Wednesday, August 26, 2009

WNW: Messing with Your Head

Last week I threw a linguist mind bender out. Some of you already knew it (good for you!), and others had never heard of it.

Before I write it out again, let's set up what we're dealing with.

Have you ever tried learning a foreign language, thought you have a pretty good handle on it, and then actually hear a native speak to you and go . . . whoa! Suddenly, you can't understand a word.

One reason is often because the native is speaking fast. Another is that they're using colloquial terms that you didn't learn in language class.

This is a classic issue with learning Finnish. NO ONE speaks the "real" language; Finns are constantly hacking off and mixing up endings and throwing together stuff, so missionaries' heads are spinning.

I remember a hand-clapping game with my friends that we'd do in a specific pattern, and we'd count to see how far we could get. After about twenty, I'd let them do the counting aloud and forget trying to keep up, because they were abbreviating the numbers so much just to keep up with the rhythm that they no longer made sense to me and I couldn't count that fast in Finnish.

Finnish has a lot of syllables, so for a quick rhythm game, you'd have to abbreviate. For, say, the number 38, good luck saying, "kolme-kymentä-kahdeksan" in about a quarter of second. They'd shorten it to, "kol-kyt-kah." Now it was my head spinning.

But one big reason you get foreign speakers not understanding another language is because they can't tell where one word ends and the next one begins. If the native were to slow down enough, really enunciate, or perhaps write it out, the foreigner could have half a chance at figuring it out.

Learning where a word begins and ends and the next begins and ends is something infants and children do when they learn their native tongue as well.

And that's where I messed with your heads last week.

I took a nursery-rhyme type sing-song thing and messed it up so you couldn't tell where one word really ended and the next began. I could have spelled it any number of ways (it's a famous rhyme, so I'm sure there are others ways), but this is how I did it:

Maresy dotes'n doesy dotes'n littel amsy divie.

I even told you to say it aloud . . . as if that would help. It probably just messed with your head more if you weren't familiar with it.

Here's the real rhyme written out in actual English words so you can see where each one properly begins and ends.

Mares eat oats,
And does eat oats,
And little lambs eat ivy.

Okay, now sing it again.

Now go back and read the funky version one and see how your brain tricked you because you couldn't decipher the beginning and ending of each word.

I found out recently (thanks, Blondie!) that there's an entire board game based on phrases that sound like one thing but are really another (called mondegreens). The game is Mad Gab. I'm going to have to buy it now. Talk about the perfect person to enjoy it! (Now if I can just find someone as nerdy as I am to play it with me . . .)

Kids are the best at inadvertently coming up with their own mondegreens such with the Primary song, "I Am a Child of God" where the lyric, "has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear" turns out as, "parents kind of weird."

Hey, it sounds right . . .


Erin said...

I have played Mad Gab, and I hated it because it was too hard. And I was a linguistic minor!!

I figured it was something like that. But I have never heard of that nursery rhyme, so I couldn't figure it out anyway.

I love your WNW, just so you know :)

Chas Hathaway said...

So funny!

You could probably fill a discussion board with all the misheard song words.

At our house we have a term for misheard words. We call it a rogmup. So if I say, "hand me the remote," and someone replies, "You want me to hang you a boat?" that's a rogmup.

We've come up with so many Hathawayisms that way.

- Chas

Sarah M Eden said...

It's so funny that you specifically mentioned "I Am a Child of God" because I messed up the lyrics to that one when I was a kid. Instead of "And so my needs are great" I thought it said "And so my knees are gray" and in my little mind I thought it was referring to when Joseph Smith had to have surgery on his legs (thus leaving him with gray knees. whatever.
I love Mad Gab, by the way. You'll love it too.

CB said...

Mad Gab is a super hard game.

I was doomed. I had never heard this rhyme before and I am a mom of 5 and an avid reader. Somewhere I missed the boat.

It is an interesting challenge though!

Annette Lyon said...

Sarah, we are indeed kindred spirits--I thought the same thing about gray knees!

Kristina P. said...

So, I don't think I've ever even seen the real rhyme spelled out!

Heffalump said...

We have mad gab! It's kind of hard, but I figure if you get used to thinking outside the box a bit when you are reading the words, then that can only be good for your brain!

Lara Neves said...

Mad Gab is super fun. I think it's harder when you are reading the words because your brain really gets stuck on what it is reading. If you are just listening, though, it's easier to hear out of the box, so to speak.

Speaking of songs that were misheard, I always thought the words "by this shall men know" in Love One Another said "by this shellmenno" and I just envisioned Jesus' disciples down by some river called Shellmenno. :)

Shelley said...

My kids like to sing about "little purple panties."

Lyon Pride said...

There is an LDS version of Mad Gab called Mormon Mouthful that is pretty fun. I've played it with our youth a couple times.

Laura said...

That reminds me...
years ago my oldest was singing "I am a Child Of God". It was adorable- until he got the the part "teach me all that I'm a stupid" instead of "teach me all that I must do."

It still makes me laugh. Don't worry- I worked really hard at fixing that sentence for him.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I, too, thought I Am A Child Of God talked about gray knees. Too funny.

I loved playing Mad Gab in college. It has been awhile, but I think that is a game I would like to own.

Helena said...

Have you ever read the story of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut? Here's one version: (Not exactly the same as the one I know, but pretty close.)

Jenny P. said...

How about this... we both buy the game, and then play it over the phone. :)

One of my twins was reciting the fourth article of faith... I don't remember all she said but it involved baptism by emergency, and the laying on of pants, instead of hands.

Not exactly what you were talking about, but still cute. :)

Randi said...

I've never heard I am A Child Of God sung quite that way. But I know some kids who could really get on board with it!

Anonymous said...

I'd totally play Mad Gab with you because it's loads of fun and so are you. =]

Jo said...

Oh my gosh, we LOVE playing Mad Gabs. I guess I like having my head messed with.

LisAway said...

Oh, a kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?

somecookIsew said...

I love the parents are weird one. Haven't heard that one!


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