Wednesday, June 25, 2008

talk balk

I ran across an example of, for lack of a better term, a typographic echo a while ago: "talk balk" for "talk back." Certainly this could merely be a typographic error. Under the influence of "talk," the typist all but duplicated the word by changing the "c" in "back" to an "l." However, I do not think this is the case. In fact, it was difficult for me to even type the phrase "talk balk" (I ended up with "baclk" at first), because it isn't a phrase that's ever used, as opposed to "talk back." More likely this is the kind of error someone would make in speech, and since (at least for me) phonology strongly influences typing errors in people who are fairly fluent typists, and it was translated to the screen without the speaker/typist noticing.

There is clearly a cross-linguistic tendency for sounds to want to assimilate to their neighbors. Almost every language has a nasal assimilation rule that prevents clusters like nk, instead turning these into ŋk clusters, even across morphological boundaries (ɪŋkəmplit for "incomplete) and sometimes even word boundaries (ɪŋ kamən for "in common"). These preferences can also skip over segments, as in vowel harmony or the famous tongue twister "She sells seashells by the seashore." I think that may be the most likely explanation for the error "talk balk."

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