Monday, 7 November 2011

Odd abbreviation reveals spelling over phonetics?

It was my friend's birthday the other day so we met in a pub for lunch, which is the accepted correct way to celebrate a birthday. Another friend hadn't been to the pub before and an interesting misunderstanding ensued.

We were going to a place called LYH. It's a nice pub, though you wouldn't know it to look at it from the outside. It does good grub and nice beer. This particular friend not only hadn't been there before but hadn't even heard of it before. However, we have been several times to another pub, called Mr Lynch. (Also a nice pub, though different - less about the beer, more about the partying, but still good grub.) This friend thought that in my text message 'LYH' was an abbreviation for 'Lynch'. Don't panic folks, she realised in time and made it to the correct venue. But the question is, how did this misunderstanding occur?

I wouldn't have abbreviated that word anyway, as it happens, but if I did, I think it'd be to 'Lch' or something similar. It would have included the important sounds of the word, the initial and final consonants in this case. The particularly odd thing about abbreviating it to 'Lyh' would be that the last letter, the 'h', doesn't even represent a sound of the word 'Lynch'. In broad phonological transcription, the word is [lɪntʃ]. That last sound, the 't' and the long 's', together make the sound we write as 'ch'. At no point in saying the word 'Lynch' do you make the sound [h], which is the sound you make if you say 'huh'. This is evident if you try to say 'Lyh' as a word - doesn't sound good, does it? 

So it would have been a strange choice for me to abbreviate to if I was going off the sounds in the word. But this highlights the fact that in written communication we can dissociate ourselves from the sounds of words and refer only to the spelling. Some people do this more than others, I think, though I don't know what makes the difference. Perhaps those who read more do it more. You know sometimes on 'Come dine with me', the participants read an unfamiliar item on the menu, say it's 'taramasalata', and instead of reading out what's there, they instead guess a word they know, like 'tiramisu'? I think it's the opposite of that. 

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