In light of recent events...

Not that there's any "light" side to the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami, but consider a certain lexical after-effect it's had: according to this post on WordLab, "Toyota Canada is abandoning plans for the 'Special Edition Celica Tsunami'."

A second, unrelated after-effect has to do with English phonology, or at least the English phonology of NPR announcers. Does anyone else notice the word-initial [ts] pronunciation of "tsunami", or has it always been this way and am I just a boor? (Both the OED and AHD4 claim it's only [ts], but I never heard anyone pronounce "tsunami" in that way till now). I should add: I don't bat an eyelash when hearing the velar fricative [x] in the pronunciation of "Bach" as in, say, a musical program, and maybe that's just because I was a music major. On the other hand, each time I've heard a radio announcer pronounce the [ts] where I'd have uttered [s], well, the halt in airflow has literally jolted me out of my seat, since each time I'd tend to misparse "the [ts]unami" as "that [s]unami." I'd say, as an affricate, it's just as bizzare as pronouncing, say, "Pf" as an actual [pf]. (For the name of the actress Michelle Pfeiffer, I'd have said [fEfr] not [pfEfr], and so forth). My question to you, dear Explingers, is: is there something to this analysis, or is it really just that I'm merely familiar with one (marked) feature ([x]) but not the other ([ts]).


Blogger LO said...

Dear colleague Spoon*,

I don't think strange at all the [ts] thing, especially being in a single and non-native word. The fact is, phonotactic rules of the language do not seem to be completely inviolable, especially in these single case words and when you have such a cluster across words (etc?). So, announcers start saying [ts] and everyone else follows, that is my guess. I always said with [ts], knowing the word way before the end of 2004.

As a side note, apparently the press in Brazil has been avoiding the word "Tsunami" and preferring something like "giant waves". I am not sure why, but maybe to make the fact obvious from the beginnning and not having to explain it every time to a substantive part of the population, which is poorly educated or illiterate.

*Sorry, the Neo thing does not fit you. Start wearing a long black coat at least.

8:34 AM  
Blogger W1ll13 30% Hacker said...

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2:30 PM  
Blogger W1ll13 30% Hacker said...

Dear Neo-Spoon,

I've never heard the initial [t] pronounced. Always just the [s]. Maybe it's a Southern thing.

On a separate tsunami note, a commenter on another site I lurk upon predicts that "tsunami" will be the next word of the year. Following this, it will creep into such popular usage as "Would you like to tsunami-size that drink and fries?"

I'll go for word of the year, but I'm skeptical about the second prediction. Although, there is a pretty popular drink called "mudslide", which for all I know may have been named after a catastrophic mudslide somewhere. I guess we shouldn't rule anything out. Still, I won't wait breathlessly for tsunami-sized Dr. Peppers or fries.

3:03 PM  
Blogger The Neologiac Spooneristocrat said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:13 PM  
Blogger The Neologiac Spooneristocrat said...

Speaking of 'mudslides,'in New Orleans we've got our own drink called the 'hurricane.' As such, even utter devastation or loss of life don't stop an intense word from being bleached into the name of an (intense) alcholic beverage. What's stopping a drink from being called a 'tsunami?' Maybe such a name would fit a sake-daiquiri blend. (I still say the initial cluster is the problem--I agree with Will13 %30 Hacker: I'm from the south and never pronounced the initial [t]).

4:18 PM  
Blogger SCO'Re von (temporarily at least) Tübingen GmbH said...

I was caught off-guard by the pronunciation of one of the anchors on CNN International over here in Germany when I heard her pronounce 'tsunami' with [ts]. I wondered to myself whether this was the newest trend to be started by newsmen[err...-people]. It was the first time I had heard the word pronounced other than with an initial [s].

As for other such "trends," another example which immediately comes to mind is the shift of stress in 'harassment' from the penult to antepenult. I had never heard the word with stress on the antepenult before it began to be uttered that way on various news programs which were reporting on the high-profile harassment cases back in the '90s (Clarence Thomas or Bob Packwood maybe?).

10:11 PM  
Blogger The Neologiac Spooneristocrat said...

I agree with our SCO'Re: it's the damn newsmen--err-newspeople's fault. "Harassment" with initial stress may have originated with certain feminist academics. But the [ts] in "tsunami"--distinctly pedantic and international-sounding--started with the news reporters. I'm glad my gut feeling about this has been bolstered by my two fellow American Explingers here. =)

2:14 PM  
Blogger LO said...

I feel a bit of normativism in the air here. What is the big deal with the [ts]? Why not change the pronunciation? Don't be so attached to the [ts] guys! It's more likely that the [t] won't be heard in many cases anyway. And international sounding should be great for news, right? That might explain a bit the tendency for [ts].

11:26 AM  
Blogger Wesley John said...

What of the varying form of pronunciation that I've recently heard from BBC newsreaders--they forgo [ts] and s and pronounce it as 'tunami'.

I've never heard this oddity before. Is it a regionalism that I've been too poorly-traveled to encounter?

10:00 AM  

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