“Omni is everywhere”: why do so many people find it hard to say Omicron? | Language

Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post critical Joe Biden and his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, for both mispronouncing the new variant of Covid as ‘Omnicron’ rather than ‘Omicron’.

Biden’s critics have taken the pronunciation error as evidence of some sort of cognitive decline, but the president is far from the only one. Daily Beast reporter Justin Baragona confessed that he “can identify” to Biden’s mispronunciation, and he’s not the only one: various digital briefing The URLs include the spelling error, which suggests that the error was in a first draft and was not corrected until after the article was published.

According to linguists, the error is to be expected. We don’t often have a reason to introduce entirely new words into our common vernacular as adults, especially those from unfamiliar languages.

“Most of us don’t speak Greek – I think that’s fair to say,” Dr. Taylor Jones, linguist and graduate lecturer, told me.

According to Dr. Jones, it is typical for us to take words from other languages ​​and Americanize them, and the habit is not specific to English speakers: “Each language just takes other languages ​​and ‘nativizes’ the sounds. . “

Omicron already presents a challenge before introducing unwanted new letters: “Greek letters, we hardly use them [unless you’re a Futurama superfan, where the fictional planet Omicron Persei 8 makes frequent appearances], and as a three-syllable word, there are a lot of potential pronunciations if you’re not sure how it’s said, ”Dr. Lisa Davidson, chair of the Linguistics department at the New York University. The first syllable could be OH or AH, it could be MY-cron or MEE-cron or even MIH-cron. Dr Jones pointed out that I was actually merging the first and second syllable with my pronunciation: OM-ih-cron.

“Omni, however,” Dr. Jones said. “Forgive the inadvertent pun, but it’s all over the place.”

Omnipotent, omniscient, omnivorous, omnibus, omniplex, and omnipresent: omni as a prefix is ​​a sound much more familiar to the English-speaking brain, or “speech production area” (the language of the linguist means “mouth” in general).

“In that sense, it serves as a sort of magnet,” Dr. Davidson said. “It’s a stronger mental representation, so it attracts nearby strings of sounds, like omi–. Lots of research shows that if you present people with chain letters that do not exist as English words but could, they will pronounce it as the most common existing word that has the most similar letter set. .

Dr Davidson recalled an article he was recently sent “which shows that if you make a mistake on a newly learned word on a recall task, you are more likely to keep making the same mistake (rather than different error, or the correct pronunciation). ”So people who are irritated by the bad pronunciation may want to work on their serenity; it is likely to stay with us for a while.

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