Appendix 3 Linguistics and the corpus of modern surnames Only certain combinations of phonemes are possible; and the study of the possible combinations is called phonotactics. Number of syllables Surnames are nouns (in fact a subset of proper nouns). How does their average number of syllables compare with those of ordinary nouns? A simple analysis of the leading 300 surnames reveals: Syllables Surnames 1-99 Surnames 100-199 Surnames 200-299 Single 34% 40% 29% Double 59% 55% 57% Triple 7% 7% 14% Compare this with an analysis of the 19,334 nouns in the Longman’s Dictionary of contemporary English. English surnames (or at least those in the top 300) are predominantly bi-syllabic. Bi-syllabic and mono-syllabic surnames together account for 91% of these surnames. Whereas these two categories in the nouns sample accounted only 60%. Moreover the surnames sample had no occurrences of surnames with four or more syllables; even those with three were a definite minority. So surnames can be differentiated from nouns by the pattern of their syllable length. The English form of identity, it seems, requires succinctness, but not necessarily brevity. As a double-check, I counted syllables from samples of 100 names each from lower-frequency surnames: Syllables Frequency 3,600 Freq 6870 Freq 8300 1 15% 23% 15% 2 71% 64% 64% 3 12% 10% 21% 4 2% 3% 0% Bi-syllabic names still predominate at these lower frequencies The same proportions can be discerned in an analysis of the average syllable length in forenames: In the case of monosyllabic surnames, there almost seems to be a four-letter rule for English surnames. However, there are exceptions : Cam, Esk, Ham, Kyd, Lot Source: Anne Cutler, James McQueen, Ken Robinson Elizabeth and John: Sound patterns of men’s and women’s names in Journal of Linguistics 26 (1990) p477 Strong and weak syllables The English language “consists predominantly of words beginning with strong syllables, and the most common word pattern is in English is a bi-syllabic with initial stress, such as common, pattern, English.” (Source: Fear, B., Cutler, A., and Butterfield, S. (1995). The strong/weak syllable distinction in English Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 97, (1995) 3, pp1893-1904.) In their study of 190,000 words of spontaneous spoken British conversation, Cutler and Carter found that 90% of the lexical words (i.e. nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs) began with strong syllables. Whereas, considering the total number of weak syllables, 69% were initial syllables of function words, 26% were not word-initial, and 5% were initial syllables of lexical words. [Examples of function words would be articles (e.g., an, the), prepositions (to, from), conjunctions (and, but), determiners (all, those), complementisers (if, that), auxiliary verbs, and personal pronouns.] Thus the patterns of word stress have resulted with the great majority of English lexical words, like nouns, placing stress on the first syllable. It is the case that a large number of lexical words have only one syllable, but still that one syllable is likely to have stress. For example the predominant stress pattern for bisyllabic words in English is strong-weak (e.g. mommy) : weak-strong words (e.g. allow) are comparatively rare. Moreover, “English words generally follow a pattern of alternating strong and weak syllables. In general, strong syllables are pronounced with a slightly higher pitch and for a slightly longer duration than weak syllables. Strong syllables are long; weak syllables are usually short.” (Source: Cutler, A. and D. M. Carter The predominance of strong initial syllables in the English vocabulary in Computer Speech and Language, 2 (1987), pp133-142) More Examples: (a dot = short, a dash = long) Weak-Strong . _ result . _ detect . _ confuse Strong-Weak _ . final _ . science _ . table Weak-Strong-Weak . _ . computer . _ . in Sydney . _ . distribute Strong-Weak-Weak _ . . absolute _ . . tentative _ . . chemistry Weak-Strong-Weak-Weak . _ . . infanticide _ . . it’s terrible _ . . impossible Weak-Strong-Strong-Weak . _ _ . Give me a break Strong-Weak-Strong _ . _ Run along Strong-Strong _ _ Get lost _ . . Don’t know (Source: These great examples (and quote) borrowed from Language Center (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology). I hope to replace them as I become more competent.) Surnames as poetry? The strong and weak syllables of English result in a rhythm that is similar to the rhythm of poetry. The strong (stressed) syllables are like the beat in poetry. So does the typical English surname have a trochaic foot, in unison with a lexical word? I do not know and have not the knowledge successfully to survey and analyse a corpus of surnames (as spoken). Might there be a difference with nouns? The other way in which a name might be considered poetic is in the possible euphony through forename choice, that is, in the choice made for forename-surname combination (e.g. I have a mono-syllablic weak-stressed surname, preceded by a bi-syllabic, strong-weak stressed forename). Conversely, for the more normal bi-syllabic surname (with inital strong stress), examples abound of parents choosing a monosyllabic forename. Compare Clint Bonney with Ian Bonney: Clint Bonney Ian Bonney _ _ . . _ . Strong Strong-Weak Weak Strong-Weak The latter has more euphony (i.e. is more harmonious to the ear) because it maintains the common rhythm of alternating strong-weak syllables. One school of linguists argue that the strong syllable is used by the hearer as a first-pass attempt to aurally decide where the division between sounds should be made. (See Fear, Cutler, and Butterfield, op. cit.) This is called segmentation. Parents in their choice may be unconsciously influenced, for example, that Ian Bonney will more easily segmented into forename-surname whilst Clint Bonney example could fail to be segmented and consequently (and constantly) be interpreted as the surname, Clintbonney. This is more clearly exemplified by a name commencing with a weak syllable such as Patrick. [??? MS] If this name (as a surname) is preceded by an initially-strong mono-syllable forename (e.g. Kirk), there is difficulty in segmenting this combination, and to most listeners it would be interpreted as the surname Kirkpatrick, despite an emphasised pause after the first syllable. This might have had more significance in the past age of illiteracy and scribal/incumbent recording of names. As regards surnames alone, what might be revealing is whether the distinctive surnames of a region show a tendency to one of the above rhythmic patterns, in direct comparison to another region. (Another area for research?) Sound symbolism It has been axiomatic that there is no relationship between an object and the sound chosen to signify it. The label ‘tree’ could easily have been the label ‘treb’ with no loss of understanding. Syllabic structure Syllables can be simple or more complex; the latter analysed as having a centre, plus a beginning (onset) and an ending (coda). Minimum syllables are single vowels in isolation – words like ‘are’, ‘or’, ‘err’. Note: the surnames ORR , EMM. Supposition: Minimum syllable surnames seem to be comparatively rare. Syllables with an onset (i.e.more than just silence precedes the centre)- ‘bar’, ‘key’, ‘more.’ Examples: the surnames KEE, MAWER Last revised: August 10, 2008.