Bad Boundary

Did a federal MP from Saskatchewan call a female NDP candidate a whore? [story at 19.11.15].

Tom Lukiwski is alleged to have said:

We got to get Greg back elected.”

He’s too important of an MLA to let go down to an NDP whore just because of a bad boundary.

The explanation given by Lukiwski, that what he really said was “NDP horde” and not “NDP whore”, kinda sounds like excuse by post-facto mondegreen. Lukiwski himself admits though that “If you want to hear ‘whore’ you can hear it. If you want to hear ‘horde’, you’ll hear that”. I’ll bet he’s been doing a lot of listening to that audio in the last few days. He says that “NDP horde” is a phrase he uses from time to time.

Here’s a recording taken from a video clip on the CBC post. See what you (think you) hear:

Contributors to the comments on that story are pretty sure what they think they hear, and usually it accords with whatever political alignment they express. [You can view the entire clip here, or on the story, linked above.]

But now you try it. At a normal speaking pace and rhythm, say “to an NDP horde just because” and “to an NDP whore just because”, and see if you hear any difference. Even if you think you can make one out from the other, I bet you’re making the exact same sound for both.

What’s happening is called elision. It can occur at a word boundary when two stops (such as “t” or “d”) come up against each other. That’s because in general we naturally like to avoid hiatus, or a gap in the flow of sound between words. So although you might think you are saying something different when you pronounce, e.g., “kicked tin” and “kicked in”, unless you’re deliberately producing a pause between the words, you’re almost certainly producing identical sounds.

If what Lukiwski did indeed say was “horde just”, he almost certainly would not have pronounced it “hordjust” [IPA: hɔrdʤʌst], since the two dental stops would have produced a hiatus at the word boundary. Unless he had taken a long pause between words (which he doesn’t in the clip), the “d” of “horde” would almost certainly have been dropped, or absorbed into the ʤ of ʤʌst, resulting in “horjust” [IPA: hɔrʤʌst], which would be exactly the expected pronunciation of “whore just” for a person in this part of the woods.

Since there’s nothing in the audio to choose between “whore” and “horde”, it seems only fair to accept the charitable interpretation.

Even so, my advice to Lukiwski would be: stop using the term “NDP horde”. And if you must, make sure your next word doesn’t begin with t, d, or ʤ. You might lose something just because of a bad boundary.

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