Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Sat Aug 25 12:46:11 UTC 2001

Hmmmmm. How about this instead: the greter the sonority of the
following consonant, the less likely a vowel is to maintain "tense"
(including rounding) characteristics. "American boys" also follow
this rule, and younger Americans seem to be employing it even more
generally. E.g., try saying "cool" these days with a tense vowel; you
might as well say "hep" instead of "hip."

Note, however, the lexicalization of such pronunciations in areas
where the process is not so advanced. This looks to me like
"phonological slang," an idea little explored among us. For example,
here are plenty of folk not involved in the Southern Vowel Shift who
"like" to say "she-it" for "shit," but wuld never say "be-it" for
"bit" (unless involved in a more than single lexsical item imitation
of southern (US) speech).


>>It's not the backup group whose pronunciation I'm interested in but the
>>American boy.  And what he says is clearly /zUmzUm/, not /zmzm/.  The only
>>reason the vocal groups pronunciation interests me is that because of it
>>pronunciation is consistent in the ad.  Given money and care taken over
>>such ads, I doubt that this is an accident.
>I haven't seen the ad. I listened to the group at the Mazda web site. My
>impression (which I can't justify) is that the word spoken is English
>"zoom" /zum/, as spoken with an 'accent' -- maybe African, maybe something
>else, not usual US or UK. Whether these speakers would distinguish /zUm/
>from /zum/ -- or "pull" from "pool" or "soot" from "suit" -- I don't know.
>If I asked the singer whether he said "zoom" /zum/, I think he would say
>yes. I agree that the word as sung is virtually my/our /zUm/.
>Is the boy American for sure? Was he perhaps told to reproduce the sound of
>the singers? Was he instructed by a Japanese to say "zoom", and if so how
>did the Japanese pronounce it? [/u/ versus /U/ is not a natural contrast in
>Japanese AFAIK, the Japanese "u" being far removed from either.] Maybe this
>is an intentional oddity, meant to catch the viewer's attention, the boy
>ostensibly mimicking the foreign singers or something.
>If "zoom" is perceived by the ad producers -- and/or by the boy -- as an
>arbitrary sound, there's no reason he shouldn't say /zUm/. For comparison,
>I just listened to the "singing flowers" sequence in Disney's "Alice in
>Wonderland" video: some flowers sing /bUm bUm/, /bUm b@ bUm/ -- clearly (to
>me) not /bum/ "boom" as I would speak it.
>-- Doug Wilson

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at pilot.msu.edu
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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