Monday, April 20, 2009

'Splain this to me

Why is it "inscription" and "inscribed" instead of "inscripted"? Hmm? Or why not "inscribtion" then? Inquiring, writerly minds want to know. And on a Monday of all things...

Seriously, this stuff makes my brain hurt.


  1. You are asking the wrong person! I haven't even eaten breakfast yet!

  2. I have no clue. Don't want to hurt my brain on a Monday.

  3. Anonymous8:46 AM

    can't handle complex questions on Monday. Sorry. Ask me on Friday.

    have fun at RT

  4. I refuse to think this early in the morning!

    So there. ;)

  5. Heh. That's like you can be overwhelmed and underwhelmed, but never just whelmed. ;o)

  6. Because American spellings make no sense.

  7. I'm drawing on my long-unused linguistics minor here, so bear with me as I make sure I'm remembering this all correctly.

    It all has to do with the way you make the sounds. There are identical voiced and voiceless consonants--voiced means your vocal cords are vibrating when you make the sound; voiceless means they are not. T and D are the same sound, but T is voiceless and D is voiced. (This isn't true if you say "Tee" and "Dee" when you see these letters. But if you make the "tuh" sound and the "duh" sound, you should be able to feel the difference in your vocal cords. We spent a lot of time doing this in my linguistics classes.)

    Simple, huh? P and B are, again, the voiceless and voiced versions of the same consonant. But, they are a special class, called plosives or stops. Here, whether the consonant is voiceless or voiced is based on when your breath starts when you make that sound, and that is directly influenced by the sounds that come after the consonant. (All consonants are affected by the sounds that appear around them, but the plosives seem to be more affected to my ear.)

    When you say inscribed, the B sound is immediately followed by a D, which is voiced. That interaction among the sounds gives you a voiced B sound. Linguists who captured the spoken Enlgish language transcribed that sound as a B.

    But when you say inscription, the P is immediately followed by the unvoiced T sound. Hence the P is unvoiced and transcribed as a P not a B.

    Linguists simply observe and capture the language as it is spoken; they do not correct the pronunciation of a native speaker. Their work is descriptive, not prescriptive. And that is why the English language seems so random--our written language is simply a transcription of what we say, and what we say evolved on its own with few rules for so long.

    I hope this helped. It's fun to trot out my linguistics study--those were some of my favorite classes in college. Hmm, maybe I need to have a linguist as one of my main characters...Lindsey Linguist, who meets the man of her dreams on a language study in Ghana...

    Anyway, if there is anyone out there reading this who has a better understanding of linguistics and phonetics than I do, please feel free to correct any mistakes or misperceptions I've made.

  8. Um...I'm still stuck on "splain".

  9. Tell the truth, you were already on the cold medicine when you wrote this, weren't you? LOL