Pop linguistics is a field made possible by the Web. Trained linguists can talk about topics that aren’t big enough for an actual paper (previously, there were no venues whatsoever for such discussions). Amateur linguists, including people like me who have a degree in the field they don’t really use, can also talk about language. Anybody can. Linguistics has been popularized for the first time in its history.

Sometimes it bleeds into the popular press. Surely the best pop-linguistics article of the year is by Sarah Barmak in the Toronto Star (2010.06.05), wondering just how exactly one pronounces the name of mixed-race and ‑nationality hockey player Dustin Byfuglien. (Best photo ever, incidentally.)

Byfuglien inherited the name from his mother, who is Norwegian. In his hometown, the tiny northwest Minnesota burg of Roseau, locals say “bye-foog-lie-in.” On TV and among hockey fans, however, it’s “Bufflin.” He’s a large guy – listed at 257 pounds – so sometimes it’s “Big Buff.”

Byfuglien, it seems, has been Favred.

Both players’ names have been simplified – to the point where their original pronunciation has been eclipsed by its newly invented one. Favre should sound something like “Fahvrr” – just ask distant cousins of his – but announcers and fans evidently had trouble with that vr sound, so unfamiliar in English. And there’s that guttural, rolling r, meant to be trilled in the back of the throat. It’s much easier to say the v and r sounds in reverse – a linguistic process known as metathesis, wherein “pretty” becomes purty and “spaghetti” becomes pasghetti. […]

“The pronunciation in Norwegian is something like bee-foog-lee-an… but actually the vowel in the first part (bee) is the Norwegian sound y, which is darker (narrower) than the ee sound.

“However, if Americans pronounce it buf-lin, it’s their party.”

It usually is.

But let’s not place all the blame on Americans. Many a French-Canadian hockey player’s name has been sacrificed on the tongues of their Anglo fans. Many “Claudes” have become mere “Clods.” […]

We English speakers are so much more versatile than we give ourselves credit for…. Brigitte Bardot never became Bridget Bardott, did she?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.06.11 14:26. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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