July 2009 Archives

John Wells Phonetic Blog & Brüno Phonation


John Wells from UCL in London has migrated his phonetics blog into Blogspot, thus improving search capability significantly (Yippee!). If you haven't read it, it's a great blog on pronunciation examples from real life and from the media.

For instance, John Wells asks the important question of why Ali G (Sasha Baron Cohen) is spelling Brüno with an umlaut, when it should be plain Bruno according to German spelling convention.

Wells mentions the common metal umlaut (e.g. Mötley Crüe, Motörhead), but argues that Brüno isn't really part of metal culture. Two commenters beat me to the punch in pointing out the Häagen-Dazs also has a fake umlaut and one commented that an umlaut looks "uber-German" (shouldn't that be "über German"?). In other words, the metal umlaut has expanded in our ditzy Anglophone collective culture to include anything vaguely Germanic. Maybe it should be the "Fake Eurotrash Umlaut."

Actually a more interesting phonetic feature that struck me was the quasi-breathy phonation in the movie trailers. Phonation refers to how the vocal cords can be adjusted to pronounce vowels in different ways. Most vowels in world languages are pronounced in a "normal" (unmarked) voiced fashion or whispery, but a few languages can make them creaky (like a creaky door) or breathy (like Marilyn Monroe, but more extreme).

In the Brüno trailers, the announcer has gone with the breathy option, especially when he says "Brüünoo is rated aaaR!". Ironically the transcription for breathy Brüno CAN include umlauts, but they are beneath the vowel, not above it. So breathy Brüno would be /brṳno̤ / (more or less).