Carrie Gillon: Hi and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.
Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa.
Carrie Gillon: And I’m Carrie Gillon.
Megan Figueroa: [Squeals] Carrie!
Carrie Gillon: Yes, Megan?
Megan Figueroa: We have a fun, fun mug that I’m so proud of. It’s like, okay, I’m gonna launch it on Saturday. We’ll do the intro for the episode on Monday, and I get to talk about how proud I am of this darn mug. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: I’m proud that you chose the color options that I suggested.
Megan Figueroa: Yes! Well, I fought with photoshop for a while about it, but…
Carrie Gillon: Oh, yeah. I’m sure it was a nightmare.
Megan Figueroa: Yes.
Carrie Gillon: This is why I’m like “I hope you wanna do it because I can’t design worth shit.”
Megan Figueroa: In case someone out there did not see our Twitter yesterday on Saturday, we launched a mug. You just have to see it. I don’t wanna ruin it for you.
Carrie Gillon: Well, okay. How do they find it then?
Megan Figueroa: Um, oh, shit. I guess I don’t wanna force you to go to that one tweet. So, there will be a link to it in our Vocal Fries Twitter bio. It’s real cute, makes a great gift for yourself or loved ones or enemies. I dunno. [Laughter] Please buy it for your enemies.
Carrie Gillon: We now have some ads. So, if you are a patron, we’re gonna start putting up all our episodes on patreon.com. If you’re at the $3.00 or $5.00 level, then you get free access to this podcast going forward. So, if you want to have ad-free episodes – http://www.patreon.com/vocalfriespod. Someone did say something to the effect, “Oh, you guys should talk about the Fiona Hill situation.”
Megan Figueroa: Yes!
Carrie Gillon: And I thought, “We probably should do a real episode on it.” But we can at least talk a little bit about this because it just happened this week.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Which also, speaking of a real episode on it, anyone who’s listening right now and is like “I know exactly who you should talk to” or whatever –
Carrie Gillon: Or you are the person to talk to.
Megan Figueroa: Or you are that person. Let us know. Because Carrie tries really hard to teach me about the limited information she has on British accents and classism and regionalism. But she can only do so much.
Carrie Gillon: Right. Yeah. Because it’s definitely not my lived experience.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, so Fiona Hill was – what is her role?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, okay. She was an intelligence analyst under Bush and Obama. Then, Trump appointed her as Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on the National Security Council.
Megan Figueroa: Okay. Then, she resigned in July of this year.
Carrie Gillon: She resigned in July because obviously –
Megan Figueroa: The phone call. The impeachment hearings and why we’re having these impeachment hearings, right?
Carrie Gillon: Well, the phone call happened after that. But it’s all part of that stuff, right, because Trump was trying to pressure Ukraine to do what he wanted blah blah blah. A lot of stuff there that we are not really the experts on. Anyway, that’s what she was. Yeah, she just had a – there was a hearing with her and some other dude, who had some amazing expressions. However –
Megan Figueroa: The real star…
Carrie Gillon: The real star, or the thing that we’re most interested in, is that – so she has a British accent, an English accent, and in the US it’s interpreted as being kind of posh because any British accent sounds posh to most Americans. But within –
Megan Figueroa: Problematic, but yes.
Carrie Gillon: Well, yes. Of course, all of these judgements are problematic in any direction, right? Anyway, she commented on this like “Yeah, people think that I have this posh accent. But really in the UK, my accent is very working class and Northern.” Those two things, especially in the ’80s when she was growing up, were seen to be very bad, right? She definitely does not have a posh accent within the UK. Yeah, it’s just an interesting clash of cultures.
Megan Figueroa: Clash of cultures and how important context is. And this – I mean, I think I said it last year when we kinda talked to each other about what our favorite episodes were or what we learned that we really just did not know before – it’s me learning that in /nuwaɹlɪnz/ – [laughs] in New Orleans.
Carrie Gillon: In Louisiana.
Megan Figueroa: In Louisiana, that French is disparaged. I was just like “How is this possible?” Where I am in the Southwest, French is thought of as a quote-unquote “posh” – or, you know, you only learn it –
Carrie Gillon: A fancy language.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, you only learn it if you just have all these mental resources freed up and you’re like “I might as well learn French,” right? It doesn’t seem as practical. Whereas, Spanish in the Southwest is like, unless you’re non-latinx then it’s – I’ve talked about it before – it’s just, depending on who’s speaking it, it’s seen as good or bad.
For me to learn that French was actually something that was disparaged in the United States just blew my mind so having that context was really helpful for me. Having the context with Fiona Hill, I always forget the north and south thing. Northern –
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. That’s really huge in the UK, within England itself, right? There’s also the Welsh and the Scottish in that one island and then, obviously, there’s Irish and blah blah blah. But within just the English part, within England, yeah, there’s this huge north/south divide which, yeah, London is the seat of power blah blah blah so…
Megan Figueroa: And London’s in the south, which you have to remind me. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: Oh, boy. You should visit London. We should go visit Issa.
