Friday, November 19, 2010


Missplelling, Mispronunciation, etc.

I grew up in an area bounded by the Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario.  In school I was taught the correct pronunciations of the name of the State in which I lived as well as the names of several cities.  I was taught that the first Europeans to explore this part of North America came from France.  They spoke French and when they encountered a native American name they spelled it according to the rules of French spelling.  Aside from the vowel sounds, there is a consonant combination in French - CH - that indicates a different pronunciation than the same combination in English.  At a very young age, I was taught that I lived in MISHIGAN, not MITCHIGAN, and that it would be an indication of gross ignorance to make such a mistake in the pronunciation of the name of my native State.  Cities such as Chicago, Cheboygan, Michilimackinac, and others with the CH spelling were to be sounded as though the CH were SH.

To this day I cringe when I hear radio announcers, who have a special obligation to pronounce the English language correctly, mispronounce the name of the largest city in Illinois as "chick-AH-go" rather than "shick-AH-go."  It seems to me that they nearly all do it.  It's as gross an indication of ignorance as inserting an "L" sound in the pronunciation of the city of Palm Springs.  Anybody who has been taught correct English pronunciation knows that the first word of that name rhymes with "bomb" and "balm."  The existence of the L in words like palm, balm, calm, and psalm is evidence that English spelling is not phonetic.  It is indended instead to show the origin or the provenance of the word.  These words evolved from words in Latin which contained the L in spelling because in Latin the L was pronounced.  In Old French these L sounds changed to "ul" and finally to "-u": pau(l)me, psau(l)me, etc.  By the time these words were introduced in Middle English, the language of Chaucer, the l sound was long gone.  Subsequent scholars have reintroduced the L in the spelling simply to show that the words have been adopted from Latin.  In Chaucer's day, Latin was the language of really well educated people.

When I was still a child, there was a story that involved the pronunciation of the largest city in the State: Detroit.  The accent was on the second  syllable: "de-TROIT."  Only a foreigner, like someone from New York or Omaha would make the mistake of saying "DE-troit."  The story involved a girl who crossed the Detroit River into the United States and tried to convince the immigration inspector that she lived in "DE-troit."  She was delayed for several hours.

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