Wednesday, 2 May 2012

going awry

Commenting on Monday’s blog, Mark Leavitt mentioned being misled by the spelling of the word epitome, which caused him to pronounce it “eppy-tohm”, i.e. ˈepɪtəʊm, instead of the usual ɪˈpɪtəmi. Greek ἐπιτομή has four syllables.

I hope he was indeed ˌmɪsˈled rather than being ˈmɪzl̩d.

I can remember once doing a double-take after misreading seabed (the ocean floor) as siːbd. Not to mention ɪnˈfreəd (infrared) rays.

Along with epitome we might mention apocope (Gk ἀποκοπή) and syncope (Gk συγκοπή). I have heard -strəʊf in apostrophe and catastrophe, but only as jocular intentional mispronunciations.

Some of you may have been puzzled on seeing sundried tomatoes on the shelf at the supermarket. Nothing to do with sundry, not ˈsʌndrid: they’re sun-dried, ˈsʌn draɪd.

I suppose the best-known case of a spelling pronunciation of this kind is seeing the word awry and saying it aloud as ˈɔːri. Strangely enough, the only word with orthographic awry actually pronounced ɔːri, as a model, seems to be outlawry, hardly an everyday word.

Pronouncing awry as ˈɔːri rather than as əˈraɪ is not a malapropism, since it does not involve the confusion of one word with another. I don’t think we have a particular term for this kind of thing, such as would enable us to distinguish the awry type from run-of-the-mill spelling pronunciations such as often with a t, falcon with an l, or Antigua with a w.

Perhaps ‘spelling misinterpretation’?

57 comments:

  1. This often thing is peculiar business. If I look it up in the CEPD 18, I get ˈɒfᵊn, ˈɒftᵊn.

    But if I look it up in the Concise Oxford of some 40 years ago, the first pronunciation it gives is the one with t: ˈɒftᵊn, ˈɒfᵊn or ˈɔːfᵊn, it says.

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  2. One of the reasons why I was never, not even in my darkest days, tempted to say [ɔːri] for 'awry', and always suspected the correct pronunciation, is that [ɔːri] does not seems to be etymologically motivated, if -ry is interpreted as the familiar suffix, the one of 'outlawry'. At best, 'awry' could be the status of those inspired with awe, but it does not really work. Or maybe the sum of practices that inspire awe? Doesn't work, either.

    'A-' interpreted as the familiar prefix, 'aright', 'aboard', 'akin', 'aware', 'afoot', and what not, cannot help seeming 'spot-on', or at least a good hunch. Especially if to you '-wry' is suggestive of something twisted, bent, distorted, crooked, willfully out of shape: wriggle, wrath, and yes, wry.

    I remember pronouncing 'leprechaun' incorrectly, with a 'ch' of 'chin', rather than with a [k], and here is why: [k] for 'ch' occurs mostly in Latin or Greek words, and 'leprechaun' doesn't (very much) look like one. It is of Irish-Gaelic origin, some say...

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    1. Nevertheless I think awe+ry are much more frequent morphemes than a+wry for the average person. My feeling is that this makes quite a powerful constraint.

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    2. But it's difficult to make sense of (dare significato a) 'awry' (awe+ry) on its own, much less in a context.

      Something was seriously awry = something was all that ado about inspiring (someone with) awe? 'Awry' as a substantive does not seem to fit in here. Awry as a+wry, i. e. as an adjective or adverb --- much rather. This is at least my linguistic sentiment about it.

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  3. ˈvɔjtɕɛxs post from two blog entries away reminded me of one thing: I have a friend who long ago, when she way younger, used to say ɪˈneɪməd (enamoured).

    But what about obsolete pronunciations which might sound completely out of place today? Say, ʃɪˈnɒn for chignon or what about vəˈgɛəri, how familiar and alive is it?

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    1. Well, 'enamour' looks a bit as if it was pronounced [ɪˈneɪmə]. But knowing or suspecting the word's etymology in the French 'enamourer' one feels a strong repulsion against such a pronunciation, why? Maybe because the 'a', not being accented in French, could not have been long in antique English, fallen prey to Great Vowel Shift and turned into an 'ey'?

      vəˈgɛəri -- I say this for 'vagary'. Under the influence of Latin, perhaps. Wrong? In the US it's still acceptable to some extent, methinks.

      Congrats on the IPA transcription of 'Wojciech', how ever did you get hold of it?