Megan Figueroa: Yes, Issa Wurie. No, that would be great. But, yeah, it’s just an important reminder that classism, regionalism, all of these things are always at play. That’s why we have job security here. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: “Job.”
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, I know, I was like “Should I say the word ‘job’ just to” – That’s a fake. That’s not real. That’s why we have side project security.
Carrie Gillon: Yes, yeah. We could talk about these things forever – forever.
Megan Figueroa: There’s posh of the worlds we haven’t even got – “posh” of the world? There’re parts of the world we haven’t even got to.
Carrie Gillon: Most. Most of the world.
Megan Figueroa: Yes.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, London and, like –
Megan Figueroa: And Ghana.
Carrie Gillon: And Ghana. I think that’s pretty much it.
Megan Figueroa: And Spain.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, and Spain. A little bit of Spain. But we haven’t really even delved deep into Spain, right? There is stuff to talk about in Spain.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, my god. Layers. An onion! [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: So, yeah, this episode we talk to Zach Jaggers about different ways of pronouncing words that are more like the language we borrowed it from or less like the language we borrowed it from. It’s interesting. I learned some things.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. I mean, I always say that there’s a lot of characteristics that we have that are all bundled into certain beliefs. How we pronounce some words is kinda bundled into our belief about the world. Zach tells us about that.
Carrie Gillon: Very cool.
Carrie Gillon: Today, we have Dr Zachary Jaggers who is a postdoctoral scholar of linguistics at the University of Oregon. Welcome, Zach!
Zach Jaggers: Thanks! Thanks for having me.
Megan Figueroa: So happy to talk with you today.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, me too! You approached us, and I’m so glad that you did, because this work is really important and really interesting.
Megan Figueroa: As cool as Carrie and I are, we don’t know all the amazing people that are out there and that exist, obviously.
Carrie Gillon: No, how could we?
Megan Figueroa: So, please approach us with the amazing stuff you’re doing because 1.) we get to talk to you and learn things ourselves, 2.) your work gets out there, and 3.) we get to have a new friend. Thank you, Zach.
Zach Jaggers: Yeah, I know. I appreciate it. I love that there’s more of this kind of stuff going on too because I think that’s exactly it – getting it out there for a broader audience and just having more of these discussions and like, yeah, just a more relaxed kind of setting.
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely. Just imagine we’re over a tea or a beer or something – that kinda thing.
Carrie Gillon: I’m literally drinking tea right now.
Megan Figueroa: See? Exactly.
Zach Jaggers: Well, I saw on your website how like, I think one of you does knitting and one of you does cross-stitching. And I was like “I do crochet! Let’s just have a needle-crafters party.”
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, exactly!
Megan Figueroa: Everyone can imagine us doing that right now as it’s cold outside.
Carrie Gillon: I do actually want to learn crochet because, I dunno, it’s a new skill and it’s related, so that’s next on my list.
Megan Figueroa: And one hook. One hook.
Zach Jaggers: One of these days. One of these days.
Carrie Gillon: And one hook, yeah.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, different sizes depending on – but yeah. Anyway.
Carrie Gillon: Okay. You have an article – a journalistic article – which is nice because not very many linguists do this – so, awesome – with PBS called, “Your political views can predict how you pronounce certain words.” Maybe just tell us why you started working on that area.
Zach Jaggers: Yeah. I look particularly at loan words, so words that come into a language from another language, and this was following up, actually, on work by Lauren Hall-Lew and colleagues where they were looking at the variation of /ɪɹɑk/ versus /ɑɪɹæk/ and how it was pronounced by politicians in the US House of Representatives. They had found that democratic politicians were more likely to say /ɪɹɑk/, which is more like how that sounds in Arabic, the source language of this word. Whereas, Republicans were more likely to say /ɪɹæk/ or /ɑɪɹæk/.
I was really interested in that and just wanting to follow up on that, and so I wanted to just kind of look into what is under the hood of that, in a sense. Like, okay, if we just imagined this patterns with political identity – I’m not gonna tell you which party says it this way – you could probably predict which party says it which way. So, I was wanting to get at why is this happening in this way. I followed up on that, looking at people’s globalist and nationalist ideologies, but also other ideologies like their language contact receptiveness – how they feel about multilingualism and language contact and, also, their specific attitudes about Arabs, Arab-Americans, Islam particularly.
But then also because of these broader factors, like language contact receptiveness or globalism/nationalism, I was also predicting that this was gonna happen with other loanwords of less political charge too, so words from other languages across the board like Spanish, or German, or French – just any loanwords at all. Then, I found that same pattern that, in general, people who identified as either republican or politically conservative – I didn’t quite treat this as much of a partisan thing but more just like a gradient political continuum, a more multifaceted thing – tended to use less “source-like pronunciations,” is the term that like to use, so just pronunciations that sounded less like how it’s pronounced in its original language or where it comes from – how people who identify with this more as the source say it.
