October 14, 2019


The [ʒ] sound has long been complicated to indicate in English. Found in words like 'leisure' and 'genre,' it has no commonly agreed upon spelling representation. 'Zh' (perhaps by analogy with 'sh'?) is common (and, to my eyes, sensical), being found in romanizations of Russian and Mandarin, as well as the name 'Quenvanzhane.'

Unfortunately, 'zh' does not have the best recognition. I remember being confused when the character 'Zhao' in Avatar: The Last Airbender was pronounced 'Zao.'

When it comes to casual shortenings of words like 'cas(ual)' and 'us(ual)', the spellings can become even more erratic. And the spelling of 'zhuzh' [ʒʊʒ], a word meaning to make fabulous, isn't agreed upon yet - you can find 'zhoozh', 'zhuj,' 'jooj,' and other variants.

All that being said, the following spelling(s) of 'zh' have truly caught my eye for total lack of consistency:

While TOMS has “tszujed” its designs up since its initial introduction, innovative style and design has never been a brand hallmark.

The 'j' for final [ʒ] isn't uncommon in laymen descriptions (see 'caj' for 'cazh'). The 'z' doesn't even surprise me, as 's', 'z', 'j', and 'h' are often bundled together in a haphazard attempt to capture the sound. But 'tsz' truly leaves me speechless. Is 'tsz' a representation of [ʒ] in some language I'm not aware of? Why the 't'? And much to my surprise, it's not all that new either. There's an Urban Dictionary entry from 2005 with the helpful tidbit:

"It is very hard to pronounce, and even harder to spell, many times often misspelled 'jujj' or 'jooj'. Pronounced "zhuj", by the way."

October 9, 2019

The deed is done

Some good news first - Ace Linguist has been approved for ads, which will hopefully help offset some of the hosting costs! And perhaps in the future, it could even help expand the scope of the site a little.

The bad news - I am still figuring out some aspects of how to run the ads. Currently they appear after every single post, which is not quite what I wanted. I would prefer them as a footer. I will have to experiment with ad placement and such to see what Google does and does not allow. I want to make the ad experience simple and non-intrusive to you all.

I have written up a sort of mission statement regarding ads, monetization, and the goal of the site. If I am going to be adding ads, after all, I think you should know what the ads are funding! (Currently they're not funding anything since they've just been added, but I think you get the idea). Dropbox is the number one priority to fund. After that, there a number of "nice-to-haves" that I have listed in the statement. The goal of the ads is to make the site better, not to rake in the dollars. Trust me, this sort of content isn't exaaactly the most lucrative sort.

I shall continue to keep you updated regarding any changes to the site. I would expect a new Dialect Dissection to come some time this month. I wish I could say it were Halloween-related or otherwise spooky, but it isn't, except perhaps in some cosmic way of 'the horror of the situation.'

I am also experimenting with the idea of "Dialect Mini-Dissections," for when there's a particular clip or album that I want to talk about but don't have enough material to justify making a full length Dialect Dissection. Some singers only have one album out, but still have linguistically interesting features. Likewise, perhaps an episode of a television show may merit a Mini article. I don't love the name "Mini-Dissection" (frankly I'm not as enthralled about 'Dialect Dissection' as I used to be, though I don't plan on changing it) so I will continue to brainstorm a more sensible name.

Thanks as always to all my readers!

- Karen

October 8, 2019

Dialect Borrowing and Confusion

I would say that most of the time, people who speak different accents of English are able to understand each other. I would definitely say that American English speakers should be able to understand English English speakers. But sometimes there's interdialectal confusion, either with regards to comprehension or intention.

This short post was inspired by Jeff Klingman's review of Sri Lankan/English rapper M.I.A.'s song "Bad Girls." He writes:

The lyrics are the worst part by a fair margin. There’s no eye-rolling political agit-prop, but there’s nothing taking up its void either. It’s about being a bad girl, and driving a car. (But which seat will she take??) It acts like “get down” rhymes with “you can hang.” It’s just sort of filling space.

The lyrics in question from the song are:

Get back, get down
Pull me closer if you think you can hang
Hands up, hands tied
Don't go screaming if I blow you with a bang

Klingman seems to think that MIA was attempting to rhyme "down" with "hang," and moreover that this is a forced rhyme. But it's clear that "hang" was meant to rhyme with "bang."

Whence this confusion? MIA uses a curious bit of pronunciation on "down" and pronounces it as "d[æ]wn" like many Americans, instead of using the RP "d[a]wn." But she uses an RP pronunciation on "hang," which is "h[æ]ng."

Perhaps the similar phones used in "down" and "hang" caused Klingman to think that she was attempting to rhyme "down" and "hang," when "down" was just borrowing from American English and the "hang"/"bang" rhyme was always the intended one.

This is obviously a very minor instance of confusion, but it's still one that's stuck out to me since I read this review. Do you have any examples of borrowing pronunciations from other dialects which caused confusion, minor or major?