Tuesday March 27, 2012
Mispronounced words II
MIND OUR ENGLISH
By FADZILAH AMIN
Did you know that ‘almond’ and ‘salmon’ should not be pronounced with the “l” sound? And don’t say ‘trow’ when you mean ‘throw’!
WHILE teaching English language to tertiary students, I would inevitably hear most of them pronounce “restaurant” as a three-syllable word sounding like “res-to-rant” or “res-to-rent”. I had to make them repeat the correct two-syllable pronunciation in British English several times before they could say “res-tront”.
This, I think, is an interesting case. The Malay language took the word “restaurant” from English and changed it to “restoran”. When people who are more used to Malay than English come across the original English word, they have a tendency to pronounce it like the borrowed word “restoran”.
But you can’t totally blame them. The spelling in English makes us expect it to have three syllables, but alas, we all know how different the English spelling of a word can be from its pronunciation!
Another widespread mispronunciation is that of the word “compilation”, often pronounced by DJs and other Malaysians as “kom-pai-lei-shn” instead of “kom-pi-lei-shn” when talking about “compilation albums”. This must be partly because the verb “compile” is pronounced “kom-pail”. However, the verb “combine” is pronounced “kom-bain”, but I have not heard anyone mispronounce “combination” as “kom-bai-nei-shn”. The word “divorce” also often has its “i” turned into “ai”, so that two people are said to have had a “dai-vo:s” rather than a “di-vo:s”.
This week, I shall try to be less technical and more human in writing about common Malaysian mispronunciations. To get a more precise way to pronounce words, do have a look at the table with International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols of English consonants. I have included only the consonants whose symbols may look strange, other symbols are exactly like the letters of the alphabet they represent: for example, the symbol “p” has the sound of “p”; the symbol “n” has the sound of “n”; and the symbol “k” stands for the “k” sound, in “cat”, for example.
Only the sounds of “ch”, “j”, th” (as in “three”), “th” (as in “that”), “sh”, “ng”, and the sound of the “s” in “measure” (which is more like “zh”) are represented by unfamiliar symbols. The sound of “y” however, is represented by the letter “j”. These are all set out in Table 1.
I have also placed right and wrong pronunciations of the words I shall be discussing in a table (Table 2) as the phonetic symbols give a more accurate way to say the words.
Some English words contain consonants that are not pronounced, but not many Malaysians are made aware of this. While we are used to leaving out the “l” sound while saying “calm” and “balm”, many of us are not aware that “almond” should not be pronounced with the “l” in it, despite the emergence of a new Hari Raya chocolate biscuit known in BM as “almond London”!
“Salmon” also has an unpronounced “l”, which a lot of Malaysians happily pronounce. I did, too, till about 15 years ago, when I was visiting an English friend who kept smoked salmon in her fridge for us to make tasty sandwiches with. Her pronunciation of it sounded so classy, that I never failed to pass it on to students and friends here. Not that many of us can afford to eat salmon in Malaysia, whether smoked or fresh, and that may be why most of us haven’t bothered to look up its correct pronunciation in the dictionary.
Another consonant sound that is often left out in standard English pronunciation is “b”, especially when it comes after “m”. Many Malaysians are unaware of this. This is found, for example, in the words “lamb”, “limb”, “climb” and even “climbing”, in which the “b” is often heard in Malaysia. However, the “b” is correctly pronounced in “limber up” (warm up) or in “limbo” – the West Indian dance.
New learners or careless speakers in Malaysia often reduce the unvoiced “th” in words like “three” to “t”. Thus we hear “tree” for “three”, “trow” for “throw” and so on. The voiced “th” sound in words like “the”, “that” and “those” is often reduced to “d”. Unfortunately, even the spelling “de” meaning “the” is encouraged by the frequent writing and sending of text messages (SMSs) among youths in this country. How much more effort does it take to tap out “the” rather than “de” on one’s mobile phone?
Mispronouncing a word can be very embarrassing, depending on the occasion. This often happens when we have learnt the word from our reading, rather than from listening to it at a lecture, or on television.
When I was a new postgraduate student in England in the late 1960s, I remember talking to a lecturer from Australia during a departmental party. He had a Malay student as a lodger when he was back in Australia, and told me how a meal the student once cooked for his family tasted unbearably hot due to the amount of chilli powder the student had used.
I responded by saying: “We Malays are masochists when it comes to hot food.” He gave me a puzzled look, and I later felt it must have been because I had pronounced “masochists” as “ma-so-shists” rather than “ma-so-kists”. A check with my friends back at the hall of residence confirmed what I suspected. It was so embarrassing! But as they say, we live and learn.