Monday, 28 July 2014

A linguistic theory I'm working on

 This was me when I was actually in school. So. Yeah. 


Get ready for some extreme nerdishness. I've been thinking about this one on and off for years, and I really think I'm right. I believe I've figured out where certain nicknames come from, and it's all about word association.

The same thing happens over and over to me, regardless of where I am or with whom I am speaking. People, once they get to know me well enough, call me Novarella.

I never ever ever tell people that was my nickname when I was a small child. Ever. And none of the people who come up with it know that I go by that as my online persona either.  But they end up calling me Novarella eventually every time.

Of course first comes Super Nova, then Novocaine or Chevy Nova, and the origins of those ones are obvious. But Novarella? Why?


Having taken years of linguistics courses at university, I have the tools to think about this from a more scientific point of view than the average Joe. And I believe I've figured it out. It's actually pretty simple.

It's just because the phonemes in Novarella are similar to the phonemes in another familiar word, Mozzarella.

I know, I know, it sounds stupid, but hear me out. I have done the same thing to Tank, completely subconsciously. I call him "Tankaroo" all the time. Why that?

Because it's very very similar to the word kangaroo. 

Here's the breakdown as I see it:

This is a chart featuring the consonants of the International Phonetic Alphabet

Novarella - Mozzarella

Okay so you can see that the \n\ and the \m\ are both voiced nasals, the only difference is the place of articulation, with the \m\ being bilabial and the N being alveolar.

The o sound in both words is more or less pronounced the same way.

Then the \v\ and the \z\ are both voiced fricatives, the only difference, again is the place of articulation, with the \v\ being labiodental and the \z\ being alveolar. 

And then the "arella" is the same at the end of both of them.

I think that when a person is searching for a cute nickname for somebody, the brain scans its vocabulary for a word that is similar enough that the name will fit in nicely and have a nice ring to the ear.

Tankaroo - Kangaroo

The same thing goes with Tankaroo and Kangaroo. The \t\ and the \k\ are both voiceless stops (plosives), the only difference is, you guessed it, the place of articulation. The \t\ is an alveolar stop and the \k\ is a velar stop.

Then there's the "ang/ank". This one, as you can see on the chart is a little different from the last three examples, but sort of the same. The only difference between the \g\ and the \k\ is the voicing. They're both velar plosives, but the \g\ is voiced, the \k\ is not.

So there you have it, folks. My word-nerdery of the day.

What do you think? Am I onto something here? Can you think of any other examples like this?

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