Wednesday, June 09, 2010

How you say—?

Tongued pickles

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?

How say you? Does “Dalai Lama” come out as “Dolly Lama” when you say it? How about Salvador Dali's name? I think I say all of them differently.

But I'm kind of weird when it comes to language. As is that colleague of mine.


Ray said...

'Harry' rhymes with 'Barry' or 'parry', or even 'tarry'.

Proper people (meaning, of course, we Brits), pronounce Dalai such that it rhymes with 'ally'. (We also place our full stops *after* the closing quote, where it rightly belongs in this context.)

Salvador's last name we pronounce as daahli, that is with an elongated 'a' as when the doctor asks you to open your mouth wide and say "ah".

Best not to even mention your atrocious mangling of Van Gogh's name.

I believe, though, that we are probably all in agreement that the word 'bush' rhymes with 'idiot'.

Ray said...

Oh, and of course 'Dolly' comes nowhere near the pronunciation of either Dalai or Dali. It rhymes nicely with holly and polly, by golly!

The Ridger, FCD said...

I confess, they do for me, unless I'm being extra careful or pretentious with Dali.

Anonymous said...

Um, Ray? Everyone would agree that "Harry" rhymes with "Barry", "parry", and "tarry". You say that like it clears anything up.

Anonymous said...

Dolly Dali Dalai?

For me, merry, Mary, marry.

Worse, that big ugly dipthong-r shows up in more places for me than for anyone else I know.

You know what sound alike?
An a large mammal.
An alcoholic beverage.
A funeral thingie.
A brand of (formerly) German pharmaceuticals.


Ray said...


Zeno seemed to be saying that he detected Britishness because the name Harry was not pronounced as 'hairy'. Does this mean you pronounce Barry, parry, and tarry to rhyme with dairy?

Chris said...

Just wandered in here from a comment on Elizabeth Collins' blog, which I came to from PZ Myers' Pharyngula blog.

I spent a third of my youth in Spanish speaking countries (Panama and Venezuela), so I pronounce Salvador Dali with a Caribbean accent. I even do a little roll of the tongue for the "r." But I do not pronounce Dali the same as dalai or dolly.

My new neighbor told me she had trouble nailing my accent. I told her that because I lived in so many places (Army brat, most of the towns in the USA started with the word "Fort") I picked up lots of ways of saying stuff. But it has been made worse in that I listen to podcasts, many from the UK and Australia. (many listed at )

I can now blame podcasts for making me talk funny.

Karen said...

Alas, I have very little ear for pronunciation. I'll use context to determine whether you're talking about Dali, Dalai, or Dolly, and concentrate on the idea(s) of your argument. I expect, then, that I blur the three together when I'm speaking.

John Armstrong said...

Gr, OpenID is screwing up...

I don't, Ray, but those who pronounce "Harry" like that generally do.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Ray: Indeed I do. Harry, Barry, parry, carry, dairy, merry, Mary, marry, sherry, berry, fairy, hairy, wary, very, vary ... all sound alike or so close that I couldn't pick one out.

It's like those Teach Yourself Some Language books that say "a as in cat, not calf". Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it either. The link is to the verb "harry". I've always said (and heard) "Harry" as the British version (New Orleans and California). And "rubbish" I don't think of as particularly British. "Spot on" moreso, but by itself, it would raise any suspicions.