Sunday, October 5, 2008

Eat 'em up

Not law-related but diplomacy-related. Reuters reports that France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, speaking in English, caused a bit of a row when he was understood to say to an Israeli interviewer, "I honestly don't believe that it will give any immunity to Iran ... because you will eat them before."

He later explained that he was not contemplating Israeli consumption of Iran, only an illegal aerial bombing. Apparently he had meant to say "hit", but what came out, because French phonology has a highly ranked constraint against initial [h], and lacks the lax high front unrounded vowel that English uses in the word "hit", sounded like "eat."

The ministry clarified that Kouchner "regrets the unfortunate misunderstanding this phonetic confusion has caused." The confusion was of course phonological, not phonetic.

In a possible world consistent with consistency in behavior from major propaganda agencies, we will soon witness a propaganda offensive from the MEMRI hole, saying France calls for Iran to be wiped off the map.


Andrew said...

Funny thing about the French lacking an "h"... it's not in their phonology, but they often can say it. when trying to say it, nothing comes out, except sometimes a glottal stop. But when they try to pronounce a word-initial glottal stop, they often say "h"!! So they'll say stuff like, "I hate breakfast already; I 'ad an omelette."

Uri said...

That's true - former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was guilty of a lot of these intrusive aitches. Well, it was either him or the portrayal of him on the CBC's satirical political shows.

I'm guessing that this is hypercorrection by French speakers when they speak English, or other languages with both [h] onsets and onsetless words.

This kind of hypercorrection is a phonological process, though maybe it should be called a fauxnological process because it's based on a misanalysis of the language's phonology.