Whereas, people who identified more as democratic or as liberal tended to use more source-like pronunciations. I also like to use “less or more source-like,” I think, because if you think about /ɪɹɑk/ versus /ɑɪɹæk/, even the /ɪɹɑk/ pronunciation isn’t exactly how it’s pronounced in the source language, right? It’s not like you’re doing the flipped R in the middle or getting really into the phonetics – like the uvular stop at the end, you know? It’s not exactly like how it’s pronounced. Both of these are entirely pronounceable even within the confines of the English sound system, but one of these still sounds closer to how it’s pronounced by speakers of that language who identify more with that word and how it’s pronounced. That’s what I mean when I say, “more or less source-like.”
Megan Figueroa: Well, I like that too because then you’re getting away from this language that’s more or less “correct,” right?
Carrie Gillon: Right. Yes.
Zach Jaggers: Yeah. A lot of the discussion around this pronunciation variable, too, tends to get used in that way where people are like “This is the correct way to say it.” I also really like to reframe that discussion as “Let’s move away from thinking of this as correct and let’s really reframe this as thinking about who identifies with this word.” Then, that helps us think about how are they impacted, possibly, by the way this word is pronounced, or how might they be impacted by the way this word is pronounced, and what can that reflect.
That’s where I think thinking about this ideology of globalism/nationalism and getting a little into what that was – this was also a multifaceted questionnaire/survey that I did. The three main aspects that it was getting at was – 1.) was just the general kind of nationalism, which is someone’s hubris or pride in their country. Then, another was just the general interest in people or cultures or places that they might consider foreign or different from their country. The other facet of that is what I think of as this prescribed homogeneity – the idea that it’s like “We should all be one.” But what that can sometimes end up meaning is, “We should all be similar to each other. We should all be alike.”
There’s degrees of that where you can see like “We should all have similar ideologies” or “We should all have similar thoughts.” But sometimes that can also extend into demographics. This was all along a scale of seeing how people identify – to different extremes or, like, in the middle of these things – but also along these different facets. This was a multifaceted thing that I was trying to get at in terms of this ideology.
I think seeing that people who identified as more globalist rather than – like, more globalist or less nationalist – were using these more accommodating pronunciations, these more source-like pronunciations. I think that seems to be reflecting this kind of trying to be accommodating to people who identify with the source of these words and with the pronunciations of them. That’s at least what it seems to be reflecting.
Megan Figueroa: Underlying that, to me – I mean, this is me editorializing it – but the word “respect” comes to mind. You’re trying to respect that culture, that person, whatever it might be. Was your questionnaire open-ended, or was it like a check box, or like a Likert scale, 1 to 5? How did you get at nationalist or not nationalist – these kind of things? Because I’m wondering about – all these words that are coming to mind.
Zach Jaggers: Yeah, this was a Likert scale. This was a series of Likert scales, so getting at those different facets and then multiple statements of, like, Likert scale agreement. One of them would be, in terms of the assimilation – so the prescribed homogeneity I talked about – would be like “I think that” – hi. [Laughter] I’m waving at a cat walking by, okay?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, that was Mu.
Zach Jaggers: I want you to be behind me so I can pet you.
Carrie Gillon: She would love it. [Laughter]
Zach Jaggers: So, thinking about the prescribed homogeneity part, one of the statements was something along the lines of “I believe that immigrants to the country should be expected to adopt American cultural practices.” That would be this idea that’s like “Foreign people should assimilate to cultural practices. We should have these shared values or practices” You can see that kind of analogizing to words, right? It’s like “I feel like people who are foreign who come into the country should assimilate in their practices to a way that feels less foreign and fits in more.”
You can see that also applying to words, right? Like “I feel that words that enter the language should assimilate to a pronunciation that fits in more and feels less foreign.” But, yeah, I also did a follow up perception survey getting at people’s – this was another rating survey, but getting a little bit more at people’s ratings of how they think of people, like a speaker, when they use more source-like or less source-like pronunciations of loan words. Very similar percepts where I think of more source-like pronunciations as more globally oriented as this person being more likely multilingual.
Also, there was this, kind of what we were getting at, which is this conflict where it was more pleasant in one sense but also – more along a humble/pretentious scale – more pretentious. It’s this I think that they’re open-minded and accommodating, but I think that they’re also pretentious or trying to be above it all, in a sense. I think that is a conflict that comes into play with this which is, I think, this decision that people seem to wrestle with which is “I am accommodating but who am I accommodating to? Am I accommodating to the borrowing language and this force to assimilate?” or if someone is a speaker of the borrowing language “Am I accommodating to this surrounding force around me to assimilate these words to the borrowing language? Or am I accommodating more to the people who identify with these words?” That’s what this ideology and where you fall on it is being reflected in your pronunciations.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, I’ve definitely felt that in myself that I wanna pronounce it as close as possible to the original, but it does have this feeling of “I sound pretentious now.” People talk about it on Twitter, too, “Oh, you’re pretentious if you pronounce it whatever way.” Even, like, the /ɸoɪjɛɪ/, /ɸoɪjɹ̩/ difference, I say /ɸoɪjɛɪ/. I’m Canadian, so we pronounce it closer to the French. But I feel more pretentious here saying it that way.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, you should’ve heard my inner dialogue just calling you pretentious when you said that. [Laughter] I’ve never heard you say that word, so I didn’t know you said it that way. But this is getting really complicated because there is some power structures going on here where I’m like “Oh” – well, we have an episode on this. I’m just thinking about French globally and, like, it’s fine. Then, I think about how we’re in the American southwest – Carrie and I are – and I’m like “Well, Spanish is under attack because racists.”
