Miscellaneous language questions

For the discussion of language mechanics, grammar, vocabulary, trends, and other such linguistic topics, in english and other languages.

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Derek
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Derek » Fri Aug 24, 2018 9:36 pm UTC

The interesting question occurred to me, what word in English has the most homophones? With some googling, the best I found was /ɛɹ/:

1. Air
2. Are (unit of area)
3. E'er (ever)
4. Ere
5. Err
6. Heir

Can anyone come up with anything as good or better? To lay some ground rules: I'll call two words homophones if they are spelled differently or have etymologically unrelated meanings (so bat (animal) and bat (club) count). And of course some words may only be homophones in some dialects, so I think it's fair to be lenient and say any dialect is acceptable as long as it's consistent in your word list.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Soupspoon » Fri Aug 24, 2018 10:01 pm UTC

Well, "eyrie" is essentially homophonic with its noted alternate spellings of (at least) "aerie", "aery", "ayrie" and "eyry" plus different words "eerie"(/"eary" - like an ear!?) or "airy"(/"hairy" with a dropped-H?), perhaps, depending on pronunciation. But I don't even know which of these I should be counting.

Maybe them all, as they're within the same scope of "err" (like my uneducated pronunciation of the ancient city of "Ur", to me) from the others with close but not strictly identical pronunciations.

There's maybe something of a list starting with "new", "knew", the letter ν and one of the (three?) pronunciations of "gnu"? I think a lot relies on accent, though. For example, does "poor" sound like with "paw" (and "pore" and "pour") or "pooer" (one who poos), or both, or neither?

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby ThirdParty » Sat Aug 25, 2018 12:59 am UTC

Derek wrote:Can anyone come up with anything as good or better?

How about /siz/?
  • sees (perceives visually)
  • sees (cathedral sites)
  • seas (bodies of water)
  • seize (grab)
  • seise (take possession, in a legal context) [same etymology as "seize"]
  • sis (musical notes) [from the ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si solfeggio]
  • Cs (letters)
  • see's (pertaining to a cathedral site)
  • sea's (pertaining to a body of water)
  • si's (pertaining to the musical note)
  • C's (pertaining to the letter)
  • see's (contraction of "see is" or "see has") [as in "The Holy See's facing another pedophilia scandal."]
  • sea's (contraction of "sea is" or "sea has")
  • si's (contraction of "si is" or "si has")
  • C's (contraction of "C is" or "C has")
  • cees (alternate spelling of "Cs")
  • cee's (alternate spelling of "C's")
  • cee's (contraction of "cee is" or "cee has")
  • sease (obsolete spelling of "seize")
  • sie's (contraction of "sie is" or "sie has") ["sie" is a proposed gender-neutral pronoun]
  • "sí"s (Spanish-language "yes"s) [as in "The workers replied to my question with a chorus of 'sí's."]

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Derek » Tue Aug 28, 2018 4:33 am UTC

That's good, though if you count plural, possessive, and contractions separately then you could apply that pattern to some other words. For example /ɛɹz/, using the above word list for roots.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby ThirdParty » Tue Aug 28, 2018 5:27 am UTC

Yeah, but since the trick only works on nouns, /ɛɹz/ only ends up scoring about 10, compared to the 20 or so I got out of /siz/.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue Aug 28, 2018 7:16 am UTC

Soupspoon wrote:does "poor" sound like with "paw"

no
(and "pore" and "pour")

yes
or "pooer" (one who poos)

no
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby chridd » Tue Aug 28, 2018 8:57 pm UTC

ThirdParty wrote:How about /siz/?
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Pfhorrest wrote:
Soupspoon wrote:does "poor" sound like with "paw"

no
(and "pore" and "pour")

yes
or "pooer" (one who poos)

no
Same for me. "Paw" doesn't sound like "pore" or "pour" or "poor" for any rhotic dialect. "Paw" would be a homophone with "pa" (father, though not the term I would use, except as part of "grandpa") for me.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Aug 29, 2018 5:36 am UTC

"Pa" and "Paw" are not homophones for me. "Paw" rhymes with "saw," while "pa" rhymes with "ma," "ha," and "la."

