August 29, 2006

By any other name

Mark Liberman reports, once again, on misapprehensions of Gregory Pullman's Geoffrey Pullum's name.  This after a week in which a blogger managed to get <Geoffrey K. Pullum> and <Roger Shuy> right (angle brackets enclose spellings) -- no small trick -- but stumbled some on <Mark Liberman> (just the usual <Lieberman>) and fell flat on his face with <Arnold Zwicky> (<Andrew Zwickey>).  Both Geoff and I have large collections of manglings of our names, painstakingly (or pain-stakingly) assembled over many years, but this is the first time I've been called Andrew.  <Zwickey>, thousands of times, but Andrew, no.

There's some linguistic interest, as well as entertainment, in where these misnamings come from.

First names first.  Almost all these errors come from replacing the relatively rare first name Arnold with a more common one of similar form: in rough order of decreasing frequency, Ronald, Donald, Harold, Albert, Leonard, Howard. 

What's similar here?  Well, Arnold and the other six are all two-syllable names with accent on the first syllable.  More impressively, they all fit the phonological template:

(C)  VLAX  S  (C)  ə  L  d/t

where C is any consonant, VLAX is a lax vowel (a, æ, or ɛ), S is a sonorant consonant (nasal n, liquid r or l, or glide w), and L is a liquid (r or l).  Arnold manages to have TWO sonorants (r and n) in the middle.  Also note that d and t are alveolar oral stops, differing only in voicing.  Ronald is really VERY close to Arnold, differing only in the ordering of a and r, so it's no surprise it's by far the most common error.

In this context, Andrew is really pretty far off the mark, though (like Arnold) it starts with a lax vowel, and its consonants n, d, and r are all there in Arnold, but in the grossly different order r n d.  So I'm not surprised it's never come up before.

In any case, the other first-name errors above -- of perception and/or memory -- show just how much speakers are sensitive to phonological properties and relationships.

The remaining errors on my first name are spelling mistakes, and are not very common: <Arnald> and <Aronold>.  <Arnald> might involve a perseveration of the first vowel letter, but the effect is probably mostly the old problem of how to spell unaccented vowels in English: <a>, <e>, <i>, <o>, and <u> would all be possible, in principle, in the second syllable of my first name.  (<Arnuld> occurs fairly often, but almost always with reference to the current governor of California, and never, so far in my experience, with reference to me.)  In this case, <Ronald> and <Donald> probably tip things towards <a>.  As for <Aronold>, this is surely an orthographic anticipation of the <o> in the second syllable of <Arnold> -- evidence that the writer is already thinking ahead to the second syllable at the end of the first.

Most of the misnaming action is in my family name.  Some of it is phonological, a result of the fact that zw is a marginal initial cluster in English; it's "hard to pronounce" for English speakers, who try to improve on it in one of three ways:

(1) replacing the z by its voiceless counterpart s, to get a fine English initial cluster, sw: Swicky;  this is probably the most common fix in writing (you can google up a bibliography in which a reference to Zwicky & Sadock 1975 on ambiguity tests gives <Swicky> as the first author), and it's pretty common in speech.

(2) breaking up the difficult zw cluster by inserting a schwa, which will appear in writing as <a>, <o>, or <e> (these choices of vowel probably facilitated by the fact that <Zawicky>, <Zowicky>, and <Zewicky>, and versions of these with initial <S>, and versions of these with final <ey>, are attested Slavic family names); this is probably the most common fix in speech -- even I regularly insert the schwa when I want to make my name clear to people, though that's inclined to lead them to this type of misspelling -- and it's not very frequent in writing.

(3) omitting one or the other of the two consonants in zw, to get Wicky or (occasionally) Zicky.  More common in speech, where it probably results from mis-hearing, than in writing.

