"There even are places where English completely
disappears. In America, they haven't used it for years!" ~ Rex Harrison
So call me Eliza, and make my CI Henry Higgins. I'm sure this isn't what George Bernard Shaw had in mind when he wrote Pygmalion (My Fair Lady,) but to me, it comes damn close.
I'm speaking of course, about speech. Phonetics. Pronunciation. That which has plagued hearing and deaf alike for millennia, which is the bane of ASL purists, the desire of oralists, and the subject of this blog entry.
When it comes to communication, I like to think I have a pretty full toolbox. I can communicate in pidgin-ASL pretty well for someone who hasn't used it in more than 10 years (I was fluent when I went to RIT, but "use it or lose it.") I am extremely well read, there's always a book within reaching distance, wherever I am, and my favorite internet destinations are all news/tech/blog sites. I read science publications, I enjoy a good debate, and I like to think I have a pretty good linguistic capacity. I strive to speak clearly, and concisely.
So, you can imagine my surprise, my chagrin, and my embarrassment when I discover that all my life I've been pronouncing some words incorrectly, not realizing it, and nobody had bothered to tell me!!! Or it wasn't a case of somebody telling me, but my discovering a word that I THOUGHT all my life was pronounced one way was actually pronounced another way.
Yes I took English in school. Got straight "A's" too. Loved it, as I love to read. I could debate the symbology in Animal Farm, the allegory in Lord of the Flies, and the politics in 1984 until the cows came home, but looking back I realize that almost NO emphasis was ever placed on learning the pronunciation of words, but rather how to spell them. So I learned them, how to use them in a sentence, how to spell them perfectly (antidisestablishmentarianism, anybody?) But apparently I didn't learn to pronounce them properly.
Professor Henry Higgins sings
Henry: "I Hear them down in Soho square,
Dropping "h's" everywhere.
Speaking English anyway they like.
You sir, did you go to school?"
Man: "Waddaya tike me for, a fool?"
Henry: "No one taught him 'take' instead of 'tike!'"
Don't feel bad man, nobody taught me either.
I suppose its because among the hearing, you pick up on the pronunciation easily. We deaf have to constantly keep the rules of English grammar in our heads. You remember it the 'h' in ghost is silent. Ditto for the 'p' in pneumonia. Ea sounds differently depending on the words - meat, bread, great. Ci makes a "sh" sound (facial.) Got the hiccoughs? You hic-cup, not hic-cough, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera....(oops! Wrong musical!)
Like most people, be they hearing or deaf, I enjoy watching movies. Thankfully, most are closed captioned (even with my CI, I don't catch everything, especially when they put the damn "suspenseful" or "action" music in the background - it washes out the dialog!) Yet with my CI, I am finding that I pick up nuances in the movies that I never realized. Case in point - I was watching "The Matrix - Revolutions" the other day. There's a point near the middle when Captain Mifune says to Kid "The minimum age for the Corp's eighteen. Sixteen's too young." The Kid replies, "The machines don't care how old I am. They'll kill me just the same."
Now, prior to getting my CI, I'd simply have read the dialog and followed the movie normally, but with my CI, I noticed that I couldn't hear the "p" in corps, so I backtracked and listened to that scene again, and again. You see, all my life I thought corps was pronounced the same as corpse. But my CI was hearing "corz." Where was the p? Then it dawned on me that I wasn't hearing it wrong, I was hearing it RIGHT, and I had never realized.
I started thinking about other words that I had, since being activated, encountered and discovered my pronunciation had been wrong,
Herbs- the h is silent? I never knew that!
Porshe - okay its pronounced "porsh-eh" I can do that... but forte is pronounced fort!
Oh so you don't pronounce the "c" in Priscilla?
Breathalyzer, Dionysus, Arkansas (well KANSAS is pronounced the way its spelled, so why shouldn't Arkansas? OY!)
Watching TV last week I realized that Edinburgh is "Edinburra" and yet...we don't call it Pittsburra do we?
Is ignorance a good excuse? Maybe they just overlooked my lapses...and didn't think it necessary to correct me.
I am so thankful for my CI...I love the world of sound it brings me, but at the same time, I'm realizing how incredibly STUPID I must have sounded on occasion, with my mispronunciations. I find myself paying much more attention to how words sound when I'm talking to others, or watching TV or even listening to music. It makes me appreciate even more, how difficult it must be for those born deaf to learn to speak. I was lucky that I at least had the first 9 years of my life to learn SOME of the rules...even if I apparently didn't learn them all.
In parting, I leave you with this...
If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud.
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!
English Pronunciation by G. Nolst Trenité