Today's the first day in ten that it hasn't been 100 degrees in the shade, so to celebrate, I'm posting...
I've recently been asked to teach a pronunciation course. To prepare for this, I've been attending some workshops with a very fine teacher of pronunciation here at the institute. We teach American English here, and in examining the way words in English are pronounced, I find myself turning words and their pronunciation over in my mind...over and over. I disagree with some of the ways she says words are pronounced, a very small point really, because English pronunciation in the US is so influenced by the region and prevalent cultural group of the local area. She says that A, as in RAN is pronounced with almost 2 syllables, like RAY-AN, where as I (being from the High Plains area) say it with just one syllable, as A. Just AAAA. No AY-A. Just AAA. And the -ing in bring, something, thing, wing, and ring...I pronounce that almost like EEEENG, long E and NG. She says it's pronounced with a very short i, similar to THIS, IN, LIFT. She learned her pronunciation in the Deep South, and I grew up in Colorado. With all this regional difference, I wonder if the students will be confused.
Along with that, as I think about pronunciation, I have in my mind the story that my parents used to tell us when we were all kids. How it kept coming up, I can't remember, but we heard it numerous times. We always laughed uproariously each and every time we heard it...here it is, in a nutshell:
When my parents, Tommy and Phyllis, were in school, they knew a little boy named Johnny, whose last name escapes me now. When he was little, Johnny mispronounced his words, never learning to say his "K", "G", "F", or any other sound that required him to move his tongue from the ridge behind his teeth. So he used the "T" and "D" sound a lot when he spoke, calling my mom "Tyllis" instead of Phyllis. He never had the opportunity to go to speech therapy, but he could make himself understood and besides - he was so darn cute when he was in elementary school, so Johnny never learned the correct way to pronounce most of his words.
Time passed, and everyone grew up and tried to be cool, even little Johnny Whatsisname (gads, I wish I could remember his name!). The girls were wearing their hair in tall bouffant 'dos and wearing red lipstick and black mascara, and the boys were rolling cigarette boxes in their t-shirt sleeves and rolling their pant legs up so their white socks would show. Johnny's parents got him a 1941 Ford coupe to drive around, so cool. So very cool...until he opened his mouth.
Johnny never did learn to pronounce any sounds that required him to use different points of articulation in his mouth, aside from his old stand-by, the ridge behind his teeth. He wanted to be cool though, and boasted about his "Torty-un-Tord" (Forty-one Ford.) Everyone, even my mom, thought he was funny. Plus, he had the hots for my mom. So one day, he pulled up beside her with the '41 Ford and offered her and her friends a ride in his car. They all piled in, with my mom in the front seat, my dad as one of the pals in the back. Johnny leaned over to my mom and put his arm around her shoulders, puckered up, and (being the suave, smooth-talker that he was) said, "Div us a tiss, Tyllis!" While the pals in the backseat laughed so hard they couldn't sit up and gasped for breath, my mom gave him a look that said "Drop dead, jerk", exited the car and ran, mortified. You know the look I'm talking about.
Funny how after these more than 60 years, old Johnny is still remembered, but not as a cute little kid with a speech impediment, nor as a cool teenager in a hot car. We all remember him as either the moron, or the poor unfortunate, who never learned to pronounce his words correctly.