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This past week I've been working roughly twelve hours a day putting together my lectures for the first week of the intro class I'll be teaching this summer. I think I have a series of pretty rockin' lectures, and one reason I've been having such a good time putting them together is that my approach to a topic goes something like this: Hmm. I want to introduce sounds of other languages. Well, Melissa in my program mentioned that the UCLA phonetics archive has a lot of good recordings of other languages. I think I'll pop over to their website and choose one.(Notice my use of the word "pop"---implying a quick perusal of the website, click click download a sound file, and on to lecture planning.) Three hours later, and I'm still scrolling through, listening to word lists in Western Apache and incredibly Soviet-inspired narratives about Pioneers helping collective farmers with their harvest in Chechen and stories about traveling to a wedding in Kabardian and not getting much lecture planning done. I eventually chose a story in !Xóõ, which I strongly recommend listening too, because !Xóõ is a Khoisan language, noted for having clicks. Lots of clicks. It is really remarkable listening to the recording of this person with an elegant, flawless British accent reading the English translation of his text, and then switching over into !Xóõ and sounding like something not of this world.

The reason for the title of this post comes from the lecture I prepared yesterday for Thursday, in which I will talk about speech perception, introducing the concept with some examples of Mondegreens. Mondegreens (if you cannot be bothered to click the link) are cases where people mishear some lyrics to a song or some portion of a poem (usually by misplacing word boundaries), and impute some other meaning to the relevant portion of speech. The particular term comes from a Harpers article by Sylvia Wright in 1954, where she describes her childhood misunderstanding of the first stanza of The Bonny Earl O'Moray, which goes:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
When, in fact, the final line should read And laid him on the green.

Now, it is very useful to know the origins of these coinages like mondegreen, but it also strikes me that this sort of misparsing of a line of a now-obscure poem that none of my students will ever have heard will not be very useful for illustrating how easy it is to misperceive these sorts of things. Far better examples include hearing for which it stands in the Pledge of Allegiance as for Richard Stanz, because most American students have experienced that themselves. The folks over at Language Log were particular amused by a YouTube video in which the song "All By Myself" is reinterpreted as "Obama's Elf", and I do plan on showing that one in class. My favorite Mondegreen (described in the Wikipedia article), however, comes from the first few lines of The Charge of the Light Brigade, in which the nonsense sequence Haffily gaffily gaffily gonward is heard in place of the actual initial lines Half a league, half a league,/Half a league onward. I don't know why I should like it so much: I've never been particularly touched by the poem and I've certainly never experienced that mondegreen myself (even though I'm sure my mother must have recited it to me when I was little. I certainly remember her telling me the story, and she does have something of an encyclopedic memory of bits of famous English verse). But it sounds so great: Haffily gaffily gaffily gonward. I was muttering it to myself all last evening as Mr. Philena and I walked to our favorite burger-and-cider/(beer)-and-basketball-watching-joint to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder whup the Lakers in game 4 of the NBA play-off series. (Good game: the Thunder were behind by ten points for most of it, only slowly inching up and zipping ahead right at the end.)

In other summer-school related things, I've signed up to take a yoga class, and the course website has just gone up. Here is my favorite bit from the course description: My pedagogical approach is holistic in nature and eclectic in synthesizing the empiricism of western science and medicine with Eastern thought. Hmm. Well, I've always been a bit curious about yoga, and it seems as if I'm going to get the whole crunchy hippy liberal West Coast experience! Honestly, I just signed up because I enjoyed taking volleyball this past semester and the scheduling was convenient. And I guess if I reach enlightenment during my convenient schedule that's not a bug, but a feature. And if I don't reach enlightenment, I'll deal with it and move onward. Haffily gaffily gaffily gonward.


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July 2014

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