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The Danish potato (was: Re: Chinese Dialect Question)

From:Isidora Zamora <isidora@...>
Date:Monday, October 13, 2003, 23:13
>Ok, please excuse my extreme ignorance, but what does fortis mean? Also, >what does a voiceless stop sound like? And, lastly, what do you mean by >potato? I'm really sorry if my questions seem silly, but I've never had >a class on linguistics (they don't seem to be interested in offering >linguistics classes in my high school :-( ). > >-- >Jonathan Beagley
Fortuately, Mark and others have given you an excellent rundown of the basics of articulatory phonetics (which they didn't teach at my high school, either. It wás the first thing they taught me in college, however.), so I don't have to be the one to answer those questions. (Thanks, everybody; you all did a much better job of explaining than I would have. And I also learned something about the meaning of lenis and fortis, which is nice.) I'll just answer the question about the potato. I am an American who spent her senior year in high school as an exchange student in Denmark. Somewhere along the line, I am certain that it was before I left the States, a Scandinavian exchange student whose nationality I cannot remember told me the following joke (The joke makes more sense if you understand that the three Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian) are, to a great degree, mutually intelligible.) (The joke is also far funnier if you are in the same room as the person telling it, as it is a visual joke, but I will try to do my best here.): Danish sounds like you have a potato in your mouth; Swedish sounds like this [bounce hand up and down in the air]; and Norwegian sounds like this [bounce hand up and down in the air a lot higher than previously]. I'll let others who have heard all three languages speak to the validity of the characterizations. (I've heard all three languages and think the joke is quite funny.) (I suppose that anyone who wants to test the joke can listen to Scandinavian radio programs over the internet. I know that Danmarks Radio has a great website, and I would assume that there are similar resources for the other two languages.) I don't know how John learned about the potato, but that's how I learned about it. I strongly suspect that it is a fact well known to every Scandinavian that the Danish language sounds like you are speaking with a potato in your mouth. (Probably a small boiled potato, since, in my experience, that is almost the only way potatoes are eaten in Denmark.) Danish is simply a very blurry-sounding language, thus the potato joke. Sorry that this reply is so late in coming. I got a bit behind on my mail, and then I went to visit my parents over the weekend and have just come home now. Isidora


John Cowan <cowan@...>
Pavel Iosad <edricson@...>
Isidora Zamora <isidora@...>