Sunday, 15 September 2013

Pronunciation Problems

I came across an old photograph the other day. A family I lost touch with years ago. Oddly the first thing which came to mind about them was their mispronunciation of just one word. They thought the word ‘filthy’ was pronounced ‘thilthy’. Clearly this is similar to the archetypal Cockney in Ealing comedies where the eighth letter of the alphabet was dropped when it should be there but preceded every word which should begin with a vowel.

On the subject of the eighth letter, the same reason has led to the letter H being pronounced ‘haitch’ when the dictionary clearly states the word is ‘aitch’. Such a mispronunciation must have been a problem at some earlier time for it to have been included in the dictionary. Today it seems to be the most common word beginning with a vowel to be mispronounced as beginning with the ‘h’. Ironically while previous generations corrected their children for dropping their aitches, today nothing is done about adding ‘haitches’ to aitch – if you get my point.

Similarly nobody seems to correct the name of the second month. This is of course February and not Febuary, although at least the UK has not suffered the similar American problem of library instead of library – or should I say has not yet had that problem.

On the subject of our American cousins, we so often hear the word ‘supposedly’ said as ‘supposably’ in broadcasts it is now catching on in the UK, too.

While mentioning UK broadcasting, I must be eternally grateful to the BBC for giving Lorne Spicer the elbow from a daytime slot which I was subjected to on my weekly visit to a relative. No longer am I subjected to this woman making a mockery of the English language and constantly saying jew-le-ree instead of jewelry. I also hold her responsible for ‘collections’ losing a syllable and rarely heard as anything but ‘clections’ today.

However the gold medal will be awarded to newsreader Alistair Stewart OBE. Joining ITN in 1980, he has been the mainstay of ITV’s news broadcasts ever since. You would think this a man whose credentials show his knowledge of his native is tongue better than most. However on many occasions I have heard him speak of someone being charged or convicted of ‘burgle-ree’ instead of ‘burglary’.

I often find pronunciation a problem when it comes to place names. There is the argument as to whether it is Shrewsbury or Shrowsbury, although this is by no means the only one and when travelling around giving talks on the origins of place names have heard Fowey, Leominster, Knaresborough, Warwick, and many others mispronounced.

A professor once told me how no place name was mispronounced until the majority could read. Of course this was not entirely accurate but does point out it is invariably the spelling which is wrong.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.


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  4. My biggest gripe is when the BBC persistently uses 'Joe Bloggs and I' versus 'Joe Bloggs and me', in the wrong contexts. They did it again on EastEnders last week.

    Take Joe Bloggs out of the equation and then you can see plainly what's right and what's wrong.

    If you would say 'I' without Joe Bloggs, you should say 'I' when he's included in the sentence. Ditto on 'me'.

    Characters wouldn't say "You should have asked I". They'd say "You should have asked me"! So why do they persistently say, "You should have asked Joe and I?" It's just wrong.

    I think it stems from a primary school teaching in the 70s, which was badly explained and misunderstood across the board at the time and has never been corrected.