LINGUIST List 7.778

Tue May 28 1996

Disc: Umlauts

Editor for this issue: Annemarie Valdez <>


  1. Birgit Kellner, Re: 7.769, Qs: Umlauts
  2. Crissie Trigger, Re: 7.769, Qs: Umlauts,

Message 1: Re: 7.769, Qs: Umlauts

Date: Tue, 28 May 1996 03:29:55 +0900
From: Birgit Kellner <>
Subject: Re: 7.769, Qs: Umlauts
As for Larry Horn's question whether Robert B. Zajonc's theory on
umlauts and their detrimental influence on the oxygen flow to the
brain is "unvarnished poppycock" - although I am not able to confirm
or disconfirm Mr. Horn's suspicion, this line of research reminds me
of the celebrated theory on the Japanese brain, as put forward by
Tadanobu Tsunoda. Tsunoda holds that only consonants are processed in
the left hemisphere of occidental brains, while both consonants and
vowels are handled together in the left hemisphere of Japanese brains.
Hence, the Japanese brain unifies the perception of acoustic
phenomena, whereas the occidental brain treats them separately. This
analysis does not only explain the nature of Japanese society, but
also why Japanese athletes did not have much success in global
competitions after the 2nd World War (that theory was published in the
Seventies): The study of foreign languages (which are, no doubt,
geared to occidental brains) has severly damaged neurological reflexes
in the athletes' brains. (For an exposition of this and related
theories, see e.g. Peter N. Dale, _The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness_,
Routledge 1986. Tsunoda's theory can be found in amazing places. For
example, it features prominently and unquestioned in a 1990 bilingual
guidebook called "Japan as it is", Tokyo: Gakken ltd., p.42f., where
the Japanese Nobel physicist Yukawa Hideki is said to have called
Tsunoda's theory "one of the most incredible theories I've heard in
years". Unfortunately, we are not given any further explanations as
to what Mr. Hideki meant by "incredible").

Personally, I think that a synthesis of Mr. Zajonc's and Mr. Tsunoda's
theories could go a long way and provide a lot of grant money to many
promising (and imaginative) young scholars. 

Birgit Kellner
Department for Indian Philosophy
University of Hiroshima
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Message 2: Re: 7.769, Qs: Umlauts,

Date: Mon, 27 May 1996 15:14:13 PDT
From: Crissie Trigger <>
Subject: Re: 7.769, Qs: Umlauts,
There has been speculation about the effect of the sound of language 
for a long time. Jonathan Swift commented that he spoke Spanish when 
making love to his wife, gave commands to his horse in German and 
Portuguese to his mistress (I don't have the quote in front of me but 
you know how to look it up.)

 A friend of mine insisted that he could seduce a woman by counting to 
ten in Estonian (his birthplace).

The effects of the sounds of language seem to be more important than 
the words actually spoken, or their meaning. A good example is commands 
to animals. (Notice that commands to big German Shepherds or 
Rottweilers are often given in German.)

The master of the sounds of language was comedian Sid Caesar (no, they
didn't name Sid's salad after him). He did several classic routines
revolving around the sounds of language. The one which stands out in
my mind was one in which a man was giving military type commands to a
smaller man helping him to get dressed. The commands seemed to be in
German and the man being dressed seemed to be a military commander, a
general or top military officer.

Turns out he was a doorman at a New York apartment building and the
language was gibberish, but it sounded like German and it was very
convincing until you finally realized what he really was.

I don't think there is any doubt that the sounds of words can affect
emotions either of oneself or others, including blood pressure and
body temperatures. If someone would just teach me a few words of
Portuguese, I will gladly voluunteer to participate in a language
lab... ;-) (SETH SKLAREY)
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