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    2. Thank you! I basically knew how it was pronounced, I just wanted to 'nail down' the vowels, ie. whether it's o or ɔ, e or ɛ. Wiki vowel diagram gave a decisive 'blow'. I must say, though, that judging by that diagram ɨ seems awfully out of place.

      Good reasoning for both awry and enamour!

      And as far as the vagaries are concerned, I thought Americans exclusively use ˈveɪgəri.

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    3. thank you, too. However, to be _quite_ exact, our 'e' and 'o' are sort of midway between o and ɔ, e and ɛ, respectively. At least, they are less open than their German and French variants, somewhat more o- and e-like. And as for ɨ, it is in my perception at least less fronter than the diagram makes it out to be. And thus less out of place.

      For 'vagary' in the US: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vagary

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    4. Which is what I thought. But judging by Wyktor Jassem's chart Polish ɛ and ɔ are very close to cardinal ɛ and ɔ. ɨ looks like ə, a close-mid central unrounded vowel, though a bit fronter.

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    5. Jassem had various idiosyncratic views. He e.g. represented the TRAP-vowel in English as an ɛ. I'd say our 'e' and 'o' are a bit closer to, maybe not cardinal, but German or French ɛ and ɔ, than to their e and o, but not as open as the former. I can literally hear the difference, especially the French open vowels are distinctly opener than ours, but the German ones too.

      Our ɨ was in the past somewhat fronter than it is now, it moved away from both KIT and ə, it's central and unrounded, but not close-mid. It is still not as back as the Turkish dotless i, but a bit more in that direction than it was say 50 or 80 years ago.

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  4. As a foreign speaker, I remember pronouncing "catastrophe" with -strəʊf and stress on the first syllable in my early days as an English speaker (influenced by Swedish "katastrof", though that has stress on the final syllable). Setting aside the difficulty of producing the sounds correctly, determining the right stress pattern and use of strong or weak "i" is, in my experience, one of the trickiest aspects of English pronunciation.

    This might relate back to your "perfect, but accented" post. I'd never accept someone as speaking perfect English if they grossly mispronounced words like "catastrophe", but if it were only a matter of not achieving quite the right vowel qualities, I'd classify that as "perfect, but accented".

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    1. 'I'd never accept someone as speaking perfect English if they grossly mispronounced words like "catastrophe", but if it were only a matter of not achieving quite the right vowel qualities, I'd classify that as "perfect, but accented".'


      This sounds like a truly Salomonic solution of the previous dogged controversy.

      As a matter of General Interest: what categories (not *categores) of words do you Anglos like to think are most frequent to have an -e at the end in spelling pronounced like [i]. My favourite guess are person names of German origin, or Yiddish, which is the same, such as Kripke, Bernanke and such-like.

      As I know from experiment, a name like 'Ye Olde Curiositie Shoppe' elicits hilarity (of the right sort) from Americans if read 'yee oldie ... shoppie'.

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    2. Wojciech

      As a matter of General Interest: what categories (not *categores) of words do you Anglos like to think are most frequent to have an -e at the end in spelling pronounced like [i].

      Greek (Classical, Attic) words ending in . The majority of them, I suspect, proper names. And oh yes, quite a few figures of speech — hence apostrophe.

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  5. Except that the punctuation mark is (according to the OED, with my emphasis):

    apostrophe, n.2

    Etymology: < French apostrophe, < Latin apostrophus , < Greek ἡ ἀπόστροϕος , prop. adj. (sc. προσῳδία the accent) ‘of turning away, or elision.’ It ought to be of three syllables in English as in French, but has been ignorantly confused with apostrophe n.1

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    1. Because it's three syllables in French, and it doesn't go back to Greek ἀποστροϕή. Or are you objecting that the French word would have once had a fourth syllable with schwa?

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    2. If we'd borrowed the word at the same time as philosophe, we might have called the mark an apostropher.

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    3. In fact philosopher is philosophe + a redundant agent suffix -er, a form constructed in 14th-century Anglo-French (long before any non-rhotic varieties of English existed). No such agent suffix would be relevant to apostrophe.

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  6. 'Askance' is another word begging to be misinterpreted.

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    1. Ha! I once knew a person who thought it ment 'something that you ask for' or 'favour'.

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    2. did that person put the stress on the first syllable? 'He was looking ASKance at me'='he was looking at me with a look expressing the expectation of a favour or an urgent desire to ask for one'?

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    3. Let me be the first to admit that I once thought that to look ˈɑːkəns at someone meant 'to look at someone in a questioning manner'.