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby flicky1991 » Wed Aug 29, 2018 9:16 am UTC

For me:

paw = pour = poor = pore
pa = par
pooer sounds like none of the above
any pronouns
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Soupspoon » Wed Aug 29, 2018 1:14 pm UTC

I have had relatives for whom "cook" sounds like "kook" (long, and lower) not "cuck" (short, not-so-low), and I presume it's from them (amongst other things) that I have half a chance of saying "poor" as inflected like "pooer" rather than straight-vowelled. Though my cook/book/look are 'u'ish not 'oo'ish (nor 'uh') and the straightened-"poor" is "puhr", probably the' r'-ending is involved in that.

"paw" and "pour" and "pore" are close enough for most purposes. I can try to make the 'r's audibly come out (can't get the 'w' to stand out in the other direction), but I have to wholesale switch to a more Gael-inspired version of my accent to do so, or it sounds weird to my own ears. But ask me tomorrow and I might have talked to someone else enough to have made that subconscious transition. Also "pour" might have the "aw" vowel or "ooer" vowel if I dip far enough into the brogue, but I'd have to be trying (maybe to distinguish from "pore").

"Poor" to sound like "paw" (my "paw", that is, not necessarily the "paw" that people-who-say-Poor-like-Paw say) sounds, in isolation, like an exagerrated accent from a higher class (clarse!). Father-"pa" that sounds like "paw" (ditto) sounds more like <points vaguely and wildly on a map of the US around an area where the term "Hillbilly" might be used, but without confidence>, though that's maybe more Hollywood stereotype than reality (in both directions).

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Aug 29, 2018 4:03 pm UTC

To me, "cook" sounds nothing like "kook" or "cuck." "Kook" has the same vowel as "food" (/u/), "cook" has the same vowel as "foot" (/ʊ/), and "cuck" has the same vowel as "truck" (/ʌ/). I've never heard anyone rhyme "cook" with "kook."

"Poor" is a homophone for "pour" and "pore" in most cases (/pɒr/), just like "your" and "yore," but in rare cases I might pronounce it more like /puːər/, which is two syllables for me, like "doer" or indeed "pooer," if that's a word. However, if I actually said "pooer," I would exaggerate the second syllable in an attempt to be understood.

I don't know for sure, but I think the stereotypical drawled "pa" that rhymes with "paw" would be common in certain rural parts of the South and Midwest, but not in most parts of them.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby mathmannix » Wed Jan 23, 2019 6:37 pm UTC

My wife and I have a lot of disagreements about pronunciation, and the end result is that she gets to be the authority for our kids on correct pronunciation, not me...
For example, I think "pull" is a homophone of "pole" and "poll", while she thinks "pull" is a homophone of "pool", and I think she's nuts.
Anyway, she thinks I'm nuts for claiming that "ch" and 'j" are the exact same sound at the beginning of words, but I think it's only by context that we can tell the difference between "Jerry" and "cherry".
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jan 23, 2019 6:52 pm UTC

mathmannix wrote:For example, I think "pull" is a homophone of "pole" and "poll", while she thinks "pull" is a homophone of "pool", and I think she's nuts.

You're both nuts. There's a third sound that's not like "pole"/"poll" or "pool". Think "Cole", "cull", "cool"; you say it like the first one, she says it like the last one, but there's also the middle sound.

Anyway, she thinks I'm nuts for claiming that "ch" and 'j" are the exact same sound at the beginning of words, but I think it's only by context that we can tell the difference between "Jerry" and "cherry".

"Ch" and "j" are almost the exact same sound, the same place and manner of articulation, but "j" is voiced while "ch" is not. Like the difference between (hard) "g" and "k", or between "zh" and "sh", or between "d" and "t"; in fact, you could write the "j" sound as "dzh" and the "ch" sound and "tsh". Officer /Dzherry/ wears a /badzh/ on his chest, while a baker cooks a /batsh/ of /tsherry/ pies.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby mathmannix » Wed Jan 23, 2019 7:40 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
mathmannix wrote:For example, I think "pull" is a homophone of "pole" and "poll", while she thinks "pull" is a homophone of "pool", and I think she's nuts.