Zach Jaggers: Yeah. I think those power dynamics are definitely a thing. I think there’s a lot of factors that go into influencing how loanwords get pronounced and how they get adapted into the borrowing language. I think there’s just the sound system in general, right? I was talking about – like with /ɪɹɑk/ versus /ɑɪɹæk/ – and just how the sound system has an overriding factor in general in a lot of cases where you’re probably not gonna do that flipped R. Or if you do, that’s really saying something about how accommodating you’re wanting to be to the source language and people who identify with it, which is a statement in and of itself.
Or something about, like, we’ve also seen effects of how bilingual the community is where these loanwords are being used. If there’s a higher degree of bilingualism in that community, then you would expect maybe even some transcending of the constraints of the borrowing language system where there might even be some phonetic level incorporation of sounds that wouldn’t necessarily be considered allowed in the borrowing language. I think these power dynamics and the prestige dynamics also come into play a lot, even with the borrowing of words themselves too.
When we think about borrowing of words, oftentimes we’ll think of it just as the borrowing of a cultural concept or a cultural transmission or a conceptual transmission, right? If we are borrowing something – if we think of words that English and German share where it’s like this is just shared inheritance not even a borrowing at all. We think of “hound” versus “Hund.” This is something that’s not a loanword, but this is something that they still share, right, where the sound and the meaning are shared, right? Whereas, they both are shared from Proto-Germanic. In German, it used to mean just general “dog.” And in German, it still does. Whereas, in English it then shifted to become “hound.” It also shifted in meaning to mean a narrower kind of dog.
We also see loanwords between German and English where there’s these cultural transmissions that after that split historically, long after German and English became distinct languages, there were these cultural transmissions, like “kindergarten,” “zeitgeist,” “schadenfreude” –“schadenfreude,” you know, enjoying someone else’s pain. This is the kind of word where people were like “You know, I can say that. I don’t need this word from another language to say it,” but it’s appreciating like “Oh, this other language has this succinct word that I can use to express this idea. I’m gonna use that.” We also see cases where there’s a loanword from another language used in a borrowing language where it’s not because there was some kind of, quote – hand quotes. Sorry, I gesture a lot. [Laughs]
Megan Figueroa: No, it’s okay.
Zach Jaggers: I’m sure this is such a challenge with podcasting. I use my hands a lot when I talk.
Carrie Gillon: So do I. It’s fine.
Megan Figueroa: We all do. Or lots of us do – yeah.
Zach Jaggers: Hopefully my gestures are audible. [Laughter] So, when we think about how there’s not necessarily – hand quotes – “gaps” that are because of – that that is why a loanword came into another language. If you think about cases – even “salsa” could be considered something where it’s like we could’ve used “tomato sauce” or “dip” or something like that where it’s like, you know, it doesn’t necessarily accurately capture it, but it could have been not borrowed in to represent that concept.
Or if we think of cases like – so this is getting back into the prestige factor, so the French/Spanish asymmetry. Hang in there with me. Thinking about cases like, if we think of “veal” versus “horse.” “Veal” was borrowed into English from French, so this was right around the Norman conquest time when French was in really intense contact with English but also with a lot of prestige. Whereas, right now, in the US context, there’s a lot of contact with Spanish but not with a lot of prestige, right? We see a lot of this contact with French where “veal” gets borrowed in.
We also see, like, “pork” – and these are already now the long-adapted versions of them – but “pork” is the French etymological origin word for “pig,” gets borrowed in. Those are the French words for those animals, but those ended up getting used to represent the cooked versions of them. We also see “cuisine,” which is the word for “kitchen” in French. That gets used to represent food. We see this asymmetry of the older Proto-Germanic origin, the English words, they’re representing the labor-side versus the fancier side, in a sense. “Kitchen” is where the labor of preparing the food happens. Then, the farm animals are the English side. Whereas, the French side is where the animals are cooked and you’re eating them, and the “cuisine,” that’s where the cooked food is coming out and you’re enjoying the cooked food.
It’s like that asymmetry of these words that you have the exact parallels of, that asymmetry ends up getting semantically reflected in which language’s version of those words you’re using in a sense. We also see that in the pronunciations too. A lot of times people will say, – but you have these really old words too where you don’t see these variables at all in pronunciation. Or cases like “veal,” people don’t even know that that’s a French loanword. But you see these reflections of these ideologies and of this prestige around French still being reflected in the way that we use it historically, right?
