Saturday, July 13, 2013


Annoying mispronunciations on the radio

Even a favorite announcer on one of my favorite programs can set me off by mispronouncing a word.  At least, to me it's a mispronunciation.  It may not bother anyone else.

I grew up in one of the states in which the French had made settlements before the settlers from England arrived.  In these states - Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa - there are numerous place names which were taken from the languages of the native inhabitants.  These names were spelled by people who spoke French and who spelled the names according to French spelling rules.  Two examples stand out: my native state of Michigan and the large city at the south end of Lake Michigan: Chicago.  In both of these names the native pronunciation contained the sound represented in English spelling by "SH" and in French spelling by "CH."  English transcriptions of these names might be something like "MISHIGAN" and "SHICAGO."  However, in English spelling the combination CH represents a sound that might also be spelled "TSH" or even "TSCH" as in the spelling of the famous Russian composer Tschaikowsky.

Some radio announcers pronounce these two names as if the CH were pronounced in the English manner: TSH.  As a native of Michigan, I cringe to hear the name of my state pronounced as though it were spelled MITCHIGAN.  I've spent some time in the city and I resent hearing it pronounced TCHICAGO.

While I'm ranting about mispronunciation, another annoying word is ALMOND.  Nine speakers out of ten try to pronounce the L in that word.  Historically there never was an L in that part of the word.  I think the L was introduced in spelling to indicate the sound of the previous vowel A.  Without the L the poorly educated speaker would try the pronunciation "A-MOND" or "AY-MOND."  The L was put in, as in such words as PALM and PSALM, which also have a silent L, to indicate that the A is pronounced like "AH" rather than "AA" or "AY."

Of course PALM is not a perfect example of a word in which a silent L indicates the pronunciation of the previous vowel.  The word has a long history.  In Latin, and in modern Spanish, the word is spelled and pronounced PALMA [pahl-mah].  The L is clearly present in pronunciation.  In France, however, the speakers were not conscientious about preserving the L in pronunciation and allowed it to become -UL- and finally -U- in pronunciation.  For example, the word PSALM in French has become PSAUME.  The change in spelling had not been carried out in French at the time the word was introduced in England after the French conquest that started in 1066.

When will we have a President who cares enough about spelling to introduce spelling reform in our language?
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