Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
This topic just came up in another thread, but I feel it warrants it’s own thread.
Consider the English of a non-native speaker. If the words are enunciated with a foreign accent, then they may be unrecognizable. This listener will make every attempt to interpret the verbal alterations and sometimes attribute imagery to them that was not intended by the utterer. The question becomes whether these interpretations constitute eggcorns or not—because the alteration did not originate with the listener but the utterer.
Hello Joe. I think we’ve come across a number of eggcorns which emanate mainly from a particular country or language group who take literally what we know to be figurative. I’d never considered a drift in the opposite direction – native English speakers being wrong-footed by ‘foreign’ English – but I can’t see any real difference between that or one of the many idiosyncratic regional dialects of ‘first-language’ English. I suspect that you might have as much difficulty deciphering my BrEnglish dialect as a heavy Slavonic one, and any ensuing eggcorns you might unwittingly conjure from either would surely be equally valid?
But then the listener would re-use them, no?
I think an eggcorn can be received, but not sent. Of course, it won’t be documentable (is that a word?). But it would be an eggcorn.
I think this question turns on a larger question: Do eggcorns exist in some reified, external (and therefore documentable) “language”? Or do they exist in the minds of language users?
The general bias in lexicography, linguistics, and eggcornology is, I would submit, the former: language as it exists “out there in the wild”; a species of language-as-code.
My personal bias is for the latter: language as (traces of) human cognition. Language as code is simply the external evidence for language as cognition (according to my bias).
In this latter case, the question becomes “Does the non-native speaker’s understanding constitute an eggcorn? Or must a listener hear the utterance and construct a similar mental image?”
Or maybe I’ve misunderstood (or misstated) the question?
Last edited by nilep (2008-02-21 12:13:18)
the question becomes “Does the non-native speaker’s understanding constitute an eggcorn? Or must a listener hear the utterance and construct a similar mental image?”
Perhaps that’s more than I had intended. I wasn’t actually considering the non-native speaker’s understanding of the words, just his pronunciation... Consider, for instance, if we were to have a non-native speaker read a passage from a book (written in English), his accent might cause words to sound distorted to the listeners. If the listeners hear the wrong words and construct images from them, would those constitute eggcorns?
The above situation could be contrasted with situations where the listener takes perfectly spoken constructions, misunderstands them, and re-utters them improperly. For instance, if a listener hears the idiom “taken for granted” for the first time and doesn’t cognitively process it properly, then he may produce the eggcorn “taken for granite” at a later date. That’s the standard eggcorn model.
What I’m suggesting is that a non-native speaker may utter an expression imperfectly such that “taken for granted” comes out sounding like “taken for granid”—hypothetically, of course. The listener then construes the construct to be “taken for granite” which bears it’s own legitimate imagery. I would suggest that this does not constitute an eggcorn.
For a concrete example, look at the posting:
Doublage movement by cynthax
In that thread, the term “doublage” was a misinterpretation of the letters “W H” uttered with a foreign accent.
Last edited by jorkel (2008-02-23 10:54:30)
” If the listeners hear the wrong words and construct images from them, would those constitute eggcorns?”
“The listener then construes the construct to be “taken for granite” which bears it’s own legitimate imagery. I would suggest that this does not constitute an eggcorn.”
I disagree. This is an eggcorn. The perfect example of one. (in fact, how else do eggcorns start? That fact that a foreign accent resulted in the mishearing doesn’t matter, any more than a regional pronunciation matters) The fact that he didn’t say repeat it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist as an eggcorn. It only means that there’s no EVIDENCE of its existence, since we can’t read minds.
I think the question can be expanded to “can the English of non-native speakers” beget eggcorns in another language?” One example that comes to mind is “self service” in Brazil. It’s a very common in Brazil to refer to buffets, as in “restaurante self-service”. But in Portuguese, the “e” in “service” is pronounced exactly like the one in “self”. One fairly common strategy for emphasis is to say a word twice, a bit like bye-bye. Because the two words sound so similar, many speakers have interpreted “self-service” as just one word said twice, and you can find several restaurants with signs informing that they are “serve-serve”. “Serve” in Portuguese is the same as “serve”, but with the “er” pronounced as “air” and the final “e” is pronounced, differently from English.
But in Portuguese, the “e” in “service” is pronounced exactly like the one in “self”. One fairly common strategy for emphasis is to say a word twice, a bit like bye-bye.
Do you mean that Portuguese speakers pronounce <self> and <serve> alike? That seems plausible; l and R sound fairly similar, as do f and v. I presume the pronunciation is something like sev-sev. If, on the other hand, you mean that <self> and <service> are pronounced alike, does that mean that the <-ice> are not pronounced?
If Brazilian Portuguese speakers have borrowed English “self-serve”, but reshaped it as “serve-serve” reduplication (a technical term that means saying twice for emphasis, etc), this reminds me of English apron from French napron. It is assumed that fifteenth century English speakers reanalyzed “a napron” as “an apron”.
Last edited by nilep (2008-03-15 22:07:59)
I’ve always wondered if the phrase “Life is a beach” was first uttered by a Spanish-speaker.
*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .