Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: Rhotic

Madame L is not ashamed to say she found this word in an answer to a job-interview question that is supposedly asked of people who are trying to get a job at Google.

The question: How many piano tuners are there in the whole world?

One answer: The number of pianos in the world, divided by X. 

Another answer: They do not live in pianos, silly. They live in the ocean. (Works if your dialect of English is non-rhotic.)

So, what is rhotic and what is non-rhotic? The Wikipedia answer to this question is apparently written to confuse people, so Madame L translates it here: If you pronounce "butter" more like "buttah" or "hard" more like "hahd," you speak a non-rhotic dialect. 

But go ahead and read the answer for some great examples of how words have "merged" in pronunciation in non-rhotic accidents. Madame L favorite example is the orphan-often gag from Gilbert and Sullivans "Pirates of Penzance":


 (You have to wait until about the 6th minute for the orphan-often gag, but you get to see the wonderful "Modern Major General" song performed by the best while you wait.)

Madame L speaks an English dialect that is rhotic. That is, she pronounces an "r" if it exists in the written word, no matter whether it is followed by a consonant or a vowel or is at the end of a spelled-out word (and does not pronounce an "r" when it is not written at the end of a word). 

Oh, and here are the the rest of the questions supposedly asked often (not "orphan") when one is interviewing for jobs at Google, Microsoft, and IKEA. (Read through the Comments section to see a variety of clever and even correct answers.)

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Wow. So if I speak Californian, then I'm a rotifer? There's a nuther wurd for ya. Jus speekun rhotic Californian.