Comma Gets A Cure

This elicitation passage uses  J.C. Wells’ standard lexical set words, allowing the dialect researcher to examine a reader’s English pronunciation across a wide variety of phonemic contexts. It was written by Jill McCullough & Barbara Somerville and edited by IDEA Associate Editor Douglas N. Honorof. (The vast majority of IDEA subjects speak this passage, but some use a different text: The Rainbow Passage.)

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Well, here’s a story for you: Sarah Perry was a veterinary nurse who had been working daily at an old zoo in a deserted district of the territory, so she was very happy to start a new job at a superb private practice in North Square near the Duke Street Tower. That area was much nearer for her and more to her liking. Even so, on her first morning, she felt stressed. She ate a bowl of porridge, checked herself in the mirror and washed her face in a hurry. Then she put on a plain yellow dress and a fleece jacket, picked up her kit and headed for work.

When she got there, there was a woman with a goose waiting for her. The woman gave Sarah an official letter from the vet. The letter implied that the animal could be suffering from a rare form of foot and mouth disease, which was surprising, because normally you would only expect to see it in a dog or a goat. Sarah was sentimental, so this made her feel sorry for the beautiful bird.

Before long, that itchy goose began to strut around the office like a lunatic, which made an unsanitary mess. The goose’s owner, Mary Harrison, kept calling, “Comma, Comma,” which Sarah thought was an odd choice for a name. Comma was strong and huge, so it would take some force to trap her, but Sarah had a different idea. First she tried gently stroking the goose’s lower back with her palm, then singing a tune to her. Finally, she administered ether. Her efforts were not futile. In no time, the goose began to tire, so Sarah was able to hold on to Comma and give her a relaxing bath.

Once Sarah had managed to bathe the goose, she wiped her off with a cloth and laid her on her right side. Then Sarah confirmed the vet’s diagnosis. Almost immediately, she remembered an effective treatment that required her to measure out a lot of medicine. Sarah warned that this course of treatment might be expensive – either five or six times the cost of penicillin. I can’t imagine paying so much, but Mrs. Harrison – a millionaire lawyer – thought it was a fair price for a cure.


Comma Gets a Cure and derivative works may be used freely for any purpose without special permission provided the present sentence and the following copyright notification accompany the passage in print (if reproduced in print) and in audio format in the case of a sound recording: Copyright 2000 Douglas N. Honorof, Jill McCullough & Barbara Somerville.

Author’s note: We thank the following people for helpful comments on an earlier version of the passage: Alice Faber of Haskins Laboratories, Paul Meier of the University of Kansas, Rudy Troike of the University of Arizona and Enid Parsons, Pronunciation Editor for the Random House Dictionaries, Ginny Kopf of the University of Central Florida. All flaws and limitations of the passage remain the sole responsibility of the editor and of his collaborators. The editor acknowledges having received support from NIH Grant DC-03782 to Haskins Laboratories during the preparation of the present work. Please direct comments to the editor, Douglas N. Honorof.

For some interesting background about the creation of the passage, listen to IDEA Founder and Director Paul Meier’s podcast with Comma‘s co-author, Jill McCullough.

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