Spelling and pronunciation

spelling and pronunciation

Spelling and pronunciation

Why doesn’t formal language education in schools include classes on both spelling and pronunciation? You would have thought the subject weighty enough to deserve a few scheduled periods.

Take English. Even the best of wordsmiths in that language fumble when it comes to pronunciation of some words. I suppose it is because the language derives its words from so many sources, especially French, and we all know the French are weird. They never pronounce words the way they spell them. On the other hand, of course, they could be mighty poor spellers. I have no way of judging: every time I heard a Frenchwoman spill it out I was so enchanted I forgot to ask her to spell it out.

Talking about weird, if it is to be pronounced wee-yerd, isn’t wierd a better spelling? Alternatively, shouldn’t the pronunciation be wared to tally with their, waird to match reign or wayird to jell with stein?

Not that you can blame the French for everything. In England, Greenwich is greenich, not greenwitch, while viscount is whycount. Worchestershire is woostersher, Gloucestershire is glosstersher, and if you want to park your car in a leased shelter in either shire, you can aks around about local gare-idges.

Things wouldn’t be so bad if spelling and pronunciation guidelines were consistent. I have never understood why appetite is not appeteet, while elite refuses to be elight. Miley’s twerking, unbroken noise and all, is not unique; it is certainly riskay, though not risk or reesk. The Sphinx, broken nose and all, can never be called risqué, yunikay or yunik, though it is yuneek. On the other hand, you can’t seg, nor can you segyu, but you can segway from one Cyrus song to the other. You might have seen Cyrus segue that way while twitching. Doesn’t that just resignate with you?

To add even more peekansee to the uncertainty, words apparently mutated when they traveled across the Atlantic from the old country to the new. And we’ll leave Strine down under out of the mix, if you don’t mind. That would make it too piquant.

Thus, the British have cleeshay, but the Americans would rather have clishay. I would go with the Brits, because they are more used to clichés… and cliques.

American online marketers zealously guard their nitches, while the British do the same with their neeshes. I never did manage to master any niche during my internet marketing days.

And then there are the words that all people have difficulty with, irregardless of their nationality. Take aegis, for example. I always thought it was ay-jis. I just found out it is ee-jis. Turns out Aegean is not ay-jiyan, either. It is e-jiyan. It’s all Greek to me.

There is no cold comfort in so many folks missing the sea and mentioning the Artic when you talk polar bear. I have my own bugbears; I always thought that pronunciation-wise, the archi part of archipelago was a homonym for Veronica Lodge’s red-haired toy boy’s name, but I learned recently that it is just more Greek, and that the archi part actually rhymes with snarky.

As you can see, the whole spelling and pronunciation thing is chaos, which incidentally, is yet more Greek: it is kay-os, the kind visited upon Troy by the Greeks, one of whose heroes was that fellow Ah-kill-less. If you saw the movie Troy, you will know that Achilles was played by Brad Pitt, who was pitted against Hector of Troy in the most decisive battle of the Trojan War. Achilles killed Hector.

Before writing this sentence, I took a break for a coffee. Incidentally, I do know that even if it is brewed express by steam pressure, it is espresso, not expresso. I offer my sympathies to those who can’t help saying ex cetera.

The big joke here is that just like misspell is one of the most mispelt words of all time, the word pronunciation is one of the most mispronounced words of all time. You should know there is no you in pronounciation; there is no noun. You would do better with a nun.

Is it a hee-nous sin not to know that jail has a homonym with the same meaning, gaol? I know of a few people who thought gaol was goal wrongly spelt. Who ever thought –ao- would be pronounced like –ai-?

Talking about gaol, you probably hear about Bob wire every now and then. The first time I came across this term, I investigated and found that it was not something sinister named after Baghdad Bob, but just plain old barbed wire. Yes, barbed wire, not barb wire. The kind they have in Abu Ghraib. You want to be careful about that facade, because it is meant to mislead you, and if you say fakaid, you have let it succeed, because it has lured you away from the correct fuhs-ahd.

If all of this gets you on tenderhooks (a mistake I made for a long time) because you are never sure which word you are mispronouncing, join the club. I have been on tenterhooks ever since I first came across the deceit, on a Wensday I think it was, that receipt is actually receet. I tell you, it makes your whole outlook on language go off alignment, absolutely uhry. It just shakes you out of your onnui.

You could have knocked me down with a grain of wheat some time back when I came to realize that victuals is actually vittles, that vittles is vittles, and that when whittled down to the vitals, both victuals and vittles have the same meaning.

Well, now that I have managed to pique your interest to the peak with this peek into the English language, I bid you bye. I have a Peke to play with. I learned very recently that he is mischievous, not mischievious, as I had always thought. I erroneously gave him an extra i, when he actually has just two, like the rest of us.

After that, I am sitting down to read a French book on spelling and pronunciation that was recently translated into English by a Greek.

Please leave a comment if you have anything at all to say about spelling and pronunciation quirks in the English language.

Spelling and pronunciation

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 4 min
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