The most creative approach to my family name was taken by a data processing staffer at the Mitre Corporation, where I worked during the Cretaceous Era.  Faced with that zw cluster, she apparently decided not to abandon the w, but to hold it off until there was a place for it.  This would have produced something like Zickwi (yes, a fourth possible fix), but the staffer seemed to feel that this didn't do credit to what she saw as a Slavic name, so I became Mr. Zickwich.  (I was so charmed by this that I didn't correct her.  Anyway, I didn't want to get on her bad side, since she was the person who cared for all the punch cards for a gigantesque program I was working on.)

On to purely orthographic errors in my family name, most of which have to do with the ways of spelling final unaccented i.  It's <y> (as in <sticky>) in my actual family name, but the system linking sounds with spellings in English orthography offers several competitors: in descending order of frequency, <ey> (as in <Mickey Mouse>), <i> (as in <Micki and Maude>, a 1984 movie), <ie> (as in <Mickie James>, the woman wrestler).  There are also <ee>, as in <Mickee Faust> ("The Mickee Faust Club is Tallahassee Florida's tongue-in-cheek answer to a certain unctuous rodent living in Orlando"), and <ye>, as in <Mickye Adams> (an actress), but I have no attestations of <Zwickee> or <Zwickye>.  <Arnold Zwickey> is on the web, in a Lavender Languages conference announcement from Bill Leap.  So is <Arnold Zwicki>, in a comment on the eggcorn database.  (And to be fair, the family tree includes some who have re-spelled the name to a more Swiss-German-looking <Zwicki>.)

Every so often I get <Zwiky>, without the <c> that signals a preceding lax vowel, so that it looks like it ought to pronounced like <Mikey> (most likely) or <tiki> (if it's a "foreign" word).  But we now have <wiki>, with a lax first vowel, so even this version makes some sense.

At least one error probably results from people having trouble deciphering my handwriting: <Arnold Zuckey>, with a <u> for my written <wi> (plus our old friend, final <ey>).  Maybe <Arnold Zwidry> belongs here too.  <Professor Zwinky> doesn't, because the editor who addressed me this way had just typed my name correctly in the line above; she was, unfortunately, unable to reconstruct what had happened -- but it was certainly an inadvertent performance error.

You can see what happened in another inadvertent performance error: <Arnold Zwizky>, with the <z> persevering from the first syllable.  And in the anticipatory example <Zrnold Zwicky>.  And in the modestly frequent, though at first glance very surprising, <Zqicky> (the NAACP is determined to address me this way, and they're not alone); look at your keyboard.  Even better, two in one blow: <Arjold M. Zqicky> (from Greenpeace, obviously having someone type address lists rather than using pre-printed address labels).

The errors can be compounded.  I have, alas, no idea what led from <A. M. Zwicky> to the remarkable <A. H. Tricky>, but I can reconstruct the path from <Zwicky> to <Soicky>: <Zwicky> to <Swicky> (easy step), <Swicky> to <Sqicky> (the typing error just above), and then, wonderfully, <Sqicky> to <Soicky>, when some human being notices the impossible <Sqi> and assumes it's an error based on the visual similiarity of letters, so fixes the <q> to the visually similar (and orthographically possible) <o>; <p>, giving <Spicky>, would also have been possible, and I'm hoping to live long enough to see a <Spicky>.

Next, global foul-ups in mailing lists, where pieces of entries get transposed.  This has produced mail (with the right street address) for Arnold Zweig (probably there was a Zweig just before me on this list) and for Arnold M. Osland (there is an Arnold Osland who's a Republican district chairman in North Dakota, but what mailing list would we have been on together? there are no Oslands in the local telephone directory, by the way).

Finally, my favorite category, the Vulcan Identity Meld, in which conjoined names are combined into a single name: Elizabeth Arnold (a delightful person in whom my daughter Elizabeth's best qualities are joined with mine), Jacques Trazwicky (making a true marital unit of my partner Jacques Transue and me), and, incredibly, Jacque Arnold Transuzwicky (an elaborate interleaved Vulcan Identity Meld, plus the annoyingly common misspelling of <Jacques> as <Jacque>, which has led many to assume Jacques was a woman whose name was pronounced like <Jackie>.)

soicky at-sing clsi peroid standford peroid edd

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at August 29, 2006 03:14 PM