Merriam-Webster dictionary: Opinion: Thoughts your P’S & Q’s, tomahtos-tomaytos

Just a few Sundays in the past, upon studying a column that appeared on this web page (‘The Sycophant within the Room: The World Is Even Flatterer Than It Appears,’, I learnt then that I had, all this whereas, been mispronouncing the phrase sycophancy. As a substitute of ‘see-co-fancy, I had been saying ‘sy-co-fancy’ – like psychology. The invention was mildly amusing within the sense of, ‘Huh, I’m wondering how nobody seen it until now?’

In my youthful years, one thing like this could have been calamitous. Pronunciation was a weapon in highschool — used to assault the shortage of sophistication of any poor soul that uttered an English phrase incorrectly. With the advantage of all of the intervening years, and with publicity to many non-English audio system who’ve attained distinction of their chosen occupation in English-speaking international locations, I perceive now that improper pronunciation just isn’t actually a mirrored image of something – aside from the shortcoming to recollect the complicated guidelines, or the unwillingness to evolve to the calls for of the language.

In most cases, it lays naked the inconsistent construction of the language. ‘It isn’t me, it is you,’ appears to be an apt response to the English Language at each pronunciation stumble, a turnaround of the basic relationship-ender line. One other tangential validation comes from William Strunk Jr, a Cornell College English professor whose declare to fame is his 1920 textbook, The Parts of Model. Strunk is remembered for exhorting his college students: ‘If you do not know how you can say a phrase, say it out loud!’

Any missive in regards to the inconsistencies in English spelling and pronunciation is incomplete – at the least for a Hindi film fan – irrespective of the immortal dialogue from the 1975 Hrishikesh Mukherjee film Chupke Chupke. In that unforgettable scene, the multiple-degree-wielding wealthy previous man is made hapless by this query from the younger professor who’s masquerading as an uneducated driver: ‘If T-O is pronounced as ‘too’ and if D-O is pronounced as ‘doo’ then why is not G-O pronounced as ‘goo’?’ – which is, after all, ‘poo’ in Hindi.

The absurdity of the English language is recognised even by its keeper of its guidelines — the dictionary. The Information to Pronunciation part (on-line model) of the Merriam-Webster dictionary has this to say: ‘For some languages, similar to Spanish, Swahili, and Finnish, the correspondence between orthography and pronunciation is so shut {that a} dictionary want solely spell a phrase accurately to point its pronunciation. Fashionable English, nonetheless, shows no such consistency in sound and spelling, and so a dictionary of English should commit appreciable consideration to the pronunciation of the language.’

It does acknowledge the frustration of the consumer: ‘[T]his disparity between sound and spelling is only a continuous nuisance in school or work.’ One marvels on the quantity of power the keepers of the English language should expend to prop up all of the contradictions in pronunciation with labyrinthine guidelines that require the nice graces of the mind’s reminiscence centre as a lot as its seat of language.

The one phase that advantages is the trade that makes cash off ‘instructing’ the correct use of English — ‘spoken English’ centres, writing guides, grammar-checking providers. There’s even a child’s competitors within the US which is taken into account a nationwide establishment: the annual Spelling Bee. The primary prize is $50,000, and the previous 20 out of the 25 winners have been of Indian origin. Do immigrant dad and mom, carrying with them the burden of reminiscences of their very own high-school pronunciation mishaps, prepare their children to be excellent spellers the way in which others make their kids pursue music or sports activities?

Consultants on communication extol the virtues of readability, brevity, and conviction. What irony that the device most wanted to realize these beliefs is as unwieldy because the English language. Lately, a buddy loaned me Jared Diamond’s e-book, Weapons, Germs, and Metal, which argues that one main reason behind western Europe’s dominion over the globe was its lengthy historical past of advanced societal buildings that have been necessitated by the agrarian financial system. May the flexibility to carry a civilisation along with a language that has head-scratching guidelines be one of many causes as effectively?

The author is managing director, Laboratories, Bengaluru

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