Wednesday, June 09, 2010
How you say—?
I heard one of my colleagues tell a student during office hours that he was “spot on.” It made my antennas quiver. Later I caught him using the word “rubbish.” My suspicions grew. Then he mentioned his brother. That tore it.
According to my colleague, his brother was named “Harry,” but when he said it, it did not sound like “hairy.” No, when he said it, it came out this way: /ˈhær.i/
But true-blue Americans say it this way: /ˈher.i/
See the difference? (I guess I really mean “hear.”) You can listen to the corresponding sound clips at the on-line edition of the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
I braced my colleague in the faculty room and demanded to know which of his parents was the British one. He confessed. His father was a son of Albion and the source of the Britishisms that had crept into his American son's manner of speaking. I knew it! (It was either that, or my colleague was excessively fond of PBS rebroadcasts of British comedies.)
I was reminded of such peculiarities of spoken language when reading the comics page this morning. The Frank and Ernest strip gives us an example of three homonyms—or does it?
But I'm kind of weird when it comes to language. As is that colleague of mine.