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    4. Me too. Critically questioning, doubtingly, challengingly --- that seemed to sit well in the context in which I found this word first.

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    5. ˈɑːskəns, something like a noun made according to the enter > entrance model. Only now with ask, naturally.

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  7. There's a quote that says that a euphemism is a word you use when you can't spell the other word. This also applies to pronunciation (for English speakers, at least). How articulate we would all be if we could confidently pronounce all the words we'd read!

    Let learners of English take heart from this. Natives have the same problem as non-natives, though on a smaller scale.

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  8. One critical word at least in Poland is 'iron'. The other day I asked my students how they'd pronounce it, and of course it was 'I-rawn'. When I told them the true pronunciation, they (some of them) said: oh, quite like Swedish 'järn'. We are in Gdansk, where they teach Swedish in some secondary schools and ferries bring to to and fro Ystad, Nynäshamn, Karlskrona and the like.... . A strange case where English, the linguistic Numero Uno, is being shed light on from the vantage point of a linguistic wimp (sorry, Swedes).

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    1. I have a weird tendency to sometimes put an ɾ in the middle of that word: ˈaɪɾən.

      A strange case indeed (regarding Swedish in Poland).

      P. S. To me Gdańsk is gdaɲsk. I know you don't agree.

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    2. I'd go for /a/ followed by a nasalised /j/, not /ɲ/. That's the problem with Polish orthography, it's so reliable it tricks you into thinking it's more phonetic that it really is.

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    3. 'I have a weird tendency to sometimes put an ɾ in the middle of that word: ˈaɪɾən.'

      Are you a non-rhotic person? If so, I can't find any explanation of the above than the influence of the spelling. Weird indeed.

      Concerning gdaɲsk, I'd say this is a spelling pronunciation, and maybe there are persons under whose skin it has already got, so it's then their natural pronunciation. Not mine, I have to make a conscious effort to say 'gdaɲsk'. With me, as I suspect with most Poles, it's a nasal [j] instead of [ɲ]. Generally, we have no n's before a [s] or [z], regardless of spelling, 'szansa' (chance) has a non-nasal [a] first, then a nasal [a], then a [s]. We've once had an exchange on that on this blog.

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    4. This Polish habit (vowel + non-m nasal + fricative = nasalised vowel + fricative) drives me mad when transferred (trãsferred) to English. If anything, we go the opposite way and put in an voiceless plosive. Two different ways of solving the same problem.

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    5. It is an artificial tendency developed over time to differentiate it from ion, for no reason at all. Especially since you can pronounce ion in two ways. I think you told ne then that the palatal sound was used only by Catholic archbishops or sonething to that effect.

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    6. This Polish habit is undeed very ugly in non-Polish languages, I am not sure about Ivrith, modern Hebrew, as it has great many Polish features in its standard pronunciation, for obvious reasons. Yet it is hardly suppressible --- a Polish learner must almost literally be beaten to learn to suppress it.

      Polish Catholic clergy, not just bishops, have a strange habit (spelling pronunciations at its crassest) to pronounce nasal vowels where, despite spelling, there are none and nothing nasal at all, e. g. certain verbal endings, like -ąłem, -ęłam, I ..ed (past tense). In the meantime, I have detected traces of similar phonetic malpractice in clerics of other denominations. This, however, is luckily restricted, to ceremonial texts, doesn't crop up in free speech.

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  9. Also the verb entrance (to put into a trance). I seem to remember seeing a list of such words somewhere recently. Arnold Zwicky's blog, maybe?

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  10. Regarding Antigua, how weird that the pronunciation without w is considered 'more correct' because in Spanish it's anˈtiɣwa.

    Good, though, that it hasn't transformed into something like ænˈtɪgjuə, knowing what happened to Managua, Nicaragua.

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    1. But it (the Caribbean island) is not Spanish and has never been Spanish; it was for centuries a British colony and key British naval base... so its (British) English pronunciation ænˈtiːɡə is very thoroughly entrenched.

      Just as the nearby island Nevis is ˈniːvɪs, though the Scottish mountain is Ben ˈnevɪs.

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    2. I suspect the mountain was originally ˈniːvɪs too. The Gaelic is Beinn Nibheis, and there is at least one spelling with ee attested.

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    3. I understans that, I know that, I just wonder how it got pronouncd that way considering that w is a very ordinary sound in English and knowing the etymology of the toponym (nissonym?), "old and bearded".