You're both nuts. There's a third sound that's not like "pole"/"poll" or "pool". Think "Cole", "cull", "cool"; you say it like the first one, she says it like the last one, but there's also the middle sound.


Pfhorrest wrote:
mathmannix wrote:Anyway, she thinks I'm nuts for claiming that "ch" and 'j" are the exact same sound at the beginning of words, but I think it's only by context that we can tell the difference between "Jerry" and "cherry".

"Ch" and "j" are almost the exact same sound, the same place and manner of articulation, but "j" is voiced while "ch" is not. Like the difference between (hard) "g" and "k", or between "zh" and "sh", or between "d" and "t"; in fact, you could write the "j" sound as "dzh" and the "ch" sound and "tsh". Officer /Dzherry/ wears a /badzh/ on his chest, while a baker cooks a /batsh/ of /tsherry/ pies.


Hmm, maybe I don't distinguish between any of these. Of course, if I consciously try to, I can pronounce Jerry and cherry differently, or gale and kale, or butter and budder, or cull and cole. (I don't ever use the word cull, so that's a weird one, but let's say it's the same as skull without the s, that I can say. [s]kull = coal = Cole, unless I really want to say them differently because I want coal to be a diphthong or whatever. Another one is 'R' = are = our, unless I think about our, then it sounds just like hour.)

But I don't think I pronounce the words differently if I don't think about it. (Hard to say though, now that I'm thinking about it, bit of an elephant in the room or thinking about my tongue problem.) Maybe I always "voice" my consonants...
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby ThirdParty » Wed Jan 23, 2019 8:44 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
mathmannix wrote:For example, I think "pull" is a homophone of "pole" and "poll", while she thinks "pull" is a homophone of "pool", and I think she's nuts.

You're both nuts. There's a third sound that's not like "pole"/"poll" or "pool". Think "Cole", "cull", "cool"; you say it like the first one, she says it like the last one, but there's also the middle sound.


All three of you are nuts. "Pull" doesn't have the same vowel as any of the words you've mentioned.

"GOAT" = /got/, "pole" = "poll" = /pol/, "cole" = /kol/
"GOOSE" = /gus/, "pool" = /pul/, "cool" = /kul/
"STRUT" = /strʌt/, "cull" = /kʌl/, "putt" = /pʌt/
"FOOT" = /fʊt/, "pull" = /pʊl/, "put" = /pʊt/

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Jan 23, 2019 9:39 pm UTC

Now that you mention that /ʊ/ sound, I'm not sure if that /ʌ/ is really how I say "pull" either, though /ʊ/ doesn't sound right to me either. I think I don't actually pronounce any vowel at all, the p just blends seamlessly into the l, the latter functioning like a vowel.

The word "purr" is similar for me: if I tried to actually enunciate the "u", any vowel sound would seem wrong, because it's just a p followed by an r as I say it. The word "purple" for me is just "purr" followed by "pull", and it's not pʊrpʊl or pʌrpʌl, it's just prpl.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby ThirdParty » Thu Jan 24, 2019 4:25 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Now that you mention that /ʊ/ sound, I'm not sure if that /ʌ/ is really how I say "pull" either, though /ʊ/ doesn't sound right to me either. I think I don't actually pronounce any vowel at all, the p just blends seamlessly into the l, the latter functioning like a vowel.
I doubt it.

Some minimal pairs are "pulleys" /pʊliz/ vs. "please" /pliz/ and "lay bull" /lebʊl/ vs. "label" /lebl/. Try saying them in front of a mirror. Since /ʊ/ is a rounded vowel, you should be able to see its presence even if you're having trouble hearing it.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu Jan 24, 2019 5:06 am UTC

ThirdParty wrote:Some minimal pairs are "pulleys" /pʊliz/ vs. "please" /pliz/ and "lay bull" /lebʊl/ vs. "label" /lebl/. Try saying them in front of a mirror. Since /ʊ/ is a rounded vowel, you should be able to see its presence even if you're having trouble hearing it.

