Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Do one thing every day that scares you”.

This morning, on my drive to campus, I had my music library on shuffle and “Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)” (by the late Scatman John) came on.

Around 35 seconds in (YouTube link to that timepoint), he bursts into an incredible line of articulatory gymnastics which, although frightening, I badly wanted to transcribe into the International Phonetic Alphabet, if for no other reason, to show my undergraduate phonetics class that with the IPA, anything is possible.

So, although it took around 30 minutes with a (rather creepy sounding) version of that section that I slowed down using Praat, I did it:

/skɑpəɾɑbadubiliduɾɛbɑpn̩duɾiuɾəbapn̩ũndɛvʌmvətevɛteɡəɾ-

-ə(???)veŋuəbəveŋuəbəveŋuəbəveŋgəʔuɡɛɾiɾudo/

(Here’s an image version if the IPA isn’t rendering properly)

I’m not 100% confident about the whole passage, and during the section marked with (???), I believe he’s flicking his lips rapidly with his fingers (a labiodactyl trill?) which I can’t represent in the IPA.

However, the fact that this string of sounds can be broken down, analyzed and transcribed at all shows both the power of the IPA and the dangers of otherwise unoccupied linguists.


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