Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spoken Out

Pronunciations interest me for how words and names often sound different than their spellings. Even as a native English speaker, I trip up. I've started this article talking about EU (not you) and skipped along names, consonants, words, and contextual pronunciations.

In a TV show about Paris, the narrator pronounced unique as YOO-nik, like the word spelled eunuch. Phonetically related is the name Eunice, a name I heard of at a young age. I heard it as yoo-nis, but thought it would be spelled Unis. If I’d never known the pronunciation of Eunice, I might have thought the name should sound like ee-YOO-nise (long i) or EU-nise.

More observations about name pronunciations
  • Basil—if if’s a name, pronounced BAAA-zul. If it’s a spice, pronounced BAY-zul.
  • Herb—it it’s a name, pronounced herb. If it’s a spice item, pronounced urb.
  • Lincoln (LINK-un) and palm (pom) spell with l’s, but don’t sound with them.
  • Bret Favre (farv)
  • Bode Miller (BOH-dee)
  • Bono—BOH-noh if you're talking Sonny, Cher, or Chaz. BAH-noh if you're talking about the Irish singer.
  • Gabriel vs. Gabrielle. The guy's name has a long a, and the woman's name gets a short a. I would think it should sound like gay-bri-ELLE.
  • Paul Krugman (long u or short u?), John Boehner (pronounced bay-ner), Matt Groening (pronounced grayn-ing)
More OE pronunciation
Three names with "oe" vowel combinations can seem unpredictable and confusing besides the ones I just mentioned. Why is Joe pronounced joh, but Zoe is ZOH-ee and Chloe is KLOH-ee For that matter, if I hadn’t heard of Chloe, pronunciations could include chloh, shloh, SHLOH-ee, CHLOH-ee, kloh. Hmmm, Joe needs a y for the pronunciation of JOH-ee. Seems the other two names should be spelled Zoey and Chloey.

A segue to CH, a major consonant-pair confuser
While I'm discussing ch pronunciations, I think it must be difficult for people who are not native English speakers to decide on the sound as ch (chair), sh (machine), or k (chemical).
  • Melancholy (MEL-un-KAH-lee) looks like it should be pronounced mel-AN-CHO-lee, something related to a pepper.
  • Chamomile (CAM-uh-myul) is a tea flavor made from dried flower heads of a particular plant. This word is a minefield for mispronunciation possibilities.
  • The ch sound is in truck. I hear the pronunciation as chruk, not truk.
More visual consonant-pair and single-consonant confusers
  • I think the combinations can be difficult if the word is not familiar. Is it pronounced like thermometer or there? Think of a thimble there that is close to those thermometers.
  • One consonant that stumps me constantly is "g" ("g" or "j" sound)? The other day I saw an ad for Allergan's Allegra. I have no problems with Allegra, but I want to pronounce Allergan with "g" and not "j". General, germ, galaxy, garble, gin
  • Another consonant with dual pronunciations is "s" ("s" or "z" sound). State, states, status, statuses.
  • Close—"z" sound or "s" sound? Depends on the context. Related: the movie "Closer". Not having seen it or heard the name pronounced, I don't know whether the title pertains to relative distance or something or someone who closes a deal.
  • Of, off, oof are three words with two letters in common but pronounced differently from each other Odd that pronunciation of "of" is "ov". Stick an "a" between the letters to get a long "o" pronunciation (oaf).
A meandering to relative speakings
Uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, cousin don't really spell as simply as they sound.

UNG-kul, ant or ont, NE-few, nees, KUZ-un

Anomalous spellings considering the pronunciations
  • Knuckle, knee, and knight are odd for starting with k’s.
  • Muscle (MUS-sul) actually evolved from mouse, little mouse, which a muscle resembles as a body shape under skin.
  • Scissors (SIZ-urz)—Vanna, get me an s. What a strange way to spell the device.
  • Iron (I-yern), irony (I-yern-ee) are mystifying because no one pronounces them as I-ron or I-ron-ee. Iran and Iraq sound like they’re spelled. Of course, the pronunciations for residents of those countries wind up with short i’s.
A few town names to try the spelling or pronunciation
  • Worcester, Ma (WEST-er)
  • Quogue, NY (kwog)
  • Phoenix, AZ (FEE-niks)
  • Coughran, TX (unsure)
  • Manor, TX (MAY-nr)
  • Burnet, TX (BURN-et)
  • Manchaca, TX (MAN-chak). I want to pronounce it man-CHAK-a. (Now thinking of Chaka Kahn's "I Feel for You" song and lyrics.)
  • Pedernales, TX (pur-deh-NAH-less)
  • A couple of similar sites that address some Texas town pronunciations, not that I necessarily agree—Rules of Austin, Keep Austin Weird
Different pronunciations depending on context
  • read—present tense and past tense verb that are spelled the same but pronounced differently.
  • lead—noun and present tense verb. The past tense of lead is led. If attempting to apply similar rules to that rhyming word read, past tense seems like it should be red. But red's a color.
  • live—adjective and verb. Pronunciation of long i or short i depends on usage.
  • sewer—nouns. Pronunciation of SOO-ur or SOH-ur depends on usage, which I have written about.
  • minute—MIN-it or my-NOOT. Odd that it looks like it could be pronounced min-NOOT. Seems like the word should be spelled minit if talking about the time unit.
  • woman—weird that the plural form is pronounced wimmin. For that matter, the singular form sounds like WUH-mun, not WOH-man.
Other mysterious word spellings, attributed to French origins
Even though I took French classes in the past, I don't have explanations for some of the following words: soldier (SOLE-jer), colonel (KER-nul), lieutenant (LOO-ten-unt). Hmmm, lieu tenant (an officer in place of a tenant).

While I'm on the topic of military ranks, I'm bringing up private. The private has the lowest rank, yet the word implies choice and control over self-disclosure. On the opposite end of the rank, we have general. A military general is highly ranked. As an adjective, general indicates ordinary status. Exceptions might be if general is part of a proper noun, such as General Electric, General Motors, General Dynamics.

Written words that surprised me when I first heard the pronunciations
  • Cupboard (KUB-urd). I want to pronounce it CUP bord.
  • Preface (PREH-fus). I want to pronounce it PREE fays.
  • Tuberculosis (too-BER-kuh-LOH-sis) looks like it should be pronounced TOO-ber-kol-OH-sis. And it looks like it should mean some sort of potato disease.
  • Vacation. The first time I saw it spelled was in the first grade. I had not yet learned about long and short vowels. I immediately spotted "cat". I might have wondered why "tion" was pronounced "shun".
Home and Hermione
I see the word home, and I think homage should sound like HOME-age or home-AZH. The pronunciation is "\ ä-mij, hä-\ ". I mentioned "homage" and other puzzlers in my Hermione pronunciation article a year ago.