Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Is THAT How You Say" 4

I continue to make strange (and sometimes dubious) discoveries in how the English language is to be spoken, at least according to the cultured-sounding voices who read my audio-books at me. Further to the previous three installments...

Read between the lines, English!
Plaster—It was with feelings of disbelief that I recorded in the notebook I keep in my car the pronunciation "PLAY-ster," when I heard Nadia May use it in the sense of a remedy applied to a wound. This simply puts the pronunciation of any English word out of the guessing-range of anyone, including a native speaker, who has only analogy to similar-looking words to go by. I mean, I have long since reconciled my mind to the counter-intuitive fact that "pasty" (the British pie sort of thing) rhymes not with "tasty" and "hasty," but with "nasty." And now I'm expected to believe that "plaster" rhymes not with "faster" but with "baster." I consulted my father about this, and he is as incredulous as I was. Yet I am quite sure this is what I heard Nadia May say. Not that she is necessarily to be trusted. After all, she pronounces her own name "NAY-dee-a."

Paroxysm—Again, it is to Nadia May that I owe my new understanding of how this word is meant to be said. Not sure that I've heard any American use it conversationally, I have nevertheless gathered (perhaps from my own imagination) that the word is pronounced like "PAIR-ox-ism." But now I must consider the possibility that it should sound like "pa-ROCKS-ism." I'm too jaded from this long list of linguistic surprises to feel a paroxysm (of either laughter or despair) coming on.

Affianced—All along I have heard this word in my head, when I have seen it in print, with stress on the first syllable and a somewhat nasal, Frenchified vowel in the third. I suppose this is another example of my guessing, without having heard any credible interpreter declaim the word, with nothing to go by but the analogy to such words as "fiancĂ©." Proving once again that analogy is no friend to one who would derive the pronunciation of an English word from its spelling, I have heard a series of British audio-book readers (most recently Simon Prebble) stress the second syllable, with a "long I" (as in "eye") in it: "af-FI-anced."

Scone—Whenever I have heard this word uttered aloud by an English speaker from England, it has been pronounced with a short O, rhyming with "gone." The English lady who served me the only "British high tea" I have ever enjoyed (and I enjoyed it hugely) also informed me, very emphatically, that the word is "SKAWN" as in don, yon, and put-upon. And yet I challenge you to try this pronunciation when ordering a scone with your coffee at Panera Bread Company. The barista will give you a funny look and then suggest, with an expression ranging from dawning comprehension to polite condescension, that you might have meant "SKOHN" as in bone, cone, and forever alone. This poem would hardly be so devastatingly on-target if the ending "-one" didn't have at least three too many possible pronunciations, so a little confusion on this should perhaps be expected.

1 comment:

Robin D Fish Jr said...

Since I posted this, I've spotted the spelling "plaister," which seems to be an older spelling of "plaster" in the British sense of the word. This may also account for the pronunciation I recorded here.