You also even see that in the pronunciations too. In Old English, Old English couldn’t allow for the sound V – like, the voiced /v/ – to appear at the beginning of a word. But when there was this huge influx of loanwords from French, you then had all of these words with the /v/ sound – the V sound – at the beginning of the word. But because people were using all of these French loanwords and because they were, in that case, not even just using more source-like pronunciations of them within the confines of the English sound system but they were actually breaking the rules of English and being like “I’m going to pronounce these so French-like. I’m going to break those rules and maintain this V sound at the beginning of the word,” that carried on where these words are still pronounced with the V sound. And that totally changed the sound system of English.
The English sound system can have V at the beginning of the word now because of all of these French loanwords and because people pronouncing them in more source-like ways because of the prestige that was associated with them. It’s like, not only can you just pronounce these words more source-like as a reflection of your attitudes about the source language and the people associated with them, but you can even in some cases break the rules of the borrowing language if you associate the source language with that much prestige.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. It has survived so long, these sound changes to the English language.
Zach Jaggers: Where you don’t even know it.
Megan Figueroa: Wow! I had no idea. I mean, if I would’ve thought about it, I would’ve probably realized that Old English shouldn’t have a V sound at the beginning.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. I didn’t know that. But I didn’t know that we borrowed sounds from French. I just didn’t know about French at the beginning.
Megan Figueroa: Wow. That’s really cool. It speaks to, I mean, it just shows that if you examine language a little bit deeper, you’re gonna see all of these things that reflect how we think about people.
Carrie Gillon: Absolutely.
Zach Jaggers: Yeah, how social dynamics just really come through and get reflected historically. They manifest in language and just thinking about how they propagate in language. I think, coming back to just thinking about with new loanwords too is just raising that question of do people want to use more source-like pronunciations and what do we want that to reflect. Do people want that to reflect a kind of accommodation or openness?
Because when we think of how even if people aren’t thinking of, “Oh, I’m using this initial V sound as a way to signal openness to French speakers” anymore, it still does kind of in a way. It leaves English and French sounding a little bit more similar to each other. You’ll think about these – I’m thinking about these YouTube videos where – have you seen where someone who speaks two really different languages but then they’re asked, “How do you say this word in your language and this word in your other language?” And then they’re like “Oh, we have these two words in common even though” –
Megan Figueroa: Oh, I have seen those. Yeah.
Zach Jaggers: But you just see this and, like, they’re probably loanwords, right? But they have the sense of like “Oh, we have this shared linguistic thing in common. Yay! This is a fun friendship,” or something like that. It’s just like, when you have this linguistic thing in common, you have this shared sense with each other. Even if you aren’t actively thinking about that, just thinking about how are your propagating that for future accommodation.
Megan Figueroa: I’m thinking specifically, when you said that, of Spanish and Arabic. I’ve seen video where someone’s like “Almohada – Hello.” What? What? You guys are – Arabic? Yeah, no, you’re right. It’s never like – I mean, of course they probably wouldn’t be trying to find the most terrible people in the world to record – to do this – but every time they’re just like – it’s like an opening. Their world has opened a little bit. That’s what it feels like when you’re watching this. Those are quite lovely. I do like those.
Carrie Gillon: Let’s go back to the /ɪɹɑk/, /ɑɪɹæk/ saying. Is it the case that if you pronounce it, let’s say /ɑɪɹæk/, that you’re for sure a republican or for sure a nationalist?
Zach Jaggers: No, no. I think a lot of times people will want to read this as a generalization. It’s hard. When I do public-facing work, it’s hard to make this connection with people but also be like “Hey, you saw how in my article I used relative adjectives,” you know, “likelier than,” right? So, yeah, no, definitely not.
What I found was these were definitely relative likelihoods where, in terms of across these loanwords across the board, people who identified as more politically conservative or republican were likelier to use less source – like republications – than people who identified as democrats or as politically liberal. Actually, for most words, there was still more of a default of the more-adapted, less source-like pronunciations. People would be usually – across the board, across people – would be likelier to say something like /ɪɹæk/ or /ɑɪɹæk/ than they would be to say /ɪɹɑk/.
But if they identified as politically liberal or as democrat, they would be likelier to say /ɪɹɑk/ than other people. There was still a slightly higher likelihood that they would use more source-like pronunciations. Then, when I looked at the other predictors, the stronger predictor – I won’t get into the weeds of statistical comparison and stuff – but the better predictor was actually the globalist/nationalist alignment. That actually seemed to explain a lot of the pattern with politics. It was a better predictor whether they aligned as more globalist or nationalist whether they would use a more or less source-like pronunciation, which I think also helps get at, a little bit, trying to remove politics from this in a sense or at least thinking about how, if this is a better predictor than political identity, then maybe both of these pronunciations and also these ideologies are not necessarily the same as political identity in and of themselves.
