Phonetics Through Jokes

Collected by David Deterding

Epenthetic /t/

Contributed by Karen Steffen Chung

A man went to see a psychiatrist. "I keep on dreaming I'm a teepee or a wigwam," he said.

"I know the problem," said the psychiatrist. "You're two tents."

Phonetic point: tents /tents/ and tense /tens/ tend to be homophones, because there is often an epenthetic /t/ between the nasal and fricative in tense.

Vocalisation of dark /l/

Contributed by Gordon J Kerr (pronounced [ker])

A man went to see his psychiatrist. "When I wake up, I keep on finding that I have black lines all down my body."

"I know the problem," said the psychiatrist. "You're a psychopath."

Phonetic Point: dark /l/ tends to be pronounced as a close back vowel (it becomes "vocalised"), with the result that cycle sounds very similar to psycho.

Linking /w/

Two boll-weevils grew up together in the cotton fields of Alabama. One of them went on to become a high-flying lawyer in New York. The other stayed behind in Alabama. The second was the lesser of two weevils.

Phonetic Point: there is a linking /w/ between a word ending in /u:/ and a word beginning with a vowel, so that two weavils sounds nearly the same as two evils.

Silent /k/

Contributed by Karen Darcy

Three pieces of string walk into a bar. The first one orders a beer, but the barman says, "We don't serve string here."

So the second one tries and is turned away in the same way.

The third piece of string lies down on the ground, rolls around, gets itself all frayed and tangled up, then goes and orders a beer.

The barman, by now exasperated, demands, "Look, are you a piece of string?"

And the string replies, "No, Iím a frayed knot."

Phonetic Point: The silent /k/ in knot makes it a homophone with not. Note also the linking, which results in a frayed and afraid sounding the same.

Linking /p/

Contributed by Mick Randall

One day, sometime after the Flood, as Noah was quietly tending his fields, he heard a Voice from Above.

"Noah," the Voice said, "I want you to build me another Ark."

"OK," said Noah. "What size should it be?"

"This time," said the Voice, "I want twenty-two storeys. And when you've finished, I don't want any of those elephants and giraffes. I want you to fill the Ark with water and then just have fish."

"Fish!" said Noah. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," said the Voice. "In fact, I don't want any sort of fish. I just want carp."

"You want an Ark with twenty-two storeys filled with carp?" said Noah. "Why do you want that?"

"Well," said the Voice, "I just fancied a multi-storey carp Ark."

Phonetic Point: the final /p/ is used to link to the next word that begins with a vowel, so that carp ark sounds like car park.

Coalescence of /t/ + /j/

A lion walked into a bar and demanded a beer. But the bartender said, "I'm sorry, sir, we don't serve lions."

Then the lion said, "Give me a beer, you stupid idiot."

And the bartender said, "I'm sorry, we don't serve rude lions."

Then the lion shouted, "GIVE ME A BEER, YOU STUPID IDIOT."

And the bartender said, "I'm sorry, we don't serve rude, angry lions."

Then the lion said, "OK, if you don't give me a beer, I'm going to eat that girl over there."

But the bartender said, "Go ahead. I'm still not going to serve you."

So the lion went over and ate the girl. Then he came back and said, "Right, you idiot, now give me a beer."

But the bartender said, "I'm sorry, we don't serve rude, angry lions that are on drugs."

The lion said, "Hey! I'm not on drugs!"

"Well," said the bartender, "you are now. That was a bar bitch you ate."

Phonetic Point: In English, /t/ + /j/ tend to coalesce into //, so that the /tj/ that occurs in a careful pronunciation of barbiturate may be pronounced as //.

Weak Forms

Contributed by Jonathan Marks

When you've seen one shopping centre, you've seen a mall.

Phonetic Point: A weak form of them is /əm/; so them all is pronounced the same as a mall.

Weak Forms (2)

Contributed by Karen Steffen Chung

Q: How do you fix a broken tuba?

A: With a tuba glue.

Phonetic Point: A weak form of of is /əv/, but the final /v/ may be omited; so tube of may be pronounced the same as tuba.