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Sunday, August 03, 2008

English pronunciation

Sony Ericsson K800i

What would you guys do if you happened to encounter an English word that you couldn't pronounce properly? For me, I'd make sure that I turn to my dictionary for help. It's been quite a few years now since I started this habit and I'm glad to say that I can read those weird-looking phonetic signs with relative ease. Nowadays, I have an electronic dictionary installed in my mobile phone and it's so useful and convenient whenever I have problems with the pronunciation of certain English words. And when you have this seemingly geeky habit, you'd discover that a lot of words that you used to think that you're pronouncing correctly are actually terribly wrong!

In Malaysia, we have our own unique (and technically incorrect) way of pronouncing English words. And I'm not talking about Manglish, mind you. What's worse is that even those teachers specializing in the English subject can commit a big mistake in this particular area. But who the heck cares, right? Malaysian students just accept everything that their teachers feed them without even bothering to analyse whether the things they say are true or otherwise.

Here are some common English words and how most Malaysians read them:

  • their
    Malaysians generally read it as thee-ya. Yes, even your teachers taught you so! But could you please take the trouble to look into your Oxford or any English dictionary that you have and you'll be amazed to find that the phonetic signs for this word is similar to the word there. So there you have it, it's pronounced the same way as the word there, not thee-ya.
  • Wednesday
    Surprise, surprise! You never thought that this word would pop up here, did you? Now how do you read this? I'm sure over 90% of Malaysians that you met read it the way the word is spelled ~ wed-nes-day/wen-nes-day. No? It's wenz-day.
  • question
    Yet another common word that most locals here got it wrong. Some better ones will read it as ques-shen while others (like a few of my secondary school teachers) will read it as ques-tian (similar to the Chinese character 电). And the correct pronunciation? ques-chen.
  • Christian
    Same theory as above: not chris-tian, but chris-chen.
  • Protestant
    Not prou-tes (as in testimonial)-tant, but pra-tes (as in greatest)-tant
  • Reformation
    Not ri-fo(r)-mei-shen, but re (as in remedy)-fe(r)-mei-shen.
  • debt
    Pronounced as det, not debt.
  • doubt
    Silent b too, hence daut.
  • receipt
    In this case, the p is silent, hence ri-sit.
  • karaoke
    Not ka-ra-o-kay, but ca (as in carry)-ri-o-ki.
  • procedure
    An overwhelming majority of school teachers and professors (yes, especially those teaching physics/chemistry/biology) got this wrong, not to say Malaysians as a whole. It's not prou-si-dear for goodness sake, but pre (e as in water)-si-jer.
  • penis
    I can't believe I'm actually typing this word on my blog! Jokes aside, it's not read as pe (as in penalty)-nis, but pi-nes (as in harness).
  • photography, geography, geometry, democracy, biology, etc
    Malaysians tend to read these words the way they read their counterparts in the Malay language. So no... Not foe-toe-gra-fi, but fe (as in fern)-ta-gre (e as in water)-fi; not geo-gra-fi, but gia-gre-fi; not geo-me (as in member)-tri, but gia-me (as in merge)-tri; not de-mo-kra-si, but di-ma-kre-si; and bla bla bla.

So... Have you all been pronouncing these words correctly? Any more words to share? ;)

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Books; dinner at Winter Warmers Coffee & Tea House, Gurney Plaza

Bought some books from MPH book store during its big sale. Before somebody starts questioning me why I bought a book on Islam (since there's an unfounded paranoia of Islam among the Malaysian Chinese populace), I shall take this initiative to defend my move. While I vehemently disagree with the atrocities perpetrated by its followers in the name of God and religion (i.e. jihad in the wrong sense) throughout the course of history, I appreciate the contributions of progressive Muslims for the sake of humanity. After all, the Muslims built marvellous monuments such as the exquisite Taj Mahal and Istanbul's Blue Mosque which we all get to admire today. Even the Europeans incorporated the pointed arch designs of Islamic architecture into what would become the Gothic architectural style during the Middle Ages.

That night, I had my dinner at Gurney Plaza's Winter Warmers Coffee & Tea House. It's decorated like a traditional English tea house with floral wallpapers and frilly white window lace, making it look remarkably different from the cafés beside it. I ordered a set dinner and my, I absolutely love my Veggie Cheese Bake! Tried their lavender cheesecake and lavender milkshake too out of plain curiosity. :P


day-dreamer said...

When I encounter words that I don't know how to pronounce, I normally turn to my friends first. If they too dunno, then I check dictionary or Google for the right pronunciation. More of the latter though, because I don't quite know the phonetic thingy in dictionaries.

Well, I'm proud to say I know the right pronunciation for most of the words in your list, but sometimes we still have to read it the wrong way because some people dunno it if we read it right!

And yeah I agree, some English teachers' pronunciation sucks. I remembered my Form 1 English teacher reading "fiancé" as "fi-an-see". OMG! @.@

kyh said...

5 chups!

Well done! But it seems like the environment forces you to walk the wrong path, ya? :P

Can't totally rely on those so-called English teachers. Dictionary is our best friend here! ;)

angeles said...

actually hor... i dont agree with the way the english/american pronounce karaoke!! ewww!!

kyh said...

