Course number pronunciation conventions.

When I started at OCW, I noticed that the OCW folks often pronounced course names differently than students do, and I set about to codify the pronunciation rules that are generally understood and followed by most members of the MIT community. Of course, I didn’t blog about it because my intent was to go about asking people about the exceptions to the rule, and do a little informal study of the course numbers where the rules seem to break down (e.g. 21L.011 versus 6.011), and I didn’t want my sample pool to be tainted.
Since I delayed, of course someone else has gone and blogged about it: Hippo is apparently studying this independently of me, inspired by frosh who are just getting the hang of it, instead of by staff.
For posterity, I’ll put down the rules that I came up with, which, on a quick perusal, seem to match up with Hippo’s (unsurprisingly, I suppose — we are talking about tacitly understood cultural conventions here).

The number before the dot is always pronounced in full. Zeroes after the dot effect changes in post-dot pronunciation. Eleven may pose a special case. Examples will illustrate:
.00 will be pronounced “hundred.”
.0X will be pronounced singly, as “oh-X.”
.X0 will be pronounced as a number, together. For example, if X=5, this will be pronounced “fifty.”
.XY will be pronounced as a number, together. For example, if X=3 and Y=5, this will be pronounced “thirty-five.”
.00X will be pronounced “double-oh-X.”
.0XY will usually be pronounced singly, as “oh-X-Y.” There appears to be a special case when XY=11: sometimes this is pronounced “oh-eleven,” as in the case of 21L.011, and other times pronounced “oh-one-one,” as in 6.011. There may be a more complex rule here, perhaps having to do with letters in the course number preceding the dot (e.g. 21L), or a syllabic rule (pre-dot numbers of more than one syllable).
.X0Y will be pronounced singly, as “X-oh-Y.” For example, if X=2 and Y=3, this will be “two-oh-three.”
.XY0 will be pronounced as a single number followed by a compound number. For example, if X=3 and Y=1, this will be “three ten.”
.X00 will be pronounced “X-hundred.” For example if X=1, this will be “one hundred.”
These rules should be cross-checked against a massive set of examples to verify their accuracy, to isolate any new special cases, and to determine the more complex rules underlying the apparent exceptions.

So, yeah, if anyone has any thoughts, counterexamples, or ideas, lemme know.
I find this a really interesting problem linguistically. It’s just the sort of thing that would be a great project for a phonology class here: the determination of pronunciation rules the students might not be aware of, writing down conventions as principles. It’s also interesting from an acquisiton standpoint: after being at MIT for a while, you simply pick this up without ever learning the rules — it just becomes second nature, and pronunciations that don’t fit the rules simply sound weird. It’s exactly like learning language, on a smaller scale.
Anyway, neat stuff.


16 thoughts on “Course number pronunciation conventions.

  1. 2.010, though now it may not exist any more, was usually called “two-oh-ten”, though because it was often said while listing the other course 2 required courses (“two double oh one” through “two double oh nine”), I’ve heard “two double oh ten errr” more than once.
    2.670, was called “two six seventy,” probably because of the similarity to another contest style couse 6.270, which took it’s name from 2.70, which is now two double oh seven.
    There are the cases where there are single class-mutliple course number couses, like Unified and ICE. Those are just called by the names.

  2. Yeah this topic is cool, I just happened to read Hippo’s discussion yesterday. Forget a linguistics paper, this is the kind of shit linguists write their theses about. Which goes to show how awesome we are or how foofy linguists are. 🙂

  3. Another course 2 anomoly: 2.000, which is known, I believe, as “2-thousand.” I guess it again is those “double-ohs” cropping up in places they don’t belong.
    Also, with Jeff on the .XYZ case–in course 2 there’s 2.671 and 2.672, where each number was said out: “six-seven-one” and “six-seven-two.” But Adrian is right on 2.670, that is said “two-six-seventy.”

  4. Whoops! Sorry Erin. My bad.
    Yeah, I think it’s interesting how a many of the exceptions originate in changes in course numbers over time: 5.11 becomes 5.111 and 5.112, which are pronounced differently to indicate this origin. So the history of a course is sometimes embedded in the way its number is pronounced.

  5. The key to talking to yourself, the Deb, is that you aren’t supposed to tell anyone, because the only person that has any evidence that you are talking to yourself is you.
    In other words, insanity can be kept under wraps.

  6. Yeah, I think there’s a difference between talking oneself through a task and walking around muttering “wood davers” to oneself.
    Marzipan, Marzeepan…

  7. u makin fun of people who dunt talk perfect? i actually prefer talking so sumone who does’nt speak prefectly, it makes it more intresting.
    P.S. HOMESTAR RULES!!!!!!!!!!! (and the cheat is cute ^.^)

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