24b. Playtime: Phonotactics VII: Phonetic timing and a parody of "That's Amore"
This is another fun, and very light, lesson, much shorter than the previous page.
Way back in 1953, Italian-American pop singer Dean Martin recorded a hit called "That's Amore" that mixes Italian and Italian-American words into an English song about falling in love in Napoli (Naples in English). This was probably before your time, so here is a YouTube file of the song, with the lyrics:
A sidenote: Wikipedia says "Martin did not attempt to deliver the lyrics in an authentic Italian accent, but used the accent of an American trying to mimic Italian pronunciation." In fact, Martin's Italian was not that good, judging from his pronunciation in songs like "Volare"!
Now what does this song have to do with phonetics and phonotactics? Well, some clever (but as yet unidentified) person made up a parody of this song that illustrates how the same (or similar) series of segments (i.e. consonants and vowels), when spoken or sung with different timing, or different articulatory speeds and vowel, consonant and pause lengths, can produce totally different words and meanings. We've read examples of this in Ladefoged (p. 37), who tells us that the English affricates [ʧ] and [ʤ] are indeed phonetically two sounds, even if phonologically each is a single phoneme. He mentions this to justify the use of two symbols, [t] and [ʃ], and [d] and [ʒ], to represent these sounds, rather than the single symbols [č] (c-haček) and [ǰ] (j-haček) used in the "Americanist" phonetic transcription system, which is more phonologically oriented than standard IPA. To illustrate this, he asks you to compare the phrases why choose vs. white shoes, he cheats vs. heat sheets, and my chop vs. might shop. There is a longer pause between the [t] and [ʃ] in the latter than in the former, and the vowels have different lengths, but otherwise there is no difference in the sounds.
The following parody of That's Amore, which has been widely circulated via e-mail, exploits this phenomenon, together with the English phonological process of word linking, to contrast several possible timings of the sounds in that's amore (or something similar), at least as a native speaker of American English would read it. Some of the lines add an extra sound, like a final plural marker [z], or aspiration, as in some more hay, so the final result may be only close in sound to that's amore, rather than exactly the same.
Read through the lyrics carefully. The first two lines will give a rhymed hint regarding what the phrase in the third line means, though you many want to check a dictionary for a more precise meaning of some of the words, like moray and mores. Try using Google "images" or Wikipedia to read a description and see pictures of s'mores!
First note if some sounds in the phrase have been changed, e.g. that's a Maori is quite different from that's amore. Then – and this is the most important part – note the timing difference, if any, between phrases like that's amore, that's a moray and that's a moor, eh? Finally, if you're in the mood, have some fun singing the song yourself! You will have a new skill to amaze your linguistically-oriented friends with! (Note that, unlike in the original, you have to repeat the melody of the first stanza all the way through.)
(parody; author unknown; according to Wikipedia,
some lines were apparently taken from
Spider Robinson's 1993 book, The Callahan Touch)
When the moon hits your eye,
Like a big pizza pie,
eel bites your hand,
And that's not what you planned,
That's a moray.
habits are strange,
And our customs deranged,
That's our mores.
horse chews dried grass,
And then begs for more, alas,
That's some more hay.
sheep go to graze,
In a damp marshy place,
That's a moor, eh?
boat comes home fine,
And you tie up her line,
That's a moor, eh?
Becomes stabbed with a knife,
That's a Moor, eh?
ace your last tests,
Like you did all the rest,
That's some more A's!
Mt. Cook you see,
A long aborigine,
That's a Maori.
Is so full and so crammed,
That s'more, eh?
There are other variations of this song, like this one, which includes such additional gems as: "When on Mt. Cook you see/ An old aborigine/That's a Maori." and "When you've had quite enough/Of this dumb rhyming stuff/That's ¡§No more!¡¨, eh?"
Moving on along now:
The Analogx "Rhyme" software introduced on page 21 does not consider the words tot and taught to be homophones, so it apparently does not speak "Californian"! We've learned that tot and taught are pronounced with the same vowel and are thus homophones in the particular kind of English spoken on the U.S. West Coast. But this vowel merger is also typical of Canadian English, and of many parts of the U.S. besides the West Coast. Go on to the next page to find out more!
Next: The tot/taught merger I: It's not just California (with dialect maps)
on to next page back index I index II home