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    4. Nesonym, if you must (Gk νήσος). For the origin of the name, indeed Spanish, see here.

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  11. I'm not sure I've ever heard ˈɔːri but I think quite a few native speakers make it ɔːˈraɪ instead of əˈraɪ.

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  12. How about 'misanthrope'?
    It's taken a lot of repetition to get mɪsˈænθrəpi out of my head.

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  13. One that got me several times is "planerides", which I read as if a Classical word, /pləˈnɜrɪdiːz/, instead of as "plane-rides".

    (Also, I would have assumed that the erroneous reading of "misled" is /maɪzl̩d/, not /mɪzl̩d/.)

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  14. Final e is optionally silent in some words, e.g. coyote, maskinonge, kalanchoe, Guadalupe (TX/NM). In such words, penultimate main stress or secondary final stress (cf. Alternating Stress Rule in SPE) sound equally good to me.

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    1. Coyote has penultimate stress either way.

      Curiously, Wiktionary gives a British transcription of the 2nd O (/əʊ/), even though it's an American animal. (Unlike most Wikipedia entries, it doesn't have separate RP and US pronunciations.)

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    2. Right, thanks, I could have phrased that better! I meant coyote [ˌkaɪˈoʊti ~ ˈkaɪˌoʊt]; maskinonge [ˈmæskəˌnɑnʤ ~ ˌmæskəˈnɑnʤi]; kalanchoe [ˌkælənˈkoʊi ~ ˈkælənˌʧoʊ]; Guadalupe, TX/NM ˌgwɑdəˈluːpi ~ ˈgwɑdəˌluːp]. My phrasing also assumes secondary final stresses, which many (especially British) linguists repudiate.

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  15. Perhaps ‘spelling misinterpretation’?

    How about 'reversed mondegreen'?

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  16. Bottom line:

    Managua məˈnɑːgwa (though I have heard məˈnængjuə)
    Antigua ænˈtiːgə
    Nicaragua nɪkəˈrægjuə

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  17. /aɪɾən/ is a nonce-word for someone who practices irony, as in the short story "God Is an Iron" by Spider Robinson (see excerpt below). On the other hand, as a child I pronounced irony as /aɪɚni/ until I learned better.

    "God is an iron," I said. "Did you know that?"

    I turned to look at her and she was staring. She laughed experimentally, stopped when I failed to join in. "And I'm a pair of pants with a hole scorched through the ass?"

    "If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, and a person who commits a felony is a felon, then God is an iron."

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    1. Well, next time I'll give it my students, who think, as indeed most Poles, that Fe is 'I-rawn'. Good joke.

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  18. Combining today's topic with yesterday's, I spent about 3/4 of my life pronouncing "aubergine" with the THOUGHT vowel in the first syllable. This was a spelling pronunciation that I picked up on a frolic of my own, and it took a long time to get out of the habit of it. However, this might've happened because there is some phonetic overlap between the GOAT and THOUGHT vowels in this part of the country.

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    1. Only with the English language is using a spelling pronunciation, i.e., actually pronouncing a word how it's spelled, considered a bad thing. That's funny to me.

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    2. No, spelling pronunciation exists in other languages too, probably in most languages, as in most languages there are minor irregularities in the way phonetics is mirrored in spelling. In English, these irregularities are not minor, that is the problem. I think there is a Wikipedia article or such, unreliable as W. is on the whole, on spelling pr.

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    3. Well, I have said aubergine with THOUGHT all my life. To be sure, I rarely say it at all, as eggplant is the regular term in my variety of English. I will have to switch to GOAT, I suppose.

      Live and learn.

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  19. I've done most of those. Plus salllllmon. And first after getting that right, did I come across fawken.

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    1. Wait, falcon pronounced without the /l/? As an American, I've never heard this.

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    2. It's the authentic pronunciation — derived from ˈfaʊkon. Some pedant inserted a letter L in the fifteenth century, because Latin falco had an L. Eventually people adopted a spelling pronunciation. I still occasionally hear ˈfɔ:kn̩.

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    3. I say /fɔkən/ too, wherefore some Americans claim that I talk like a Brit. Then again, I also say the day of the week as /tuzdi/, wherefore some Americans claim that I talk like a gangster.

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  20. There is also ˈmɔːvən for Malvern, which Alan S. C. Ross defines as "old fashioned U-pronunciation" in his article Linguistic class-indicators in present-day English.

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