There’s at least some room for thinking about some nuance in there and thinking a little bit more about maybe these pronunciations are reflecting how people think about these pronunciation’s impacts on people who identify with the source, you know – that that’s reflecting these ideologies a little bit more. I mean, maybe that’s a little too far-reaching or getting at my wanting to try to get away from the politics but thinking about what this data is saying about some of the nuances in there.
Megan Figueroa: I came of age – are you a US citizen? Did you grow up here?
Zach Jaggers: Yeah.
Megan Figueroa: I came of age right when George W. Bush was president and 9/11 happened, so what I heard over and over again – I’m trying to remember. I think he said /ɑɪɹæk/, right?
Zach Jaggers: Mm-hmm. I have some recordings of /ɑɪɹæk/ and also some of /ɪɹæk/.
[Recording of George W. Bush]
My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm [ɪɹæk], to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, so I was – but yeah.
Zach Jaggers: By Bush.
Megan Figueroa: So, /ɑɪɹæk/, /ɑɪɹæk/ over and over again. That’s how I thought that was said because I was, like, 13, 14, until I realized – and I feel like the rhetoric from him around that was like “We need to beat them. They are evil. We are not evil,” which is a very nationalist thing. When I started to get more nuanced into my understanding of the world, I was like “Oh, here comes other people.” And then Barack Obama comes, and they say /ɪɹɑk/.
[Recording Barack Obama]
As a candidate for president, I pledge to bring the war in [ɪɹɑk] to a responsible end.
I’m like “I’m gonna start saying it like that.” I made a conscious decision because I was like “He’s talking about it a certain way, and I’m noticing he’s saying it in a different way. I’m gonna pronounce it like him.” Did you have any experience with that?
Zach Jaggers: Well, yeah. I think that’s a big thing too is just recognizing that the pronunciations that you’ve heard around you definitely matter, right? I think there should be a huge asterisk that as much as this seems to, at the aggregate level, be predicted by people’s ideologies, that that doesn’t necessarily mean that every single person’s pronunciation of every single word is this very conscious decision saying something about their ideologies and definitely not saying something about, like, they surely fall along the extreme on all these ideological or political dimensions. There should be that huge asterisk there. What people heard pronounced around them definitely matters.
I think thinking about that – that’s kind of the past, right, what things they have heard influence them. But there is also the thinking about what this means moving forward. I think those ideologies also seem to influence people there too. I think that that is part of that is deciding like, okay, maybe now I’ve heard a different pronunciation, or maybe now, if I have this different ideology, do I want to be more attentive to looking up pronunciations or how these words are pronounced in their source languages and try to evaluate, is the pronunciation I’m using now the degree of accommodating the source pronunciation that I would like to apply? Or is there a degree further of accommodating that source pronunciation that I would like to apply further? That is a reflection of your ideology.
I should just claim that I also did – so Lauren Hall-Lew and colleagues’ study – they were looking at politicians. Those politicians were from lots of different regions. They controlled – they didn’t control – but they were able to account a little bit for those politician’s regional identities and their regional accent varieties. They did not find that to have a significant effect. It did not necessarily seem like their political identities were – that the effect that they saw was totally just because of political identity correlating with regional accent variety.
I had to take a different approach. I totally controlled for regions. I just ran this all in one place. By still finding this effect even when I was doing the study in one place, that was what was suggesting to me like “Okay. This effect is still real and not all just because of people’s regional accent.” But, caveat, I wasn’t looking at the whole country. Part of that study was as looking – and thinking about the moving forward component – I also did a study looking at how people treated new words.
I exposed people to fake words that they never heard before. I framed those words to people as like “This is a foreign word from a foreign language,” and they were just fake words. So, “sheenya” versus “sheeniya,” or “sloxy.” I exposed them to those words in a short story that they heard. Afterwards, then I had them read a sequel that then got them to say those words out loud again. Then, I could see, like, how well did you imitate the word that you heard? Then, I found the same effect where people who were more nationalist aligning than globalist aligning were more likely to stray from the pronunciation that they had heard. If they had heard, “sheeniya,” they were more likely to say, “sheenya” or vice versa. Also, if they had heard “sloxy,” they were more likely to say, “slosky.” Whereas, if they had been more globalist aligning, they tended to be more faithful to the pronunciation that they had heard before. At least in terms of, like, new words, there also seems to be that same effect.
When you’re stripping the effect of the pronunciations that they had heard before, that effect seems to hold. But we should still remember that the pronunciations that people have heard before do matter. We should still be careful about – just because you’re using this pronunciation, that definitely means all of these things about you.
Megan Figueroa: I say as a scientist, that’s a really fucking clever experiment. That was really good. Very cool.
Carrie Gillon: With Iraq, I feel like my pronunciation varies quite a bit from sentence to sentence. I even studied Arabic for two years, pre 9/11, so I knew how “Iraq” should be pronounced. But, yeah, even with all that background, I still sometimes say /ɪɹæk/. So, yes, obviously one pronunciation tells you nothing.
