Gram­mar­ian

Ray Preb­ble looks at the pit­falls of English pro­nun­ci­a­tion.

North & South - - Contents - By ray preb­ble

YOU’RE A TOURIST on hol­i­day from Slove­nia, driv­ing around New Zealand on your trip of a life­time, and you see a sign that says “No drop­ping refuse”. You look up “refuse” in your handy English guide and it says “in­di­cate un­will­ing­ness to do some­thing”. You scratch your head and de­cide that English is im­pos­si­bly weird.

A road­worker is spray­ing the grass around the sign, so you ask what the story is. “Oh,” she says, flip­ping back her face mask, “many English words func­tion as both a noun and a verb, and a com­mon way to dis­tin­guish them is to stress the early syl­la­ble for nouns and the last syl­la­ble for verbs.” Then she fum­bles in the pocket of her hi-vis vest and whips out the fol­low­ing list:

“Just hap­pened to have this on me,” she says, smil­ing sheep­ishly.

Hav­ing seen many sheep re­cently, you find it hard to see the sim­i­lar­ity, but you’re happy to have learnt a pat­tern in English, which some­times seems so ran­dom.

When it comes to the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of multi-syl­la­ble words, peo­ple of­ten see the wrong pat­tern. Take a good old-fash­ioned word like “con­sta­ble”. Many peo­ple see it as sim­i­lar to “con­stant” and pro­nounce it “kon-sta­ble”, when in fact it falls into the pat­tern of “com­fort­able” and should be pro­nounced “kun-sta­ble”. The same er­ror oc­curs with “ac­com­plish”: peo­ple see the sim­i­lar­ity with “com­plete” and pro­nounce it “akom­plish”, whereas the sim­i­lar­ity is with “com­pany” (hence “akumplish”). The same for “con­jure”: it is prop­erly pro­nounced “kun-jure”, not “kon-jure”.

Then there are those words peo­ple get et­y­mo­log­i­cally con­fused about. How many times have you heard a sports coach talk about the im­por­tance of “com­raderie”? The word is ca­ma­raderie. Cam-araderie. Yes, it’s re­lated to be­ing com­rades, but it’s French and a com­pletely dif­fer­ent word. There’s a sim­i­lar com­mon mis­take in cook­ing shows: the word is vinai­grette, not “vine­garette”. Not to men­tion “pro­noun­ci­a­tion”; it’s pro­nun­ci­a­tion. The mis­taken pat­tern is the same in all three cases: take a fa­mil­iar word and slap a fancy end­ing on it.

At this point, you may be think­ing, “Well, that’s all very in­ter­est­ing, Ray, but I don’t want to sound like a prat.” I ad­mit peo­ple judge oth­ers based on pro­nun­ci­a­tion and lan­guage use, so if you’re hav­ing a beer with a bunch of pig hunters, you want to fit in. But the point is, no one’s forc­ing you to talk in a cer­tain way.

When I was teach­ing my re­cal­ci­trant young son to use a knife and fork, I said, “Lis­ten, when you grow up, you can jam your face in your din­ner and eat like a dog for all I care. But this way, you’ve got a choice. You know how to do it prop­erly, and that knowl­edge gives you the op­tion.” Some­thing to have up your sleeve when you’re hav­ing din­ner with the Queen.

When that din­ner with the Queen does ar­rive (or per­haps with the King – the old dear can’t last for­ever), if your plan to be your good Kiwi self crumbles un­der so­cial pres­sure, try to avoid the pit­falls in the other di­rec­tion of the so­cial try-hard. There are the usual try­hard pro­nouns, like “My wife and my­self are de­lighted to be here” (no, use “My wife and I”), and “Be­tween you and I, your majesty, I think Me­la­nia Trump is a man” (no, use “Be­tween you and me”, and don’t gos­sip). But there are also try-hard pro­nun­ci­a­tion er­rors, such as us­ing “a- pree- see- ate” (use “a-pree-she-ate”) and “Wed-ness- day” (use “Wenz- day”).

Wed­nes­day is a good ex­am­ple of the lin­guis­tic traps set to de­tect so­cial class. If you’re a Cantabrian you may well say “Wooster” and “Gloster” for Worces­ter and Glouces­ter (avoid­ing “Were- sis­ter” and “Glau- sis­ter”), but most New Zealan­ders will stag­ger through Chol­monde­ley ( pro­nounced “Chum­ley”), and crash and burn with Mag­dalen Col­lege (pro­nounced “Mawdlin” Col­lege). And avoid Welsh. If, at this royal din­ner, you meet a charm­ing woman with a name tag that says “Hi, I’m Siobahn from Llanelli”, don’t even try. Just bust out your se­cret weapon: te reo! +

How many times have you heard a sports coach talk about “com­raderie”?

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