Monday, August 31, 2015

A ‘secant’ look at mispronunciation

Clement Imbert logo

Mark Fraser


IN A previous article I gave several

examples of the ways in which we

mispronounce words by addition,

substitution or transposition of letters

and often misspell them in writing as

well. There are so many words on which

we commit this butchery that several other

examples warrant a second article, if

not more.

The word “second”, the fifth to last

word in the paragraph above, is as good

an example as any with which to start.

The “d” is often replaced (substituted) by

a “t” and very often the “o” is pronounced

as an “a” instead of a soft “u” to give “secant”,

which is a proper English term in

trigonometry with a completely different

meaning.

Many women with fibroids have complained

about their “friboids”, casually

transposing the letter “r” without compunction.

Others complain about a “fresh

cole” and “hot” their “corffee” in their

“orffice” hoping to soothe the effects of

the cold, adding an “r” to the pronunciation

of “coffee” and “office”.

I have bought shrimps from roadside

vendors and some have assured me that

their “strimps” were fresh despite the fact

that in many cases the word was spelt correctly

on their display boards.

Many vendors expect clients or prospective

buyers to bargain, to request a

reduction in, or subtraction from, their

initial quoted price. Many however insist

that their price is fixed, claiming

that they could not “substract” anything,

an example of modification by addition,

which is rather ironical, considering that

some people seem to see the need to add

to, rather than subtract from, “subtract”.

Another transformation that I have

heard is the addition of an “i” before the

“e” in the word “student” to get “studient”

which is even more ironical when said by

students themselves, at the university, of

all places, believe it or not.

For many years, particularly in the

1970s and 1980s, live wrestling was very

popular in Trinidad, due mainly to the

success in the ring of world acclaimed local

wrestler Ray Apollon and his acumen

as a promoter. He brought well-known

international wrestlers such as Victor

Jovica and Abdullah the Butcher to Trinidad

and also had a close relationship with

the famous Indian wrestler, actor, director

and producer, Dara Singh. Abdullah

was notorious for his savagery and deep

scars, gouges almost, on his bald “plate”,

a mispronunciation of “pate” so often

heard locally.

Apollon and Abdullah were both

famous, or rather infamous, for

their vicious use of the head

butt, with which they often

knocked out opponents cold. Interestingly

the conjunction “but” is properly pronounced

by Trinidadians but for some

unknown reason, at least to me, the word

“butt” is pronounced “boot” to rhyme

with “foot”. Actually the term “head

butt” is tautologous—the word “head”

is redundant—as humans (and cows and

goats for that matter) butt with nothing

but their heads.

Wrestling was so big in Trinidad at

the time that Ric Flair, probably the best

known wrestler in the world at the time,

was defeated by Jovica in Trinidad, in

1983, for a version of the World Heavyweight

Wrestling Championship which

Flair held. The decision, however, was

soon reversed due to an alleged infraction

by Jovica.

I got to know Apollon fairly well as he

had property, which he visited frequently,

not far from where I lived. Although at

the time I lived in Sangre Grande, about

50 kilometres (over 30 miles) from where

these matches took place, I went to see

many of these “wrastlers” as some of my

friends called them.

The mention of Sangre Grande brings

to mind how often the name of this town

is mispronounced. The name is Spanish,

like San Juan, the other town which suffers

more mispronunciation than any

other in Trinidad and Tobago.

Sangre Grande is correctly pronounced

“Sangray Granday”. One can accept

the somewhat anglicised pronunciation

“Sangri Grandi”, whereby the “e” in

both words is pronounced as an “i”, but,

at least, the “gr” in the first word should

be pronounced and not substituted by a

“d” as in “Sandi”, which is the pronunciation

most commonly heard. Admittedly

“Sandi” rolls off the tongue more

instinctively as it rhymes “better” with

“Grandi”, both ending in “di”. I hope

readers forgive me for being a bit sensitive

about this as it is the town of my

youth. I am even more sensitive about

the mispronunciation and misspelling

of people’s names as I suffer from this all

the time.

As many people know, my last name,

Imbert, is French and is properly pronounced

“Ehbeer”. Most times when I

tell people my last name, pronouncing

it correctly, I also spell it to make sure

they get it right. All too often I get the response

“you mean Imbert”, whereby the

“m” and “t” are pronounced in an anglicised

version. I usually readily compromise

and accept “Imbeer”, with the “m”

but I insist that the “t” is silent. After

some explanation regarding its French

pronunciation most people get it right.

Most people know how to correctly pronounce

French surnames found in Trinidad

with silent endings like Maingot and

De Verteuil as well as places like Sans

Souci and Morvant, so there should be no

problem with “Imbert” if they hear the

correct thing often enough.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain too

much because, after all, the

pronunciation of my name

is only anglicised whereas

certain names in Trinidad are routinely

changed, such as the names Bernard and

Benjamin, which become Bennard and

Benjiman respectively to many people;

Maloney becomes Meloney to some who

clearly have a preference for “e” over “a”.

The above mispronunciations are just

a few examples and may be considered

grievous but they are certainly not “grevious”

and it would be just as bad to refer

to them as “mispronounciations”, with

the unnecessary, erroneous, but frequent,

addition of an extra “o”.

* Clément Imbert is Professor of Materials

and Manufacturing in UWI’s Faculty

of Engineering at St Augustine