Zach Jaggers: Right. And audience is totally a thing too. I think also thinking about how these pronunciations are clearly charged given the whole pretentious judgement thing too, thinking about how who you’re speaking to matters, and especially thinking about – given all of the political charge just around everything lately, but also around this topic, around this speech feature – thinking about if you’re talking to different groups and not wanting to add a political charge element, is there a degree of accommodating that you wanna do there? Again, then also weighing that with how much are you accommodating people who might not be in the room, you know, that kind of – yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Right. I thought it was really interesting that you brought up Obama and /pɑkəstɑn/ as opposed to /pækɪstæn/.
[Recording of Barack Obama]
I am gravely concerned about the situation in [pɑkəstɑn].
I don’t hear that very often in the United States, that pronunciation. It’s very rare. It’s not that common in Canada either, but I think it’s a little bit more common to hear it, the /pɑkəstɑn/. He was even thanked for it, which I thought was very interesting. Should we maybe be trying to do this more often if it makes people feel better about their language or their country or whatever?
Zach Jaggers: Yeah, it’s a really complicated – I think definitely, like I said before, in terms of just how the pronunciations you’ve heard around you and how that plays a really big role and just how your sound system plays a really big role in the pronunciations you use, one element is just, like, to what degree are you considering a pronunciation more or less source-like. I think we should just be really careful in judging people’s pronunciations right off the bat, especially if we’re thinking about the intent there.
I think that’s one case where I think avoiding judging certain pronunciations as, like, would-be – just, in general, we should avoid judging certain pronunciations, especially given that we see that there are a lot of factors at play. I think that would be really crucial. But I think that this does balance a certain line, right, of also thinking about how pronunciations can reflect certain biases and also manifest and propagate those – thinking about that too. A lot of times, this tends to be on the perception-end that we want to try to encourage people to be more accommodating – accommodate being accepting of different people’s language varieties because they identify with those language varieties, right? We want to give them that space.
I think what this variable raises – what this linguistic variable, this phenomenon raises – is the question of “Does pronunciation come into play there a little bit?” There are other realms where thinking about language production also comes into play. When we think about ways that the language people uses seems to be a way of manifesting and propagating certain biases, right? That does tend to be the times when people, like, identify directly with a certain form of language and the usage of it.
I think even just, like, growing up as gay and hearing, “That’s so gay,” used as a pejorative, where I’m like “That’s something that I identify with,” right? Obviously, this analogy’s somewhat different. There’s those flags to raise. But this is a linguistic form that I identify with but it’s being used in a very different way than I would like to hear it used, frankly. Trying to advocate for, like, “Hey, it’d be nice if people didn’t use it that way,” is a hard thing to do.
But, also, I remember seeing articles – even articles citing linguists and quoting linguists – where linguists are like “You know, language changes. This meaning is changing. Some people are just using this in a way that means something different. So, we should just be careful in the way that we think about that and judge people about it.” And I get that, in some ways too, right? Or it’s like – because people are using this in ways that they don’t know, right? They don’t know the biases that this is getting at and they maybe do think of this in a different way.
I think this is – getting back to the pronunciation – a similar, at least analogous, in some ways where it’s like “What biases is this reflecting and propagating?” but still is there a way that we can kind of call out that and try to propagate some kind of accommodating space, some kind of space for – I think the way to reframe that discussion is thinking about how do people identify with this form of language and how might they be impacted by that.
I think, in terms of thinking about the use of something that someone really directly identifies with, like the use of “That’s so gay” in that way, is a very clear case of this is something that people are using that is discriminatory. There are ways that we can try to make people aware of that discriminatory nature of it, even then, without necessarily being judgmental of them because we recognize that they have been indoctrinated into this usage and because this is a reflection of the broader society that they have been around.
I think the pronunciations, too, especially pronunciations like someone’s name that someone really directly identifies with, right? We see this with names a lot of times too where people’s names, especially people from ethnic and linguistic minority backgrounds with names that get mispronounced a lot, where they personally identify with that, it would – Mary Bucholtz has a really good paper on this talking about how we can be attentive to students’ names and thinking about how to make sure that we try to pronounce them in the way that they want them to be pronounced. I think that that is a really crucial thing to be attentive to because they identify with those names and the pronunciation of them. Hearing them pronounced in a different way does feel marginalizing.
We can then move forward in thinking about does this apply to loanwords too – maybe to a lesser degree, maybe not – but also maybe mitigated by other factors like the sound system or factors like how long this loanword has been established in the borrowing language, so factors like that, but still asking ourselves, “Is there a degree to which we can accommodate a more source-like pronunciation of this word that gives space for people who identify with the source pronunciation of this word that feels less like this enforced assimilation?” It is a complicated variable where there is a lot of elements to think about, like how directly do people identify with the source pronunciation and what mitigating factors there are and how can we keep this from feeling super prescriptive and judgmental while still thinking about the biases that might be reflected and propagated in the use of less source-like pronunciations. But I think really framing this as thinking about the people who identify with the source is a good steppingstone.
