Dr Seuss’ ABC part 2

(If you haven’t already, you may want to read the first part.)

Nine new neckties and a nightshirt and a nose.
is usually /n/. Here we have it at the beginning of words (it can also go in the middle and at the end). (, which is always /n/, is also possible in the middle or at the end of words, but not at the beginning.)

Oscar’s only ostrich oiled an orange owl today.
For me, there are 5 different vowels here. ‘Oscar’, ‘ostrich’ and ‘orange’ have /ɒ/ (a “short o”), ‘only’ has /oʊ/ (a “long o”), ‘oiled’ has /ɔɪ/, owl has /aʊ/ and ‘today’ has a schwa /ə/ (in quick, informal speech, at least; I probably pronounce it carefully as ‘tudeɪ’). It is possible that Dr Seuss had a FATHER/BOTHER merger, and pronounced ‘Oscar’, ‘ostrich’ and ‘orange’ as (approximately) ‘Ahscar’, ‘ahstrich’ and ‘ahrange’.

Painting pink pyjamas. Policeman in a pail. Peter Pepper’s puppy. And now Papa’s in a pail.

is usually /p/ and is always /p/. Here we have

at the beginning and in the middle of words (it can also come at the end), and in the middle of words (in can also come at the end, but not at the beginning).

The quick Queen of Qunicy and her quacking quacker-oo.
is very strange. The only words with by itself have been imported from other languages, most famously ‘Iraq’ (from Arabic). In standard English, it always combines as and usually makes (indeed many business names include the spelling ‘kwik’). Here, we have at the beginning of words (in can also come in the middle, but not at the end).

Rosy Robin Ross. Rosy’s going riding on her red rhinoceros.
is usually /r/. Here we have at the beginning of words (it can also come in the middle). can go on the end of the spelling of a word, but not on the end of its pronunciation – at least not for me. I spell ‘car’ and say ‘ka:. Dr Suess possibly said /ka˞/ (which is not actually an /r/). Note the spelling of ‘rhinoceros’. Many words derived from Greek use ‘rh’ (at the beginning or in the middle) or even ‘rrh’ (in the middle or, in two cases, at the end (catarrh, myrrh)).

Silly Sammy Slick sipped six sodas and got sick sick sick.
is usually /s/. Here we have at the beginning of words (indeed is the most common first letter in English) (it can also come in the middle or at the end). (, which is always /s/, is also possible in the middle or at the end of words). In many cases when is at the end of a word, it is actually pronounced /z/. From Dr Suess’s sentences so far in this blog post: ‘neckties’, ‘pyjamas’ and ‘sodas’ (plural), ‘Oscar’s’, ‘Pepper’s’ (possessive), ‘Papa’s’ and ‘Rosy’s’ (contraction of ‘is’ (indeed ‘is’ by itself has a /z/)) and ‘nose’ (if there was a word /noʊs/ we would have to spell it ‘noce’).

Ten tired turtles on a tuttle-tuttle tree.
is usually /t/ and is always /t/ - for me, at least. Here we have at the beginning and in the middle of words (it can also come at the end), and in the middle (it can also come at the end, but not the beginning). For ‘turtle’ and ‘tuttle’ Dr Seuss may have used a sound closer to /d/.

Uncle Ubb’s umbrella and his underwear, too.
is usually /ʌ/ (a “short u”). Here we have it at the beginning of words (it can also come in the middle, but if it is at the end, it won’t be the /ʌ/ pronunciation). Note that the letter name ‘U’ is pronounced with a ‘y’ (which I’ll talk more about in a moment) and an ‘oo’.

Vera Violet Vinn is very very very awful on her violin.
is usually /v/. Here we have it at the beginning of words (it can also come in the middle. No standard English words end with , but many end with ). ( is also possible but rare in the middle of words.)

Willy Waterloo washes Warren Wiggins who is washing Waldo Woo.
is usually /w/. Here we have it at the beginning of words (it can also come in the middle, but if it is at the end, it won’t be the /w/ pronunciation). ( is just possible but very rare in the middle of words.)

X is very useful if your name is Nixie Knox. It also comes in handy spelling axe and extra fox.
is strange. In the middle or end of words (as here) it usually makes /ks/ (maybe we could write ‘Niksie Noks’), though there are some words with at the beginning with the pronunciation /z/ (the alphabet chart in your primary school classroom probably had ‘xylophone’). The spelling ‘axe’ sent me to the publisher’s details at the beginning of the book. Sure enough, the edition I have was published in England. I suspect that the US edition has ‘ax’.

A yawning yellow yak. Young Yolanda Yorgenson is yelling on his back.
can function as a consonant, as here, which has the potentially confusing IPA symbol /j/ (so the letter name ‘U’ is written /ju:/ in IPA). It can also function as a vowel (for example, in ‘pyjamas’ (where it is /ə/ (another British spelling; ‘pajamas’ is more common in US English)) and ‘puppy’ (where it is /ɪ/ or /i:/).

I am a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz as you can plainly see.
is usually /z/. Here we have at the beginning of words (it can also come in the middle and at the end) and in the middle (it can also come at the end, but not at the beginning). Like the Fiffer-feffer-feff (in the previous blog post), Dr Seuss expects us to be able to pronounce this made-up word.

There’s obviously a lot missing from this discussion. I’ve had to simplify and I’ve probably ended up oversimplifying at times. I’ll return and fill in some gaps later. The important thing to remember is that the letters of the English alphabet and the sounds of the English pronunciation system don’t always match up. We can have different letters for the same sounds, and the same letters making different sounds. In fact there are many sounds which we have not talked about here. The English pronunciation system has approximately 44 sounds, which have to be spelled using 26 letters. Obviously, the whole issue of spelling and pronouncing English is not as easy as ABC!

[Dr Seuss’ ABC, Dr Suess Enterprises L.P. and Random House Inc., New York, this edition published in the UK by HarperCollinsChildren’s Books

Used under the “fair dealing for the purpose of research or study” provision of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).]

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3 thoughts on “Dr Seuss’ ABC part 2

  1. I was told in primary school that the first Q word in the dictionary was always QANTAS, because it doesn’t have the U (although it also isn’t a word, it’s an acronym…). Wikipedia has a rather long list of ‘English words where U does not follow Q’, with which I was rather unimpressed, because most of them seemed to be Arabic words, and the majority of them words I wouldn’t say were used in everyday English speech. QANTAS wasn’t on the list.

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  2. Hi Rachel. Yes, this raises questions about what “English” is, what a “word” is and what an “English word” is. I’m sure I’ll get around to posting about words with Q without U, sometime.

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  3. Pingback: Dr Seuss ABC part 3 | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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