TODAY’S RANT: Pronunciation Police

Pronunciation is tricky.

Pronunciation is tricky.

If you’ve ever had someone tell you that any water can be put in a pot (for pronouncing drinking water pot-table rather that po-table), then you may be with me here. If you frequently exercise your perogative, rather than your prerogative, you may agree. Have you had sherbert, or only sherbet? Do both your eggs and oxen have yokes?

If you’re not with me, you –my friend– might be the person on the right in my little stick cartoon.

I’m as anal about language as the next writer, but let’s try to dial down the pretentiousness. The big question I have for pronunciation police is this: What in your experience with the English language has led you to believe it is a phonetic language?

For those who think English is phonetic because they learned it via “Phonics,” let me expose you to a poem that says it more eloquently than I ever could. (I would attribute the poem, but it is to my knowledge owed to that most prolific “Anonymous” chap.)

Hints on Pronunciation for Foreigners

I take it you already know
of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead-it’s said like bed, not bead.
For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for pear and bear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose
Just look them up–and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward.
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go, then thwart and cart.
Come, come I’ve hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive,
I’d mastered it when I was five!

If you still don’t believe that the language can handle multiple pronunciations, check out what the experts say.

3 thoughts on “TODAY’S RANT: Pronunciation Police

  1. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone leave out the r in library and say libary. But then I am one of those people who continues to pronounce secretary as though it is someone who secretes things, and I like both the r’s in February too. Ms Brewster’s argues that the spoken language is primary, but she works for the publisher of a dictionary in a nation where there is a tendency to change the written language to reflect the pronunciation. (Good old colour and centre being well known victims) The Internet currently appears to be on a mission to ensure that your becomes the preferred spelling, even when you’re is meant. Personally English spelling has always been a mystery to me. It makes no sense and my brain refuses to memorise that there is only one ‘l’ in lily, whereas silly and willy have two. Applause but apologise? Thank goodness for spell checkers. I’m just glad that I don’t have to learn 10K characters before I can even begin to read a newspaper as the Chinese do.

    Like

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