I'm not saying I just say "pl" like a consonant pair, as in the single-syllable "please". "Lay bull" vs "label" is a better comparison, as in "label" the "bl" constitutes its own whole syllable, the "l" functioning like a vowel. "bl" sounds different from "bull", and the latter I do pronounce with the same syllable as "foot". De-voice the "b" from that syllable and that's how I say "pull".

"Buries" ≠ "brr ease" ≠ "breeze" too. The first has a vowel (but not ʊ unfortunately) between the b and r forming the first of its two syllables; the second treats the r like a vowel (as in the sound you make when it's cold) to form the first of its two syllables; and the third has a "br" consonant pair at the start of its one syllable. That's analogous to how "pulleys" ≠ "pull ease" ≠ "please" to me.

I think I sometimes pronounce "bull" with no vowel but the "l" too, now that I think about it, if I'm speaking quick and casually and not trying to articulate. If I had to articulate a vowel in "pull", I do think it would more likely be like "put" than like "putt". But normally, speaking quick and casually, I think I just drop the vowel completely. Like, if I wanted to be clear that I was saying "stay pull" and not "staple", I'd probably force the vowel in there, but if I was just in the middle of sentence talking about whether which lever a Brexit voter pulled in the ballot booth, if they gave a leave pull or a stay pull, I think I'd say the latter phrase like "staple", just maybe with the "a" drawn out longer than usual.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby ThirdParty » Thu Jan 24, 2019 6:57 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I think I sometimes pronounce "bull" with no vowel but the "l" too, now that I think about it, if I'm speaking quick and casually and not trying to articulate. If I had to articulate a vowel in "pull", I do think it would more likely be like "put" than like "putt". But normally, speaking quick and casually, I think I just drop the vowel completely.
Fair enough. I just tried pronouncing a bunch of FOOT words in front of a mirror, and though my lips do usually round slightly for "pull", they don't tend to move at all for "look", so clearly I'm not fully articulating the /ʊ/ in that one. (But it's still definitely a /ʊ/, even if a poorly-articulated one, since it still contrasts with "luck" /lʌk/, "lick" /lɪk/, "lock" /lak/, etc.)

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Jan 24, 2019 10:56 pm UTC

For me, "pull" and "full" rhyme and I think of them as the FOOT vowel (however they're actually realized when I speak), whereas "cull" and "dull" and "mull" all rhyme and have the STRUT vowel.

And yeah, vocalic 'r' and syllabic 'l' are both definitely things, in the sense that you can have those be the shapes your mouth is making (for an indefinite amount of time) between consonants that are formed more to the front or the back of the mouth. Whether you want to call them actual vowels, or say some words don't have vowels, is ultimately somewhat a matter of personal taste.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby somitomi » Wed Apr 10, 2019 6:12 pm UTC

I've been wondering about how "rocket science" is (usually) used in English when talking about an easy task. In Hungarian the same phrase goes "ez nem atomfizika", using "atomic physics" as the proverbially difficult branch of science instead. What do other languages consider difficult? Did anyone ever make a list of this similar to the Wikipedia article on "it's all Greek to me"?
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Apr 10, 2019 7:04 pm UTC

"Brain surgery" is also used in English.

Sometimes "rocket surgery" for humor.
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Soupspoon » Wed Apr 10, 2019 7:06 pm UTC

"It's not rocket science" is the archetypical usage (without knowing Hungarian, "ez nom" also looks like it might be "it's not", BICBW!) It's less used in the positive sense of something else being as complicated as rocket science, even rocket(-related) science, where it might actually still be said "not (to be) 'rocket science'" as a possibly ironic (self-)deprecating statement.

Another similar term we use in English (British, at least) is "brain surgery" (as something that something else is not). I can think of at least two comedy double acts that did a sketch about how an actual rocket scientist character meets (or mutually becomes aware of) an actual brain surgeon at a party and do a version of "well, I'm sure he's clever, but (his thing) isn't exactly (my thing), is it?" to each other. Or to third-parties in their separate little social huddles.

