17 November 2011

Misparsed Words

In my previous post, I discussed the pronunciation of biopic, specifically whether the stress is on the first or second syllable.

Failure to recognise that it is actually bio(graphical) + pic(ture) can be regarded as an instance of misparsing. My UBD colleague, James McLellan, suggested the following additional examples:
  • underfed : pronounced as [ʌndɜ:ft], in the mistaken assumption that the final ed is a suffix
  • manslaughter : misparsed as man's laughter
What about words in Malay? There is a naïve belief by some people that there is a one-to-one link between spelling and pronunciation. But what about cukai ('tax') and mulai ('to begin')? The first of these is two syllables, because it is a single morpheme, while mulai is three syllables, because it is mula + i. But there is no way to tell this from the spelling unless you parse the words correctly. And the first time I heard mengenai ('about') spoken, I was stunned to realise that it is four syllables, because I had failed to realise that it is meng + kena + i.

And, while we are discussing the parsing of words, note that I wrote naïve with two dots over the 'i' to ensure you can read it correctly as two syllables [naɪi:v] rather than monosyllabic [naɪv]. Those two little dots over the 'i' are really quite helpful.