Saturday, April 09, 2005

Pronunciation problems

Last Tuesday, when I met my friends (we usually meet on Tuesdays), the topic somehow came up about how there are various words we know but don't know how to pronounce, having seen them in writing but never heard them spoken. We were talking about how this can be a trap in Japan, if you've been here too long and don't hear much 'native' English spoken.

For me it is even more of a trap. I grew up without TV or radio, and liked to read (although I was supposed to grow up without books as well - I found ways around THAT one, believe me). Then I had five or six years when I watched TV all the time, and then I came to Japan and pretty soon was never watching it, because local TV is such rubbish (and anyway it was Japanese, not English). And then we got cable, with such wonderful things as BBC World and Discovery and Fox and so on, but I was out of the habit by then and it was too late. (Where do people find the TIME to watch TV? I don't understand it.)

Anyway, in the course of this conversation one of my friends happened to mention that she had been mispronouncing impious for years.

"Really?" I said. "What does it mean?"

And then I thought about it and realised what it meant and said, "REALLY? IS THAT HOW YOU PRONOUNCE IT? YOU'RE NOT MAKING IT UP?"

I had no idea! I'd always pronounced it more or less like impiety, only with a different ending! Thank goodness it's not a word my students have ever asked me how to pronounce.



(Both of the above links have audio.)

But at least I knew the pronunciation of indict when my students challenged me on it. Their professor had told them that 'most Americans' didn't know how to pronounce it. I pronounced it perfectly, smugly informed them that I was not American (they were SHOCKED), and immediately felt guilty for perpetrating the stereotype. I am now taking this opportunity to apologize to all Americans who know how to pronounce indict, and to rap the knuckles of every Kiwi who doesn't.


RagDoll said...

I had no idea I have been pronouncing 'impious' WRONG! I am mildly ashamed.

Thanks for the lesson! As always, I have had a good visit to your blog!

Cheryl said...

Humph! I think that silly link with the silly accent has it wrong.

Pious is proounced pie-us.
Impious means not-pious, so its GOT TO BE Im-pie-us.

I rest my case, or is that carse.

Cheryl said...

Aha! They're both right, apparently:

The traditional pronunciation is (m´p-s), with stress on the first syllable, but the pronunciation (m-p´s), with stress on the second syllable, has been included in dictionaries since the middle of the 20th century.


Faerunner said...

:o I've been pronouncing it the new way forever! I've always preferred a phonetic pronunciation to one that had the accent in a place where it didn't seem to belong. English needs accent marks.

And about that "Books Stop Here" sign you say should hang by your door: If you have not yet checked out BookCrossing,
you should. It's a wondeful and theraputic way for hoarders like me (and you, it seems) to let go of those oh so precious books.

Megan said...

Hey now, this American has always pronounced "indict" correctly! We may all be lazy, but we're not all idiots (only the most noticeable ones, like our leaders). Wait, do I have to move my fingers to click on another link? That's too much work. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I guess I'm one crappy English teacher b/c I never knew that's how to say impious. I think I would feel like a jackass if I said it that way. I did know indict, though. I can't believe in this age of crime TV people can't say that one right. Maybe they've never seen it spelled though.

Badaunt said...

Thanks for that, Cheryl. I wasn't wrong after all!

Faerunner: The Bookcrossing idea is wonderful, but I don't think there are enough English readers in Japan for the ten cartons of books I'm currently trying to offload! (I'll probably send them to the Mission for Seamen. That's what I usually end up doing.)

M: The indict thing is probably exactly what you say - if you see it, you don't realize it's the same word you hear all the time.

E.P. said...

No, no, GoodAunt, you're absolutely right in your "stereotyping" of the average American----I mean, just look at Granny's blog! ;)

But I myself have been thrice corrected in my pronunciation of words that I had only read, not heard:

desultory: DES-ul-toree (not duh-SUL-tree)

conundrum: kon-UN-drum (not KOH-nun-drum)

poignant: POY-nyunt (not POYG-nunt)---this one I should've known, bec. in its native French, it's pronounced "pwah-NYAN." But I was going by the typical way American English massacres French words, viz. "milieu" = mill-OO; "in lieu of" = LOO (Americans are nescient of the British word that's pronounced that way, LOL!); "lingerie" = lawn-jer-RAY, and others.

Robert C said...

Please note that the link for impious gives two common pronunciations, both "pea" and "pie". Peas porridge pie if you will.

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