Carrie Gillon: Well, to go to names, I do feel like proper names and place names, they’re closer than, say, /ɸoɪjɛɪ/. It feels less important to pronounce /ɸoɪjɛɪ/ the closer-to-French way. Although, again with names, it depends on what sounds are in that name how likely it is an English speaker’s gonna be able to pronounce it correctly. It’s tough. You should try. You should still try.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, yeah. Then there’s the whole – I’ve said this before on the show because my last name gives me problems with people who are like – so, maybe they’re overcorrecting. And I mean that – from the bottom of my heart I appreciate it. But I’ll say, “Yeah, my name is Megan Figueroa,” and they’re like “No, but how do you really say your last name?” And I was like “Oh, no, no, no.” That’s how I really say it sometimes. And it’s okay.
What you just said before, Zach, was beautiful and nuanced and I love it. I have so many thoughts, so many beautiful thoughts. But I’m thinking, yes, listen to the person. That might be the one thing to take away because, yes, language changes. We should not use that as an out because once we know that that language change is coming from a discriminatory place, we have the responsibility to take proper action and be like “Okay, oops. I’m sorry. I’m gonna do better next time.”
Zach Jaggers: Yeah. If it’s your own name, just like how, you know, there’ll be people who prefer to use different versions of their name, especially – so there’ll be lots of people who have Chinese names but who prefer to identify with Anglo names in the US because they don’t want to use Chinese names. But then, there’ll be people who are like “No, but really, I want to use your Chinese name,” and they’re like “Mmm, no. No, I would like you to use this name.” Listen to them.
I think there is space where this does come back around to loanwords too, but where it is also complicated because we do see there is discourse where we can see people who are latinx and who are like “Mmm, maybe don’t go so far in pronouncing your Spanish words with totally Spanish phonetics when you’re speaking English.” Especially if you’re white, you know.
Megan Figueroa: Well, yeah. Sometimes, that feels like mock Spanish, right?
Zach Jaggers: Yeah, exactly. So, broaching that territory, being attune to that or just trying to be attuned to that. There was also, when my article came out, someone on Twitter linked my article to another thing that had happened where the prime minister of Australia, he was at this Diwali, Deepawali, celebration event, and he was talking about celebrating diversity, and he was using the melting pot analogy, which is nuancedly complicated, but his melting pot that he used was an Indian dish. He pronounced it /gəˈɹam məsɑlə/. But people in the audience – so this is a totally South Asian Australian audience – and someone in the audience was like /ˈgɑɹəm məsɑlə/. They tried to prod him like “Mmm, could you change your pronunciation because that’s not how we say it?”
So, there is some degree to which even non-proper words are still something that people identify with and would like there to be some accommodation of those pronunciations too. But I think, yeah, thinking about the people who identify with them and what they want is something to be attuned to and to keep trying to be attuned to and the nuances thereof as well.
Carrie Gillon: I think in this case it’s because it’s a culturally significant thing. Whereas, /ɸoɪjɛɪ/ is not. I don’t think the French would care at all. [Laughs] Maybe I’m wrong. Please tell me if I’m wrong.
Megan Figueroa: Some of us don’t have foyers. I don’t have a foyer. Excuse me. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: Okay. This has been a really, really great conversation. Maybe, as the last question, how can we go about not being assholes about all of this?
Zach Jaggers: I think really this has all kind of just summed up is, like, not judging people, thinking about how there’s lots of factors that go into their pronunciations, but still at the same time thinking about how people might identify with the source, or as the source, especially with names, and thinking about how using more or less source-like pronunciations might be a manifestation of certain biases or attitudes about them, and how there’s still room to move forward, and thinking about the degree to which people want to accommodate to those people with their pronunciations.
Carrie Gillon: I was thinking, too, sometimes speaking up and saying, “Oh, it’s actually pronounced this way,” is really hard. Just a little effort on your part, after someone did something really hard. Even I actually did eventually correct one of my professors because he would always say /kæʀi/ because it’s spelled with an A, and in the UK, you make a distinction between /ɛ/ and /æ/. But I can’t do that before R. It has to be /kɛʀi/. I don’t have /kæʀi/. So, I finally corrected him. And, you know, I’ve got a bunch of privilege, [laughs] and it was still hard for me. So, yeah, if someone tells you, yes, definitely listen to them. He never fixed it. [Laughs] It’s all right. It doesn’t matter.
Megan Figueroa: Well, that was a sad ending to that story. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: My grandmother also pronounced it that way because she had a more British – even though she was born in Canada – she had a more British accent, slightly, because her dad was English. Yeah, it’s fine.
Megan Figueroa: You know who you are.
Carrie Gillon: For me, it’s not the end of the world. But, yeah, no. Okay. Well, thanks again so much for coming on the show, Zach. This was great!
Zach Jaggers: Yeah, thanks for having me. It was great hearing your thoughts too.
Carrie Gillon: It was awesome.
Megan Figueroa: Ya’ll don’t be assholes.
Carrie Gillon: Don’t be assholes. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by me, Carrie Gillon, for Halftone Audio, theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us as firstname.lastname@example.org and our website is vocalfriespod.com.