Monday, July 14, 2008


I've been keeping up with a show called "The Next Food Network Star", in which a number of cooks compete for their own show on the food network. In one of the episodes the contestants had to create and market their own pre-packaged food product. One of the contestants chose to make a chocolate sauce containing cherries and cognac, and marketed it as "Cherri-gac", pronounced ˈtʃeɹiˌjæk. What I thought was interesting about the spelling is the perception of the "g" and /j/, even though it comes before the "n". The original French pronunciation would be koɲɒk, with a probable American phonemicization of kɒnjæk, unless the speaker really has a palatal nasal in their idiolect.

Thus the "gn" sequence in "cognac" is interpreted as a phonetic [nj] sequence, and apparently it didn't bother this contestant that the [j] sound comes after the "n" while the orthographic "g" comes before the "n". I thought this was rather strange because (if I can try to remember back before I started being interested in orthography and pronunciation) I think my original interpretation of "gn" sequences in French and Italian was that the "g" was silent, and the palatalization of the "n" was just a quirk of those words in those languages. Clearly this is not the only way people view that digraph. Since he associated the "g" with [j], it made sense to him to spell his product as he did.


Unknown said...

Coming from an entirely non-linguistic background, I wonder if he just didn't take much time to think about how that would be spelled, since it seems that taking an uneducated guess, one might spell it (or call it) "Cherri-gnac", or even more simply "Cherri-ac"
They were rather rushed in the marketing process, afterall.

Alex Remington said...

So, wait, they pronounced it "Cherry-yak"?

That's kinda silly.