They're words, Jim, but not as we know them
June 10, 2019 5:44 AM   Subscribe

Do the mouth noises that form the first two words of the chorus and announced title of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann's Happy Song occur as phonemes in any recognized language? What about those in the third word of the original title? What are their technical phonetic descriptions, if any, and can they be rendered in the International Phonetic Alphabet? If they can, that's my next set of T shirts sorted out.
posted by flabdablet to Writing & Language (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The middle sound in both sounds to me like a bilabial ejective, which is written p'.

It's the same sound beatboxers use for a kick drum. It's also used as a speech sound in a bunch of languages, including some from the Caucasus, some from Northern Africa and the Middle East, and some from various parts of the Americas.

Other than that and the "yeah," the rest of those are really, really not speech sounds — meaning they wouldn't be part of the grammar or sound system of any language, and couldn't be written in the IPA.

There is such a thing as the Ext-IPA, which speech pathologists use to represent noncanonical sounds that people with speech disorders produce. It is possible that the Ext-IPA could represent some of those sounds. Honestly, I'd be surprised if it could. (That would be a hell of a speech disorder.) But I'm a linguist and not a speech pathologist, so I can't say for sure.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:18 AM on June 10

The IPA has been used to transcribe beatboxing so it could possibly handle Flanders & Swann. Maybe the paper and/or linguists referenced in the link above could provide a starting point.
posted by archy at 12:53 PM on June 10

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