Submitted by Hairy Scot on March 17, 2014

Pronunciation Etiquette—Hypothetical Question

Two scenarios:

  1. You are an antipodean cricket commentator and during a broadcast you realise that your Indian co-commentator is pronouncing some words/names differently from you.
  2. You are at a social gathering and notice that everyone else pronounces words/names differently from you.

The words/names in question could be for or example:

  • Tendulkar with a soft ‘oo’ sound as opposed to your hard ‘u’ (as in dull).
  • Nepal with “paul” as opposed to your ‘pal’.
  • Debut as ‘dehbyew’ as opposed to your ‘dayboo’.

In each situation how do you react?

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My earlier remarks about the number of English-speakers on the Indian sub-continent did not quite hit middle stump. Assuming that around four percent of the adult pop speak English fluently (as appears to be the case in India) we have a fluent English-speakers numbering around 25 million. According to Wikipedia English is still the offical language in Pakistan, used in court proceedings and all official documents. So still quite a sizeable dialect with its own newspapers and literature.

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For those interested in speaking proper:

The Queen's Hinglish: How to Speak Pukka .. published by Harper Collins

And I have found there is a page in wikipedia under "Indian English" which provides technical details.
Still looking for a more extensive online listing of word usage differences, which would be handy indeed.
So, co-brothers, although I am not quite yet a stadium, I am feeling glassy and must airdash; so I cannot prepone our next timepass; do hope you will not think me a badmash.

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Nepal - from Wikipedia - in English - ne-PAWL; in Nepali: नेपाल [neˈpal] (you can hear both at Wikipedia) - so it look like the Aussies are closer to the native pronunciation.

I have to go with jayles - what exactly is 'superior' pronunciation? - is the southern English of pronunciation of grass etc /ɡrɑːs/ (as in arse) superior to northern English /ɡræs/ (as in ass)?

Is the RP and southern English pronunciation of poor as 'paw' superior to the Scottish 'pooer'?

Is a Dubliner's pronunciation inferior because he pronounces the u in Dublin more like the vowel sound in book than that in buck?

Of course not, it's all subjective. You prefer what you're used to, that's all.

Standard British pronunciation (which in British dictionaries tends to mean Southern English) largely comes from one dialect of Middle English (Central or East Midland) getting lucky by being in the right place at the right time - Elizabethan London.

Remember GBS's comment:

"It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him"

Perhaps we need to extend it to include other members of the English-speaking family as well.

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The usual BE pronunciation of 'debut' is 'daybyoo'. There's no need to imitate the French pronunciation when the word has been in the language long enough.
Americans strain to say 'vaLAY' for valet, centuries after the word entered the language.

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@HS You are mistaken in your deductions. I just never watch cricket at all, TV or live, alhough "footie" is another matter. The pron just does not bother me - not even "chintz" for "chance" - there are after all more weighty matters in life - (global warming and nuclear waste spring to mind) - and having worked in an Aussie-owned multinational one learns to go with the flow if you wish to fit in and keep your job.

Debut is interesting as "dayboo" is actually closer to the French pronunciation I think (my French is very poor), - evidement le pronunciation en Australie est superieur.

In practice I think the footie commentators at the World Cup did qute a good job in getting out all those names like Ma'a Nonu at speed, whether or not the pron was good.

What exactly is the "correct" pron for Nepal?

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@jayles

You have obviously never watched a TV broadcast of a rugby or cricket match with Aussie commentators.

Fingernails on chalkboards do not even come close. :-))

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I sit corrected - although the notion that someone's pron could be "superior" is perhaps inherently flawed.

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Just one more thing: in my life I encounter various Sanskrit terminology almost every day, and I'm pretty sure the pron is anglicized, but so what if we are in an "officially-English" speaking country: words like Ahimsa, Ardha Chandrasana, Supta Baddha Konasana, Sukhasana, Surya Namaskara, Veerasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana. These are very much part of my normal daily "English" word-bank. Some show spikes over the last decade or so on Ngrams, and numerous hits on Google. Quite whether they are "English" words yet is a moot point.

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@jayles

Just to be clear; my question was not intended as a criticism of those who are not native English speakers.
It was more of a dig at our antipodean cousins. :)
In the case of Indian cricket commentators, their pronunciation is normally far superior to that of their Aussie, Kiwi, and in some cases English counterparts.

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@jayles - I don't think HS's remarks were so much about the 'Indian' as the 'Antipodean' commentator, as the examples of he gives of the 'Indian' commentator are all in fact standard British English, or at least they are the same as my English, and of the pronunciation given in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary - whereas the ones he give as 'your', such as Tendulkar with "your hard ‘u’ (as in dull)" and Nepal with "your "‘pal’ " were presumably the 'Antipodean's' pronunciation.

