronunciations of the same spellings, my brain will try to revert to the one it's comfortable with. I suspect it's a memory-saving "feature" which is occasionally very irritating. And it's not unusual at all. Beginning ESL students I've worked with have trouble holding onto the different vowel sounds of English in words that are identically or similarly spelled: car vs. carrot, for example.

  8. Yeah, I'm a visual person, too. My Dad's extremely auditory, but apparently I inherited almost none of that.

  9. Might've been me who made the Mary/marry/merry comment - I know I've used that example to people before, online and off.

    On topic, there was a poster on a board I hung out on years ago whose screen name was Array. It emerged, during a discussion of names, that her name was Rae and the SN was a pun - "array", "a Rae". All that time, though, I'd been pronouncing it in my head as "A-ray" (rather than uh-RAY), having completely blanked on the fact that "array" was a word that already existed and had an accepted pronunciation. So pretty much the reverse of what happened to you with Professor Pizza.

    perversecowgirl, I have a complicated Welsh first name which (to an English speaker) is spelt nothing like it sounds, and I've noticed people doing something like what you describe. I'll pronounce it for someone, they repeat it back to me, then later they see it written down and *then* start pronouncing it differently (and wrongly). I always wondered why that happened.

  10. It's kind of reassuring that other people's brains do the same weird thing(s) as mine. :)


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