Writing about dogs yesterday (something I’m surprised I don’t do more often) made me think about the new Wes Anderson film Isle of Dogs. I’m not going to write a review or anything, because obviously that’s not what I do here. Instead, I’m more curious about that title.
I’d heard it many times and hadn’t thought much about it, until one day I suddenly realised that from a linguistic point of view, it’s quite clever. Perhaps it’s quite obvious and you’d noticed it a long time ago. If you haven’t spotted it yet, say the title to yourself. If you still haven’t spotted it, say it to yourself again and again, quite quickly.
It’s probably dawned on you by now, but if not, let me spell it out for you. Isle of Dogs sounds identical to I love dogs. Well, practically identical. The sentence stress is slightly different between the two, with the emphasis on Isle in the former, and love in the latter. Still though, the difference is neglible, and for all intents and purposes they sound identical.
I’ve written before about why this is: connected speech. This is the phenomenom by which we join words together when we speak, like how we say Guns n’ Roses, and don’t enunciate the and clearly. And of this course this shows us that not only does connected speech involve linking the sound of words together, it also involves changing the sound of words. And /and/ becomes n’ /ən/.
And we see the same thing happen with Isle of Dogs/I love dogs. First of all, we join both Isle and of, and I and love together, so we don’t have the gaps between the words in each pair. Once we’ve joined the two words in each pair, we can see more clearly that they share the same consonant sounds /l/ and /v/. And the /aɪ/ sound in isle and I is of course identical with or without the effects of connected speech. The second vowel sounds though, are different before the effect of connected speech. Even though both are represented by the letter O, love has the sound /ʌ/ (or /ʊ/, depending on your accent), while of has the sound /ɒ/.
But that of course is only the case if we pronounce the words in isolation, and when do we ever do that? But when we use connected speech, the sound of of changes to /ʌ/ too (or /ə/, the schwa, the most common vowel sound in English, again depending on one’s accent).
It’s an interesting phenomenon, which makes us realise that there’s a big gap between what we take for granted words sound like, and what they actually sound like when we speak. And in this case that also allows for a clever bit of wordplay. Isle of when someone does something fun with language like that!