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Linguistic theory holds -- so far -- that some phonetic speech patterns involve substituting easier sounds for harder ones. The most common example is how [p] is ponounced [b] in some languages (Korean, Malaysian) when it occurs between two vowels, while in other languages [b] is pronounced [v] when between two vowels.

If that's true, then I think linguistic theory is being a bit simplistic. While I think some sounds might be intrinsically more difficult to articulate ([th], e.g., or the [kh] sound in German and Scottish Gaelic, or a rrrrrolled R, as the Scots do), I think context has a lot more to do with the difficulty of pronouncing certain sounds.

Many people will have noticed, for instance, how we find it easier and more natural to follow a consonant with a different sound (compare, for instance, how quickly you can say “buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh” versus “buddabuddabuddabuddabudda” or “buggadabuggadabuggada”).

Taking an example from the Pepé Le Pew image, I don't believe a person would appreciably change their pronunciation of the 'P' in "Echo Point" no matter how drunk. It might become somewhat more explosive, but no less 'P-ish'.

However, I can imagine that they would change the pronunciation of the second 'P' in a word with two of those sounds in a row, like "paper" (and can even try an imitation of what it would sound like, which isn't a [b] sound, either - more like a hard "wh" sound, with maybe a little bit of 'ff' thrown in; but since I'm a) not drunk, and b) only one sample, I don't claim it to be evidence of anything).

Holy cripes re: the unconscious mirroring of other people's accents. I find that I have to be really careful during interviews. Maybe some people's linguistic base is just more... porous?

This is a great post, and thanks for your kind words.

These kinds of things are showing up EVERYWHERE! A couple of weeks ago, the WSJ had as its crossword puzzle theme business definitions as would be pronounced by Elmer Fudd.

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    Physics Cocktails

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