Wednesday, May 27, 2009

WNW: The Ryon's Tale?

Funny story connected to an interesting linguistic phenomenon.

First, the language part, then the story.

It's commonly known that many Asian languages (such as Chinese and Japanese) don't have the typical [r] and [l] sounds that we have in English, and that native Asians learning English as a second language often mix up the two and/or struggle to make them sound different at all. Many can't even hear the difference.

This fact is often used for jokes in television and movies, such as a Japanese person intending to say, "clap" but who instead says, "crap." There are cruder examples, but I'll spare you.

According to our favorite online encyclopedia, the Japanese R is pronounced much like a soft Spanish R, where you flap your tongue against the palate behind your teeth. It's not at all like the English R. Plus, Japanese has no comparable L sound.

The article also states that the Chinese "R" really isn't one in the English sense. Instead, it's a "voiced retroflex fricative," which means it's more of a [zh] sound than an [r] as we'd know it. So again, Chinese people have no context for the English [r] and [l].

If you've lasted this long, you get to have the funny story part:

My maiden name is Luthy. (Pronounced like "Lucy" with a lisp. Not Lutchy. Not Loochy. Not Lutty. LUTHY. Got it? Good.)

As I've mentioned probably six hundred times, my dad has a Ph.D. in linguistics and taught at BYU until his recent retirement. He often had foreign students in his classes. 

An Asian student once turned in a paper on this very concept: the difficulty in pronouncing  [r] and [l] for Asian speakers of English.

I have no idea how good the paper itself was, but this student apparently also struggled with the problem and needed to brush up on distinguishing between the two sounds . . .

because the top of his paper listed his teacher as "Dr. Ruthy."

21 comments:

Kimberly said...

Oh dear! The poor guy must've been so embarrassed when he realized!

Heffalump said...

Ha ha!

Kristina P. said...

Ha! That is too funny.

Erin said...

Of course, knowing your maiden name, I knew it was pronounced Luthy. How funny - I had never thought of anyone mispronouncing it.

But that story is hilarious!

Jordan McCollum said...

LOL. Self-referential joke?

Josi said...

Ha, ha--did you're dad sit him down and give him the 'talk' :-)

Becky said...

Very funny! Was your dad happy or sad about being called Dr. Ruthy? I hope he just laughed.

Annette Lyon said...

He just thought it was funny. I doubt he ever corrected the guy--I imagine the student figured it out on his own and was properly embarrassed without it being pointed out!

Emily M. said...

Hey, I had a class from Dr. Luthy (I was a TESOL minor at BYU). Advanced grammar, I think, or something like that. It was fun, and I really wish I remembered more of it now. Your dad's a great teacher.

Heatherlyn said...

Maybe since the paper was on the difficulty of foreign students distinguishing those "r" and "l" sounds it was a tongue-in-cheek thing that the student did on purpose?

Mikki said...

That's cute! Must be very confusing for them to learn our language.

Mama Nut said...

Hey, I found your blog on Mormon Mommy Blogs, and I am really glad I did!! I can't wait to read more!

LexiconLuvr said...

I had some close friends who were japaneese who hung out with my friend Lisa and me all the time. They always called us Risa and Raura. =]

Luisa Perkins said...

Excellent. :D

Barbaloot said...

My brother lives in China and is married to a Chinese woman. In their office they have a man named Larry and a man named Riley. And the Chinese worked CANNOT tell the different between the two. They think both their names are the same:)

TmeggenT said...

Very funny! I am sure my attempts at Spanish were equally hilarious for the poor Mexicans trying to understand me last summer.

annie valentine said...

Ha! Funny.

Heather B. Moore said...

Very funny. I was at McDonald's a couple of months ago, and when they asked my name to write on the receipt, I said "Heather", the lady wrote "Header."

Lara said...

My name is very difficult for Chinese people. The orchestra director at SUU is Chinese, and since he can't pronounce the L sound well and does okay with the R, he just calls me Sara. I just let it slide, except for I think that his wife really think my name is Sara. Her name is Ling, so they have some sort of sound that sort of works I'd guess...it's difficult for me to discern exactly what sound they're doing when they say her name, though.

Chas Hathaway said...

Ha, ha!

That's okay. I served my mission in South Africa, and when I would introduce myself and my companion, I would say, "I'm Elder Hathaway, and..."

"Hat... hat..."

"Hathaway"

"Hat... ah..."

"Almost there. Hath-a-way"

"Hat... ah... way"

"close enough. This is my companion, Elder Mahlangabeza."

"Ah, Mahlangabeza."

Hmmm... those dang Americans with their impossible names!

- Chas
http://chas.willowrise.com

Jo said...

That is funny!

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