3 chups!

Haha... Our version of karaoke sounds nicer right? :P

zewt said...

now... how do you pronounce... schedule? hehehe... said...

actually, it has a lot to do with where u're at - different places have different pronounciation. :) even simple words like dance, yoghurt, yeah, are pronounced differently in different states in Australia. there is no right or wrong to language.

jemima said...

I agree with ehon. :)

Aussie pronunciation, british pronunciation, american pronunciation.. they can all differ.

kyh said...

zewt: Normally, I'll read it the American way, i.e. skae-jul instead of shae-dyul. ;) There's a distinction between accent and pronunciation, though the boundary is somewhat vague. But what I'm trying to say is that, pronunciation is something that's been standardized even though there might be variants, but those that drift too far from the one deemed as the standard will be considered as incorrect.

Take the word Chinese as an example. We all know that it should be read as chai-niz instead of chi-niz, right?

If it's like what you said, that means you do agree that Manglish/Singlish with the infamous lah is acceptable in the English language? ;)

Jemima: Please read my reply to his comment. :)

khengsiong said...

Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Karaoke is a Japanese word, and I pronounce it in Japanese way...

Recently I wrote a post on standard Mandarin. Your post is about standard English. But remember that Oxford English is not the only standard form.

How do you pronounce 'either' and 'neither'?

khengsiong said...

BTW, I do write standard English in my post, though I may use some Manglish/Singlish words in the comments.

When I was in the U.S. some years ago, I tried very hard to speak as the locals did.

kyh said...

Aiya... I'm talking about English, not Japanese. :P

Let's take an example. There are a lot of French loanwords in English, but most of their pronunciations have been anglicized to better suit the native English speakers.

By the way, Oxford dictionaries did state both British and American pronunciations. As for the words either and neither, I use both British and American pronunciations interchangeably according to my mood. :P

Doreen said...

Yeah, I still got caught by "Wednesday" quite often.

Anonymous said...

"What would you guys do if you happened to encounter an English word that you couldn't pronounce properly? "

I ask my husband and if neither of us can pronounce it, then it doesn't exist! :D

Funny thing is, I don't have a French accent in English and don't have problem pronouncing words most French can't. But I've been in Canada for a while...

In Chinese, I can't do the 日(ri) properly though :$

claudie said...

I can't say anything about english accent because as many frenches i have a bad one! But I just laugh when I hear famous politic people here speaking english! Catastrophe!

kyh said...

Doreen: You know what... I just discovered its correct pronunciation quite recently. :P

Zhu: LOL... That's funny! :D

Living in an English-speaking environment did help you a lot. ;)

I thought that's even easier than pronouncing those nasal vowels in French! What the heck am I talking about... You're French! :x

claudie: I know the French people tend to pronounce the as ze, true? :P

GMG said...

Hi Kyh! Finally I found some time to enjoy your excellent blog…
Great pronunciation lesson! It's amazing how variable the same language may be... ;)
Many thanks for your comments on Blogtrotter, now at the second and last post on MoMA! Hope you enjoy and wish you a great week and a nice holiday, in case you have the chance to profit from it! ;))

kyh said...

Hey, thanks for dropping by despite your tight schedule! ;)

I'm very busy as well too! :(

GMG said...

Hi Kyh! 2008.08.08 is a very special day for Blogtrotter. So, before I start commemorating, let me just tell you how much I appreciate your comments on my blogs! Thanks a lot!
Have a great day and a wonderful weekend!

Chen said...

wah, u so canggih..
carrying an electronic dictionary with u :)

ca-ri-o-ki sounds so Eeeeeeeeeeee...
i guess most of the malaysians don't understand what is ca-ri-o-ki :P

English is so complicated.
Hence it is easier to communicate using chinese language. LOL

C K said...

Oh... don't even mention to me about pronouncing English words....

Just realised that 'ear' is not pronounced as 'year' but literally 'ear', which sounds like 'air'...

kyh said...

GMG: You're welcome! ;)

Chen: Electronic dictionary in my mobile phone. ;)

To think again, you'll be considered as a weirdo if you do pronounce that way in Malaysia! :P

C K: Is it? Now I have to do a checking on it...

RennyBA said...

I was in Malaysia more than 10 years ago - quite exotic for a Norwegian you know - should have red this post before I went :lol:

Wishing you a great end to your week!

claudie said...

When you will have time you should have a look on my blog where a surprise waits you...

_butt said...

interesting post! including the comments. care to add mine? :-)

Salon. Place to get your haircut and stuff. We Malaysians prouuudddly pronounced it as Sa-loon. me included, until I started watching western soaps which pronounced it rather differently.

Saloon is mostly associated with bars/pubs. I wondered how we got that in the first place.

kyh said...

RennyBA: Ah... I wasn't even computer literate back then! :P

claudie: That was so sweet of you! Merci beaucoup! ;)

_butt: You're free to share your thoughts here... No problem! ;)

Luckily I got the pronunciation of that word right, though I didn't have the faintest idea of the difference between a salon and a saloon prior to this. :P

Anonymous said...

Ha, ha! And I thought only my countrymen were butchering the Queen's English. :-)

kyh said...

I guess all non-native English speakers are prone to that! :P

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