Archive for March 15th, 2006

In The Fermily Way

I’m pretty liberal when it comes to the question of how words ought to be pronounced. Provided the listener can apprehend the meaning intended by the speaker, accent, intonation and elocution are a matter of aesthetics. I think it’s perfectly ok to embellish one’s pronunciation of words with local flourishes, even when this deviates from commonly recognised standards.

For instance, it is quite acceptable if someone from South Armagh travels beyond his hummocky confines, and chooses, in the course of a reception with the British High Commissioner in some far-flung clime, to pronounce ‘head’ in the staccato manner to which she is accustomed (sounds like ‘hed’), even when she knows that this will give brief pause for thought among her hosts.

I draw the line, however, at wilful mispronunciation, often involving the introduction of an additional syllable or consonant, where there is neither tradition nor justifiable reason for doing so. This morning I heard an Irish woman give instructions to a Polish woman who had recently joined her catering staff. In general, her speech was intelligible, she was quite articulate, and her accent was relatively neutral, but she repeatedly pronounced ‘familiar’ as ‘fermiliar’, with the first ‘r’ clearly audible.

It set my teeth on edge.

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March 2006