A Thank You note, a bunch of ř’s and a poem about mushroom pickers

by Věra Dvořák

Dear Alan,

  • Thanks for teaching me how to structure my scientific papers. I still go back to your comments to my Phonology III term paper any time I am writing a new article.
  • Thanks for teaching an advanced course on phonology where we did not a use a single real word throughout the entire semester. I did not know such a thing is possible and it was so much fun!
  • Thanks for making me feel proud for speaking a language with an alveolar fricative trill Ř/ř — also called a rhotic strident (Kučera 1961, Isačenko 1965). Yes, both of these sound like an oxymoron to a phonologist. It actually made me write my only published phonological paper — even though I have always been a morphosyntactician — where I analyzed the special voicing assimilation properties of ř in terms of Prince & Smolensky 1993.

Since I figured out that I am also the last of your students who spoke a language with ř, I decided to save a few of these peculiar sounds for you in the attached recording. That way, you can hear an authentic ř any time you feel like it.

The recorded material which is rich in ř is a short poem about mushroom pickers – houbaři in Czech. (It also gives a great insight into what is a Czech national hobby number one. We have more mushroom pickers than any other country in the world; each family picks up an average of 18 pounds of mushrooms per year. Over 70% of Czech go mushroom picking at least once a year!) The recording can be found here:

The transcription of the poem with the detailed morphological glosses follows. Ř is listed in IPA as a “strident apico-alveolar trill” among IPA Extensions, under the number 027C, and it is given the symbols [ɼ] and [ɼ̥] – for its voiceless counterpart. I adhere to those symbols in my transcription as well.

Říká houbař houbaři: “Vůbec se mi nedaří. Chodím
ɼiːkaː ɦoubaɼ̥  ɦoubaɼɪ vuːbɛʦ nɛdaɼiː xociːm
says m-pickerNOM m-pickerDAT at-all REFL meDAT not-goes-well walk1SG.HAB
tu od bedly k bedle; vím, i to jsou houby jedlé.
tu odbɛdlɪ ɡbɛdlɛ viːm ˀɪ to jsou ɦoubɪ jɛdlɛː
here from-parasol to-parasol know even those are mushrooms edible
Ale kdyby tu byl hřib, bylo by mi hnedka líp!”
ˀalɛ ɡdɪbɪ tu bɪl ɦɼɪp bɪlo ɦnɛtka liːp
but if here was boletus was COND meDAT at once better

A rough translation of this poem:

A mushroom picker says to another mushroom picker: “It is not going well at all. I am walking here from one parasol mushroom to another one; yes, I know, those are edible mushrooms as well. But if I found a boletus mushroom, I would immediately feel much better.”

To add an extra twist to my contribution, I taught our 3-year-old son Rudy to recite this poem as well. (This part took the most time, just for the record.) He liked it so much that he now recites it to his grandmothers via Skype anytime he calls them — which never happened before. Since ř is the latest acquired sound in Czech, he doesn’t have it yet, even though he has most other sounds from the Czech inventory. (In fact, many Czech kids have to go to a speech therapist to learn how to pronounce ř. You know, it’s a national heritage, so we don’t want to give it up.) It is nice to see how Rudy replaces the voiced and voiceless ř with other voiced and voiceless consonants that he knows ([ɼ] with [ʒ], [ɼ̥] with [ʃ] or [k]) – even though voiceless ř is the only voiceless sound in Czech which does not constitute a minimal pair with its voiced counterpart.


Suggested citation:
Dvořák, Věra. 2015. A Thank You note, a bunch of ř’s and a poem about mushroom pickers. In Short ’schrift for Alan Prince, compiled by Eric Baković. https://princeshortschrift.wordpress.com/poetry-prose/dvorak/.

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