Linguistic Alternative Polka (“Weird Al” Yankovic parody lyrics)


Here are some linguistics-related parody lyrics I wrote to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Alternative Polka”. I’ve grouped them into numbered topics, with notes below explaining what each part is about. The topic switches don’t necessarily match the transitions between song snippets in the original.

  1. Soy un perdedor
    ‘I’m a loser’, baby,
    it means that in Spanish.
    Everybody!
    Soy un perdedor
    ‘I’m a loser’, baby,
    it means that in Spanish.
    Hey
  1. I am, I am, I am
    I said I wanna get copular
    I said I’m gonna be copular
    You said “Hi, copular, I’ll be your dad.
    Be your dad.”
  1. I know you know what’s on my mind
    I know the deixis in my mind
    You know the referent that’s inside
    I know you know, you know, you know
  1. Here’s a wug, a wug, a wug, a wug
    Here’s a wug, a wug, a wug
    A word I never knew, this should be fun!
    How do I deal when it’s not the only one?
    Now that there are two, it’s twice as fun!
    How do I deal when it’s not the only one?
    Don’t know what to do, there’s more than one!
    Until I pluralise with linguistic morphological smarts
  1. Help me, my Broca part is broken
    Help me, I’ve got no fluent speech
    Help me, I understand but hard write speak
    Help me, word brain frustrate myself
  1. Don’t wanna [animal noise]-talk like an animal
    I want a squeal with morphemes inside
    Don’t wanna [animal noise]-talk like an animal
  1. So here’s how this bit is fraught:
    This rhyme relies on caught-cot.
    Hey, hey, hey
  1. You slang slang slang slang slang
    shame shame shame
    But slang slang slang slang slang
    is everything so let it go.
    ‘Cause the standards you preach
    that that my speech doesn’t reach are so recent that they
    ignore etymology, yo!
    And every time I speak you chide;
    do you know when you scold me
    the old meanings did expand, also panned,
    yet we understand!
    And I’m here to remind you
    of the complex ways language got that way
    It’s not fair to deny me
    of the force of change that still acts today.
    You oughta know
    Hey
    Despite all your rage, language still has to constantly change.
    Despite all your rage, language still has to constantly change.
    And someone will say something “wrong” that’s right the next day.
    Despite all your rage, language still has to constantly change!
  1. I hate all the ‘u’s
    from lands of old.
    I hate -our language too
    when you write o-u-r.
    I don’t o-u anything!
    I don’t o-u anything!
    I don’t o-u anything!
    I don’t o-u anything!
  1. Language sounds, all around,
    watch how they compound!
    Language sounds, all around,
    they abound.
    Language sounds, language sounds
    they confound
    language sounds, language sounds
    so unsound!
    language sounds, language sounds
    Do you have the time to listen to my rhyme?
    Sounds similar and different all at once.
    That is one of those minimal pairs that show
    phonetic contrast also is phonemic.
    A dozen ways to say a /t/
    Sometimes my ears play tricks on me
    I’m stuck on this grey tape; I think I’m a great ape
    Are these distinct phonemes, or allophones?
    Are they allophones?
    Hey!

Here’s my explanation of the different parts. Please note that while I do have a Masters in Linguistics, I am in no way an expert on any of these things (though I’m pretty sure about the Spanish), so don’t take my word for it.

  1. Pretty self-explanatory, really. ‘Soy un perdedor’ is Spanish for ‘I’m a loser’. All I changed from the original was the punctuation and the explanation, ‘It means that in Spanish.’

  2. Copulas and copular verbs link the subject of a sentence to a complement, which can be all sorts of things, including both nouns and adjectives. So the copula ‘am’ in “I am hungry” is followed by an adjective, but it could just as well be followed by a noun. This gives rise to the popular ‘dad joke’ format:

    Kid: I’m hungry.
    Dad: Hi, Hungry; I’m Dad.

    I feel like the copular sense of the verbs ‘feel’ and ‘look’ also have a role in this format of dad joke, though I’m not sure how to properly describe it linguistically:

    Kid: I feel like an ice cream.
    Dad: Well, you don’t look like one!

    (You, as a dad: Well, you don’t look like the copular sense of the verbs ‘feel’ and ‘look’ also have a role in this format of dad joke, though I’m not sure how to properly describe it linguistically!)

    But I suppose that’s really just two distinct meanings of the phrasal verb ‘feel like‘, and an implicit ‘eating’ in the Kid’s sentence, which the Dad ignores. Still, you can see how ‘look’ is copular in sentences such as ‘I look weird’. For most verbs, e.g. ‘sing’, you’d have to say ‘I sing weirdly‘, but with ‘look’ it’s just a more specific way of saying ‘I am weird’. We can veer back into dad joke territory when we use a word such as ‘well’ that can be either an adverb or an adjective:

    Kid: You look well!
    Dad: That’s because I have good eyesight.

    Here, the Kid is using ‘look’ as a copula, and ‘well’ as an adjective meaning ‘healthy’, so the phrase means that the Dad appears to be healthy, but the Dad is interpreting ‘look’ as a regular verb and ‘well’ as an adverb, such that the phrase means he’s good at looking at things.

    This is more than I expected to say to complement this subject. See also the explanation of #9 for an example of the zero copula as used in African American Vernacular English.

  3. Deixis is when the same word can mean different things depending on context, such as who’s saying the word, when and where they’re saying it, where they’re pointing, and so on. Joey and I made a video demonstrating personal deixis. This lyric just expresses that we only tend to use deixis when we’re pretty sure whoever we are communicating with knows what the deictic words are referring to.

