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Anticipatory Coarticulation and Complementary/Symmetrical Schizmogenesis: What’s It All About?


I often find myself enjoying a light lunch at my high school when a fellow pupil asks me with all the audacity of a titmouse (for I am a very intimidating figure), one of two questions: “Alex, what is anticipatory coarticulation all about?”, and “Alex, what is complementary or symmetrical schizmogenesis all about?”. I have answered these two inquiries so often, in fact, that the act begins to tire me, and I wish it stops. To that end, I have written the following essay, in the hopes of educating the people that they cease bothering me about these two (albeit insanely interesting) topics.

Anticipatory Coarticulation

Often, when attempting to derive meaning from a phrase, it is helpful to look at the etymologies of the constituent words. Such is not the case here. An analysis of the two words involved will yield, I fear, little more than confusion. Instead, when you hear “anticipatory coarticulation”, you should instantly think of your nasal consonants combined with glottal stops, two phonological speech sounds which can be defined thusly.

A nasal consonant is any consonant produced by breath resonating in the nose. These are manifested in English as the letters “n” and “m”. Incidentally, the fact that they are produced by forcing air through the nasal passage is exactly why those two letters are singularly difficult to pronounce through a flu-ridden nose.

Phonetics tell us that a glottal stop is any sound produced by forcing air through the glottis. The OED tells me that the glottis is the part of the larynx consisting of the slit like opening between the vocal chords. When you open and close this slit, you produce a glottal stop. In English, the “k”, hard “g”, and hard “c” are glottal stops. They are also found in German (among myriad other languages) in the form of the “ch” of “Bach” which is an aspirated glottal stop, a name with obvious derivation.

So, you now ask, how do these relate to anticipatory coarticulation? In this way: When a nasal consonant meets a glottal stop, the resulting combination is clumsy to pronounce exactly. “Pancake” is a perfect example of this. Say “pancake” out loud. Did you notice how you didn’t say “pan-cake” but you blurred the “n” into the “c” so the “n” became slightly glottal, almost as if it were spelled “pangcake”? The “ng” sound is called the velar nasal approximant, and occurs because to say “pan-cake” as two distinct syllables would be cumbersome in regular speech. Thus, we blur the “n” to prepare for the upcoming glottal stop, slightly changing the pronunciation of the word.

Complementary and Symmetrical Schismogenesis (skɪzmōˈjenəsis)

Here, we may look at an etymology. Schizmogenesis derives, perhaps unsurprisingly, from Greek: Σχίσμα, skhísma, ‘cleft’, and γένεσις, genesis, ‘creation’. That is, one may understand schizmogenesis as the creation of an increasingly wide split.

Complementary schizmogenesis occurs when the opposite actions of two act to rend the split further. Here is an easily imagined example. Suppose you and I were discussing a topic of great legal consequence, and I spoke softly to keep possible legal enemies from listening to us. But, for some reason, we were discussing it in a loud cafeteria, and you couldn’t hear me. So, to give you a clue that I wanted to discuss it quietly, I talk softly, perhaps while winking. But to give me a clue that you can hear me, you speak louder. This action causes me to speak even more softly, and the cycle continues, until you’re yelling “WHAT? IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE DISCUSSING SOMETHING OF GREAT LEGAL CONSEQUENCE BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU FOR THE OVERPOWERING NOISE OF THIS CAFETERIA!”. In this way, our respective actions have resulted in neither party getting what they want. That is complementary schismogenesis.

Symmetrical schismogenesis results in the same thing as complementary, but the parties involved are doing the same action to get there, rather than opposite actions as in complementary. A good example is the nuclear arms race of the Cold War.

That is all from me for now. I hope this has cleared one or two things up.



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