8.0227 New York Phonology Primer (1/29)

Mon, 3 Oct 1994 23:57:11 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 8, No. 0227. Monday, 3 Oct 1994.

Date: Sat, 1 Oct 94 18:53:51 EST
From: raskin@mace.cc.purdue.edu (Victor Raskin)
Subject: The New Yorker Phonology Primer

In his peculiar lecture on Robert Frost (The New Yorker, September 26,
1994, p. 73), Joseph Brodsky writes that "the opposition [between the
words 'dusk' and 'dark' in Frost's poem "Come In"] is but the matter
of substitution of just two letters: of putting "ar" instead of "us"
[emphasis is mine--V.R.). What we've got here is the difference in
just one consonant."

That the Nobel Prizes are not awarded for recognizing the difference
between letters and characters is no surprise to anybody. That to
Brodsky's ear, the two vowels do sound "essentialy the same" is not
surprising to anybody who has heard him confidently substituting his
native Russian [a] for both of them. (And the quote above probably
pales before quite a few other astonishing statements in the lecture
by the notorious autodidact.) But that the sophisticated editors of
The New Yorker can overlook the fact that the two different phonemes
of English, which distinguish dozens of words, could not have possibly
sounded the same to Robert Frost illustrates a pretty sorry state of
affairs in the humanities, in which the ignorance of the most basic
linguistic facts seems perfectly acceptable.

Victor Raskin                                   raskin@mace.cc.purdue.edu
Professor of English and Linguistics            (317) 494-3782
Chair, Interdepartmental Program in Linguistics       494-3780 fax
Coordinator, Natural Language Processing Laboratory
Purdue University
W. Lafayette, IN 47907-1356 U.S.A.