What Planet is This?

01 Aug 2005


For people not acquainted with Irish Gaelic orthography, Lughnasadh is one of those delightfully unpronounceable words. It's the name of the Gaelic holiday celebrated on the 1st August, a day on which masters would give glove-silver to their servants, and which is still marked by some with bonfires and dancing.

Linguists are very concerned with recording the dialectal variant pronunciations that people have, but they're not so concerned with recording their mispronunciations. It would be interesting to see what people make of various foreign words, whether they attempt to overcompensate if they have some knowledge of the orthography of the target language, or if they just slide into absolute randomness with words from, say, Basque, which has no sister language.

It'd be most interesting to do the test on people with unplaceable accents, as, for example, Robert Cailliau, who was one of the early developers of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee wrote of him in Weaving the Web (2000, p.27) that "after taking an engineering degree at the University of Ghent he picked up a master's at the University of Michigan, an experience that left him with an accent in English that is impossible to identify. Indeed it became a parlour game for newcomers at CERN to try to guess exactly where he was from."

Another such person is a friend of mine, Javier Candeira. A native Spanish speaker, his "carefulness, overcorrection, random mistakes, book learning and a lot of movie and TV watching", as he puts it, has left him too with an untraceable dialect. The word "dialect" he pronounces as "dalek", to my ears, though the vast majority of words are fluent, and some moreso than me: when he switches into Spanish, people congratulate him on how fluent he is thinking English is his native language. In thinking about where I'd place him if pressed, I think that the overcorrection lends a slightly eastern european element to it, though it's not at all as though you'd say he's from Poland. I think you could convince someone that he's from somewhere in England, or, really, from any place in the world. Simply untraceable.

And it's "loo nas ah", in case you were still wondering. The Beginner's Guide to Irish Gaelic Pronunciation is good, too, for this sort of thing.

Cite: Palmer, S.B. (2005). "Lughnasadh", in: What Planet is This?
Archival URI: http://inamidst.com/notes/lughnasadh


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