What are mondegreens? And why they merit more than a chuckle

Wright1957 (dragged)All her life, writer Sylvia Wright had known a sad Scottish ballad that included the line:

  • They have slain the Earl Amurray, and Lady Mondegreen.

Imagine her surprise when she discovered the real words were:

  • They have slain the Earl of Moray, and laid him on the green.

Her fascination led her to coin the term ‘mondegreen’ for this kind of funny mis-hearings (though actually most mondegreens are far funnier than this one!).

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Observing mondegreens

Let’s start by looking at mondegreens a bit more closely. Children are a great source of mondegreens.

For example, many Australian children hear the first line of their national anthem like this:

  • Australians all like ostriches

when really it should be:

  • Australians all let us rejoice

If you listen to the anthem (below), you might see how this mis-hearing could arise. Read the rest now >>>

 

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Thinking about mondegreens – MIS-hearings, or just ‘hearings’?

It is easy to assume a mondegreen is a distortion of the words the singer actually sang. So the mondegreen is the ‘error’ and the correct words are the ‘target’. That makes some sense when there are written lyrics, and we are sure the singer followed the lyrics faithfully. In that case any mondegreen is clearly an error on the part of the hearer. Read the rest now >>>

 

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Manufacturing mis-hearing

True mondegreens happen spontaneously, but a lot of humour can be made by deliberately inducing mis-hearing by planting a suggestion in listeners’ minds. Comedian Peter Kay exploits this to great effect. In case you are not familiar with his work, here’s an example BUT PLEASE BE AWARE THIS IS FOR ADULTS ONLY! Read the rest now >>>

 

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Researching mondegreens and mis-hearings

Believe it or not, mondegreens and mis-hearings of speech have been a topic of advanced research for several decades now (as have mis-speakings, or errors of speech production). As with many topics in phonetic science, some of the key observations are quite well established by now, though there remains some open-ness about the best theory to interpret the findings. Read the rest now >>>

 

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How can you know for sure whether you have a mis-hearing or a hearing?

If it is so easy to have a mis-hearing, and if there is no difference in the moment of perception between a hearing and mis-hearing, how can we ever be really sure we have heard what the speaker actually said?

In most everyday situations we are so confident of our perception this rarely arises as a question: it seems obvious we are simply picking up sounds that are objectively ‘there to be heard’. Read the rest now >>>

 

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Could we build a better everyday theory of speech on mondegreens instead of c-a-t?

What would happen if we put aside everything we think we know about speech on the basis of ‘common knowledge’ (embodied in the c-a-t theory), and started to build up a way of thinking about speech based on our experience of mondegreens (defined broadly to include speech as well as songs, and carefully to include all ‘hearings’)? Read the rest now >>>

 

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