  4. This refers to the Wug Test — a test of how well a young child understands the rules of their language. The titular example is when a child is shown a picture of a cute little creature and told it is called a ‘wug’. The child is then shown two of them, and asked what they are called. If they understand how words are usually pluralised in English, they’ll answer ‘wugs’. Wugs are very popular with linguists. They are the reason that if I ever record a sequel to my album Wake Up Gasping, it will have to have the same acronym.

  5. Broca’s Area is a part of the brain involved in language production. A person whose Broca’s area is damaged may have Broca’s aphasia, where they can generally understand writing and speech or signing but have difficulty producing language themselves, usually missing out grammatical function words. I’ve tried to mimic this kind of language in the last two lines (to the extent that the song allows). I hope that this is a somewhat realistic example and not seen as making fun of people with any form of aphasia. I watched some videos by Sarah Scott and Mike Caputo to get an idea of how people with Broca’s aphasia speak and how hard they work to improve their communication.

  6. Morphemes are the smallest units of language that carry some kind of meaning. For instance, ‘mean’ and ‘ing’ are separate morphemes. A single morpheme can be made up of multiple sounds, but those sounds don’t mean anything by themselves. This is called ‘double articulation‘, and it’s one of the properties of human language that doesn’t tend to exist in animal communication. In fact, perhaps it would point out that difference better to say ‘I want a squeal with phonemes inside’. But we have phonemes in part #10.

  7. This is what started me writing this ridiculous thing, back in October 2020. The original lyrics are:

    My whole existence is flawed.
    You get me closer to God.

    which got me thinking about how that very couplet is flawed — it doesn’t rhyme in my accent. It relies on the cot-caught merger, where the vowels in the words ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ are pronounced the same. ‘Flawed’ has the same vowel as ‘caught’, and ‘God’ has the same vowel as ‘cot’. In accents with the cot-caught merger, those are both the same vowel, so ‘flawed’ rhymes with ‘God’ and ‘fraught’ rhymes with ‘cot’, but in accents without the merger, those are two different vowels, so the rhyme doesn’t work. You can explore other rhymes that depend on the cot-caught merger and other accent-specific features in Rhyme.Science, the rhyming dictionary I made.

  8. Some nice people like to ‘correct’ others for using words differently from how they do. Sometimes they take exception to usages they consider ‘new’, but don’t realise have been around for hundreds of years. Sometimes they happily use words and grammar that were considered incorrect much more recently. Sometimes they call things ungrammatical because they’re using the grammar of a different dialect. Sometimes they try to use the etymology of a word to dictate how it should be used today. In all of these cases, if they knew more etymology, they’d understand that everything we say comes to us via previously-pooh-poohed mistakes, mispronunciations, dialectal or regional variations, calques, borrowings, slang, analogies, generalisations, specialisations, misunderstandings, rebracketings, back-formations, metaphors, and so on. There’s not much point trying to stop these processes, though I’m sure somebody tried to stop the language you consider correct today from getting how it is.

    To learn more, I can recommend The History of English Podcast, etymonline, Grammar Girl, Lingthusiasm, The Unfolding of Language, and… wait, I should probably stop here before I list the entire contents of my podcast library and the bookcase to my right. Just… take your impulse to quash somebody else’s communication and redirect it towards learning more yourself.

  9. Where my Noah Webster stans at? Here’s an entire song parody I wrote about -or vs. -our spellings.

  10. Spoken languages have a lot of sounds in them! More sounds than the speakers realise. To figure out what the basic units of sound in a given language (called phonemes, and written between /slashes/) are, you need to find ‘minimal pairs’ — words that only differ by one sound. You can tell that /t/ and /r/ are different phonemes in English, because ‘time’ and ‘rhyme’ are different words. But there are actually many different ways of saying /t/, depending on context, and even though they are distinct sounds (called phones, and written in [square brackets]) they are all perceived as the same /t/ phoneme. This is the case for /r/ and other phonemes as well. The different sounds that are all perceived as the same phoneme in a given language are called allophones of that phoneme.

    Note that sounds that are allophones in one language can be separate phonemes in another — for instance, in Spanish, a single phoneme has allophones that English speakers would hear as the separate phonemes /b/ and /v/.

    Sometimes we actually can use allophones to distinguish between phrases, though! For instance, we can hear the difference between ‘gray tape’ and ‘great ape’. The difference is called a juncture, and I’ll be honest, I read about it last week on wikipedia and have not read the citation, so I’m really not sure whether this makes them distinct phonemes or still allophones. By the way, humans are in the Hominidae family commonly called the ‘great apes’ (though some uses of that term exclude humans), so if you think that you’re a great ape, you probably are.

    This part of the song has another kind of sound — sounding weird! The original song has ‘melodramatic fools’ where I put ‘minimal pairs that show’, and both lyrics have a stress on the second syllable, where it wouldn’t normally go. In this case, all that does is make it sound a bit wrong, but syllable stress can also be phonemic and can differentiate words. For instance, the minimal pair ‘abstract’ (the adjective or noun, with the stress on the first syllable) and ‘abstract’ (the verb, with the stress on the second syllable.) There are many English words which change stress depending on which part of speech they are (convict, record, laminate, attribute, etc…), but in a lot of cases the unstressed vowel also changes to a schwa, so the stress isn’t the only difference.

That’s all I have to say about that! Next, perhaps I’ll finish the entirely unnecessary parody lyrics about PSOLA that I started writing in 2016, so if you’re playing these on a string instrument, stay tuned!

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