Linguistics in Cabin Pressure's "Johannesburg" episode: formal vocabulary, Spanish, and onomatopoeia
Several instances of humour deriving from unnecessarily formal vocabulary choice:
ARTHUR (into cabin address): Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, our onboard transit process today has now reached its ultimate termination.
CAROLYN: He means we’ve landed.
ARTHUR: Yes. So, as yourselves prepare for disemboarding, if I could kindly ask you to kindly ensure you retain all your personal items about your person throughout the duration of the disembarkation.
CAROLYN: He means take your stuff with you.
ARTHUR: In concluding, it’s been a privilege for ourselves to conduct yourselves through the in-flight experience today, and I do hope you’ll re-favour ourselves with the esteem of your forth-looking custom going forward.
CAROLYN: … No idea.
DOUGLAS: Little flashing warning light, Captain. Anti-icing, the starboard wing, declaring itself Rabbit of Negative Euphoria.
DOUGLAS: Not A Happy Bunny.
One of the reasons it’s especially easy to get such humour in English is that we have many tripartite vocabulary sets where the least formal is of Germanic etymology, the more formal is French, and the most formal is Latin, such as kingly, royal, regal. (Sometimes you also get a still more formal one from Ancient Greek, although it may be found only in compounds via Latin.) Anyway, here’s a short video introduction to the topic, and a related bit of humour in Scintillate, scintillate, globule lucific.
The name Albacete illustrates two interesting features about Spanish:
1) It’s clearly a Spanish word borrowed from Arabic. They can often be spotted because many of them begin with al-, which Spanish borrowers didn’t realize was the Arabic definite article. Other examples, which English subsequently acquired via Spanish, include algebra and alcohol.
2) The pronunciation [alβaˈθete] illustrates a feature of Castilian Spanish where c and z are pronounced [θ], unlike in Latin American Spanish, where they are pronounced [s].
Arthur’s song ends up illustrating a few examples of cross-linguistic onomatopoeia, which are one of the things that gets cited in discussions of the arbitrariness of the sign: even things that seem like really clear examples of sound symbolism have a certain arbitrary element. At any rate, here’s a far more extensive list of onomatopoeia in various languages.
Martin illustrates the all-too-common issue of confusing all of one’s non-maternal languages when he tries to address the engineer, by mixing Spanish, French, and possibly Latin in bonus:
MARTIN (loudly): Hello! Hello! El … engineero! Wake up, please!
MARTIN: Please answer, por favor! It’s important!
(He bangs on the door again.)
MARTIN: Très importante! Will pay extra – bonus lucre! Gracias!
Part of cabinpressureadvent (see there for episodes & details).
Previous linguistics in Cabin Pressure: Airline vs Airdot in Abu Dhabi, Structural ambiguity and scalar implicature in Boston, Superlatives and “would do” in Cremona, At-issue-ness, passives, and metaphors in Douz, Why “Edinbra”, plural sports teams, and “posh Welsh” in Edinburgh, More on Edinburgh/Edinbra,Word games in Fitton.
Season 2: NATO alphabet and chiasmus in Helsinki, Polish names and sportscaster present in Gdansk, Expletive infixation, strong past, Gricean maxims, and quantifiers in Ipswich.