Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pygmalion, revisited

"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


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your blog entry. Isn't the sound of English, compared to the print, something else!! :)

I thought the "poem" at the end was most insightful. May we discuss me having a copy?



Dy said...

Feel free copying it - I first came across it in a poetry book while in college, and while Googling for a copy of it to put with my blog I found it, along with the comment about the Frenchman(which I didn't know but whom I agree with!)

Glad you like it!

Abbie said...

I had to write you because you picked two words that I was mispronounce this entire time. I never knew I was until I got my CI.

Corps and herbs were my very first ones to be corrected AFTER the CI. I always wondered why people felt more compelled to tell me after the CI and not before it. I am sure they wanted to spare my feeling.

Hat tip to you!

daionara said...

Loved this entry my girl. I'd have told you if you pronounced it wrong, just so ya know.

Tales from the CI Gal said...

I love this posting. I have had the same experiences as well. I never knew I was misprounciating words as well. I was told that they just got use to my speech and did not think anything about it.

Guess what, I just got picked to teach - how your pants - a phonic base reading program. I guess I can learn the sounds with the kids.

Mike McConnell said...

Actually, "forte" is pronounced as "fort-ay" and not "fort." You have a second syllable after "fort." I've always heard "forte" as "fort-ay" with the "a" as the long "a."

Nowadays, online dictionary has both written pronunciation and verbal you can listen to.

Here's "forte"-

Dy said...

Mike, actually I've found out that it can be pronounced BOTH ways. The way I found out I was pronouncing it wrong (or at least thought I was)believe it or not was watching some talking heads on CNN discuss Hillary Clinton and one of them said that "Honesty is not her forte" and he pronounced it "fort."

I checked Dictionary.com and found out that:


—Pronunciation note: In the sense of a person's strong point (He draws well, but sculpture is his forte), the older and historical pronunciation of forte is the one-syllable. The word is derived from the French word fort "strong." A two-syllable pronunciation /ˈfɔrteɪ/[fawr-tey] is increasingly heard, especially from younger educated speakers, perhaps owing to confusion with the musical term forte, pronounced in English as /ˈfɔrteɪ/[fawr-tey] and in Italian as /ˈfɔrtɛ/[fawr-te]. Both the one- and two-syllable pronunciations of forte are now considered standard

Dy said...

After making the above response, I was thinking about the two different pronunciations, and it reminded me of how some words that are pronounced the same, and mean the same thing sometimes are SPELLED differently (think colour/color, honour/honor, flavour/flavor etc.) I guess this is now a case of it working in the opposite - two different pronunciations can mean the same word. Its enough to make your head spin!

kw said...

Hellooo! I loved this post. Guess what I watched on DVD only just last night? "My Fair Lady" I had not seen it since I was a little girl. I had to laugh at the way you tied in the Henry Higgins character with your mispronunciations of words. I mispronounce words all the time myself. Am wondering. . .Are you going to IFHOH in July??? I live in the Seattle area and plan to go. Would be great to meet others. I'll be rooming with a Canadian I know who lives in Langley. It's so exciting to have such a HUGE world event in your own backyard. You live in a beautiful area and are so very lucky.

kw said...

You know, it could just be a minor Canadian pronunciation difference on forte. Most people in this neck of the woods pronounce it for-tay Dy, but that doesn't make us right. Canadians do pronounce a few words differently-- OR y'all might say WE pronounce words differently. You should hear Mike talk. Very sexy cowboy drawl.

Dy said...

KW, I'm not sure if its just a Canadian pronunciation thing, as the show I was watching (CNN) that made me realize it could be pronounced another way was American. I think its just a case of having two different ways, and as dictionary.com said, its becoming more common to hear either.

kw said...

I'm sure you heard it right. I can't hear very well at all anymore. I do not even watch CNN and when I watch movies on TV I rely mostly on captioning.

Anonymous said...

I recently added The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations to my collection of reference books and highly recommend it. It doesn't simply teach correct pronunciations, it also describes how people (hearing people) often mispronounce it and why, and gives interesting accounts of the history of the oft-mispronounced word. If there is more than one acceptable pronunciation, it indicates which is preferred or recommended and why.

I looked up "forte" and was surprised at its sizable entry -- almost two whole pages long. I found very interesting. I'll type the first two sentences here:

"forte (strong point) properly FORT, now usually FOR-tay; (musical direction) FOR-tay.

Do not stress the second syllable. For either sense of the word, for-TAY is wrong."

Several paragraphs later it says:

"The word forte, coming from French fort, should properly be pronounced with one syllable, like the English word fort,..." then, "...Common usage, however, prefers the two-syllable pronunciation..." which is FOR-tay.

Anyway I really like this book because I've found it surprisingly common for even hearing people to be less than certain what the correct pronunciation is for a certain word.

The other day we were wondering about tinnitus which I pronounce as "tin-EYE-tus" but have observed that some, including my surgeon, pronounce as "TIN-i-tus." The book says that the former is actually correct. Ha!

Anyway, I enjoyed your blog entry on pronunciation!

Dy said...

Ruminator - that sounds like a great book. I'll definitely have to look for it. Forte certainly seems to be one of those words that puzzles everybody!

Cloggy said...

What a journey you're on.
Great reading, also for us foreigners who think we "know it all..."

C U out there

George said...

Corps, herb, Edinburgh, Porsche... I am hearing and have gotten corrected on all these, and Illinois, Oregon... I teach ESL, so I am especially interested in this topic. Most of these examples are foreign words, so native English speakers have to forego the usual pronunciation rules of English. This is similar to a kid having to set aside the rules when learning irregular past tenses. But common foreign words such as Bayer, Adidas, Braun are still pronounced using English not German rules. And herbs (with an h-) is an acceptable variant.

Last, I have never heard forte pronounced as fort. And frankly no reference book should tell you how you should pronounce a word, only describe how people actually pronounce a word. In the end, the masses will win out over any prescribed pronunciation. Language change, including pronunciation, is inevitable and cannot be stopped.