Mixing them (usually "rocket surgery", when alone, given the relative normality of "brain science") is often done for intentional humour.

There are also T-shirts for certain geek-types that say "Actually, I am a Rocket Scientist", or variations around that theme (not so sure about the surgery variation - you can dabble with hobbyist/semi-professional rocketry much easier than with any practical form of cranial medicine), which is parodied in the image currently used to illustrate this character who is a techno-geek variation in a world (and institution) where experimental magic is the closest practical thing to science as we know it.

I can't speak about the wider uses/differences in the anglosphere, or beyond it. I'm sure there'll be some resources about this (first obvious link, has some reference material for the Brain one, but not exactly comprehensively so), and maybe it'll be found by someone else here unless I stumble on it first.


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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby ThirdParty » Thu Apr 11, 2019 5:11 am UTC

I tried Googling it a bit. Here's what I've got:

rocket science, aerospace engineering, etc.:
Spanish: "no es ciencia espacial".
Danish: "det er ikke raketvidenskab".
Finnish: "se ei ole rakettitiede".

particle physics, quantum mechanics, etc.:
German: "ist keine atomwissenschaft".
Hungarian: "ez nem atomfizika".

higher mathematics, Chinese algebra, etc.:
Dutch: "het is geen hogere wiskunde".
Russian: "это не бином Ньютона".

black magic, witchcraft, etc.:
French: "ce n'est pas sorcier".
Polish: "to nie jest czarna magia".
Portuguese: "não é bicho de sete cabeças".

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Flumble » Thu Apr 11, 2019 10:21 am UTC

ThirdParty wrote:higher mathematics, Chinese algebra, etc.:
Dutch: "het is geen hogere wiskunde".

While I have heard that one before, I fear English has won yet again, because I've heard "het is geen raketwetenschap" more often.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu Apr 11, 2019 11:02 am UTC

I don't think English has that exact expression (though it has brain surgery/rocket science), but we have the phrase "it's (all) Greek (to me)," as in, "I can't understand it." That seems to make the same kind of sense as "Chinese algebra" from a different geographic perspective.

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Soupspoon » Thu Apr 11, 2019 4:01 pm UTC

Was Flumble not saying that English had 'won' by once more being a cultural exporter/surplanter?

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby PM 2Ring » Thu Apr 11, 2019 4:54 pm UTC

Soupspoon wrote:Another similar term we use in English (British, at least) is "brain surgery" (as something that something else is not). I can think of at least two comedy double acts that did a sketch about how an actual rocket scientist character meets (or mutually becomes aware of) an actual brain surgeon at a party and do a version of "well, I'm sure he's clever, but (his thing) isn't exactly (my thing), is it?" to each other. Or to third-parties in their separate little social huddles.


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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby somitomi » Fri Apr 12, 2019 3:29 pm UTC

Strange, I don't think I've ever heard or seen "brain surgery", but it makes sense.
ThirdParty wrote:I tried Googling it a bit. Here's what I've got:

That's the sort of thing I had in mind, thanks.
Soupspoon wrote:Was Flumble not saying that English had 'won' by once more being a cultural exporter/surplanter?

I think so, at least that would be consistent with my experience with translated English idiomatic expressions appearing in Hungarian use. I blame you, sloppily translated US TV shows...
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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby Flumble » Sat Apr 13, 2019 2:22 am UTC

Soupspoon wrote:Was Flumble not saying that English had 'won' by once more being a cultural exporter/surplanter?

Indeed (maybe I should've cut the quote to just the line of Dutch to make it clearer). The average netherlander is so much exposed to English that perfectly fine dutch words and expressions fall out of fashion in favour of english counterparts. Except "gezellig". You anglophones will never take our "gezelligheid"!

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Re: Miscellaneous language questions

Postby PM 2Ring » Sat Apr 13, 2019 5:59 am UTC

FWIW, some Anglophones quite like the sound of Dutch. But I must admit I can't tell the difference between the sound of Dutch and Afrikaans.


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