Listen to the audio…
…or watch the video!
There are times when even native English speakers misunderstand English. This is often due to the fact that English is spoken by connecting speech.
We would never say:
by taking breaths between words.
Instead, we connect our speech to ensure that the last sound of one word is heard at the beginning of the following word. This causes us to say:
- “This is it.”
I recently had my own funny misunderstanding of a popular song by the amazing Taylor Swift called “Blank Space”. I spent the first few weeks singing a line in the song as “Starbucks® lovers” and wondering what it meant. I just assumed it was a result of Taylor’s creativity and possibly a Starbucks® endorsement deal, and I didn’t think more about it…
…until I saw on Facebook that many people were wrong about hearing the words “Starbucks lovers”!
I was so surprised to hear that the correct lyric is:
“Got a long list of ex-lovers.”
Let’s analyze how Taylor Swift, as a native English speaker, transforms her speech in the song so that even other native English speakers misunderstand her.
“Got a long list of ex-lovers.”
[gɑt ə lɑŋ lɪst əv ɛks lʌvɚrz]
The key here is in connected speech.
Because we connect our speech, native English speakers ensure that the last sound in one word is heard at the beginning of the following word.
Also, in English we stress our content words, meaning we say words that carry meaning (like verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc.):
- higher in pitch.
We say function words, that serve a grammatical purpose in the sentence (such as prepositions and articles):
- more relaxed.
“Got a long list of ex-lovers” –> [gɑtə lɑŋlɪ stʌvɛks lʌvɚrz]
is incorrectly heard as “Starbucks”.
- [stʌvɛks lʌvɚrz] sounded like “Starbucks lovers”.
Notice that Taylor stresses the preposition “of” for the music of the song, even though we would de-stress it in spoken English. And even though she is singing, Taylor naturally connects her speech without taking large breaths between words, just as we do in spoken in English.
- “Got a long list of ex-lovers”
The [v] and [b] consonant sounds (in “of” and “Starbucks”) that are confused here are not so dissimilar, as even some native Spanish speakers do not distinguish the two sounds in their native language.
So, mystery solved.
Watch Taylor Swift’s video on her Vevo channel:
(The misheard lyric is repeated in the chorus).
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