My reading was that he was talking about differences amongst different strands of native speakers, not foreign learners.

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Perhaps I should outline one technique which over time tends to improve pronunciation awareness. Basically one needs to force the situation where the listener doesn't just gloss over or pretend to understand the badly pronounced bits; but instead interrupts with "what?", thus forcing a correction. I arrange this in class by getting students of different nationalities to explain stuff (like news articles) to each other, by demanding the listener take notes so that they can later re-explain it all to yet-another student - a sort of Chinese whispers approach. This does up their pronunciation skills, but you need heaps of it, hours and hours to imbed the (hopefully improved) output, and all the time the teacher needs to "hot" correct.
And lastly, try learning to say Uttar Pradesh properly yourself.

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"trailing scwa." SB trailing schwa - as in "You speak-e to my wif-e; I kill-e you"

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As a matter of fact, over the past few years I have had several students from India and Ceylon, some with Gujurati as their first tongue, some with Tamil, and other "Indian" languages. Generally they need to pass and IELTS English test with a score of at least 7.5 (minimum 7.0) in order to work professionally as a nurse or whatever or proceed with a Masters. One major hurdle is to develop an accent that will get them at least 7.0 in the speaking test. Often in class I am going "Pardon? What?" because I don't immediately understand, so to my mind there is an issue.
Against this I freely acknowledge that there are probably far, far more people speaking English on a daily basis in Indian than there are in England, Canada, and other dominions put together, so one can hardly insist that "English-as-she-is-spoke" is the norm; it is just a matter of what the examiners will accept and that is not altogether clear either.
As for correcting an "Indian" accent, well, that's just as difficult as any other, be it Japanese, Chinese,Vietnamese,Thai or whatever. The L1 habits are hard to break. Even if (as one student asserts) they practice in front of the mirror every day before breakfast, they slide back in the heat of a conversation. My own view is that once you are past your teens, you are pushing shit uphill to master "foreign" pronunciation features. For myself I find a palatalized Russian "R" between two vowels very difficult despite decades of practice.
So the aim is not to produce a 100% Oxbridge accent, simply to hit some of the most confusing features and focus on those. Usually this comes down to "th", "w" and sometimes "L vs R", but essentially every L1 potentially brings a new set of issues. So with Koreans work on "F vs P", "V vs B" all the time; with Mandarin and Cantonese, focus on enunciating the final consonant, almost Sicilian style with a trailing scwa.
Frankly I haven't yet sussed out what to focus on with Gujurati-speakers and it's been three or four years now, so unless you've got some fantastic solution (pray tell), I think correcting is a waste of time; unless of course they ask for it. Despite all this right now I have just five days left to help someone with a strong Gujurati accent before they take their exam. HELP! I sense yet another failure in my life looming.
Finally on a politically correct note: The British Raj => the British occupation; The Indian Mutiny => the first revolution; curry is NOT a word in any of the languages native to the the sub-continent; the people of India were in fact civilized and had been so for thousands of years, even before the British arrived.

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@WW
PCNSN = Politically Correct Nanny State Nazis

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My favourite dictionary (Oxford Advanced Learner's) defines 'politically correct' as:

'used to describe language or behaviour that deliberately tries to avoid offending particular groups of people'

which seems innocent enough to me, and I remember when it was first used it was generally considered a positive thing. I wonder when it started to be used pejoratively.

Who, incidentally, are the PCNSN?

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@jayles
As WW will confirm, as I am a pedantic old fart, I rarely need guidance.
Mana, whether or not it be from heaven, doesn't really help.

Let's not get into a discussion on the PC world. I am almost certain to raise the ire of the PCNSN.

:-))

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@HS Given the PC world in which we live, one would try not to give offence, which usually means pronouncing these things as close a possible to the original. In your case let people with mana be your guide.

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I'm actually surprised this item was published.
I submitted what I thought was a far more interesting question about the same time as this one and it has yet to appear. :-(

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@WW
"But much more important - how did you manage to get bullet points into your question?"

I'm not quite sure. I don't recall using them when I entered the post.

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As regards names, I think you should try and get as close as possible to the native language. It's ironic, but only now he's an ex-president are the British media getting Sarkosy's name right (i.e not SarkOHsy).

But with ordinary words it's different. Australians and New Zealanders have different sounds for certain vowels, and if these are affecting the first two examples, they should stick with what's natural for them.

But much more important - how did you manage to get bullet points into your question?

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Pronounce it your own way without discussing it.

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