Sunday, March 16, 2014

Can't believe it's been a year since my last post.

Wanted to share this link that was in this week's Word a Day weekly compendium. (if you aren't getting Word-A-Day see

"8 pronunciation errors that made the English language what it is today" (the Guardian 11 March 2014)

The article discusses 8 different types of pronunciation errors that have changed our language.
1. rebracketing - eg "a norange" to "an orange"
2. metathesis - sound swapping eg waps to wasp, aks to ask (and in some dialects, back to aks)
3. syncope - dropping pronunciation of letters eg krism's for Christmas, Woden's Day to Wednesday to "wensday"
4. epenthesis - inserting sounds that aren't there (to make it easier to pronounce) eg empty (originally emty) or "hampster" for hamster
5. velarisation - L after a vowel changing to a W eg walk, talk to wawk and tawk
6. affrication - changing ty before a vowel to tch eg tune from "tyune" to "tchune"
7. folk etymology - changing a new word to one that makes sense (sort of) in our familiar language eg crawfish from French √©crevisse (which has nothing to do with fish)
8. spelling pronunciation - saying it like it looks eg pronouncing the L in balm; sometimes this reverses syncope but often puts a letter in that wasn't there in the first place

Some of these mispronunciations became the norm before the spelling was standardized, others after. We know about the former only through the work of word historians (who knew bird used to be brid?). The latter contribute to the confusion of English spelling. Note in #4 the first example empty changed before the spelling was standardized, hamster afterwards; the second example in #3, Wednesday, changed both before and after.

I like this statement in paragraph 4:  "Error is the engine of language change, and today's mistake could be tomorrow's vigorously defended norm." 


  1. I almost turfed you off my Following list. Do this monthly. It is a great blog.

  2. Speaking an orange, we all know the rule, a before a consonant but an before a vowel to make it easier to say. But explain to some who ought to know better that it is before a consonant SOUND or a vowel SOUND. Hence a snake but an s.

  3. Here is an explanation of the pronunciation of the letters of the English alphabet.