Saturday, November 20, 2010 and the fictional Princeton Linguistics department

I spent Thursday night on a plane so I missed 30 Rock and the most linguistics oriented sit-com episode since ... since ... um ... okay, the most linguistics oriented sitcom episode EVER! But thanks to the innerwebz, I have caught up on my TV addiction.

The set-up has Jack Donaghy being the voice of, (I BEG you to sign up, PLEASE!!!!)  a website that demonstrates the correct pronunciation of all English words. Apparently, when Jack was a poor undergrad at Princeton, he was hired by the "Linguistics Department" to pronounce every word in an English dictionary to preserve the correct pronunciation for generations to come. But they sold his readings, and hence his voice is now the voice of (as well as the first perfect microwave...).

Here is as faithful a transcript of the critical dialogue as I can muster:

Jack: Those bastards!
Liz: Who bastards?
Jack: Part of my Princeton scholarship included work for the Linguistics department. They wanted me to record every word in the dictionary to preserve the perfect American accent in case of nuclear war. Well, the cold war ended, and Princeton began selling the recordings.
Liz: So people can just buy your voice?
Jack: Ohhhh, the things it's been dragged into. Thomas the Tank Engine; Wu-Tang songs...

This must have been the glory days before the hippies took over and started "protecting" undergrads from "exploitation." Whatever...

In any case, it's understandable that this trivial tid-bit of academic minutia blew right by most people, but it is a fact of the world we live in that Princeton University does not have a linguistics department per se. They do offer an Undergraduate Program in Linguistics in which students can "pursue a Certificate in Linguistics," but this is not an official department as far as I understand it. Jack, if he is the same age as the actor Alec Baldwin, would have been at Princeton in late 1970s. Maybe they had a full fledged department back then, I honestly don't know.

You can watch the episode College at NBC, or wherever else you prefer. BTW, there's an awesome ode to color perception conundrums at the end as well. It's all kinda linguisticee/cog sciencee (I never know how to add the -ee morpheme?).

Random after-point: Near the end of Thursday's episode of Community, Dean Pelton actually utilized the Shakespearean subjunctive construction Would that X were Y... He says "Would that this hoodie were a time hoodie" around the 19:20 mark (see Hamlet, would it were not so, you are my mother). Just thought that was kinda awesome.

And not for nuthin', but if you haven't seen Tina Fey's Mark Twain Prize speech, it's a gem: HERE.


annyeong grammarian said...

Hai...may I write my words here? (I think it's OK)
What can you expect? So, your English pronunciation was preserved by a poor undergrad Princeton man? Was he pronounced it correctly?

Brenna said...

How can I become a member at I keep trying to register but it tells me "I need to go join a program better suited for democrats or hippies" which is incredibly annoying. Are you a member on the site?

Chris said...

Brenna, perhaps you don't make enough money to join. The membership is exclusive to the upper tax brackets.