Glass Houses and Stones

captureI’m a total CBC fangirl, but nonetheless, on a regular basis you can find me raging out at my radio,  verbalizing my disagreement with some host or guest, much to the entertainment/chagrin of my partner. Saturday’s episode of Day Six was one such occasion. Host Brent Bambury interviewed Ross and Kathy Petras on their new book You’re Saying it Wrong: A Pronunciation Guide to the 150 Most Commonly Mispronounced Words and Their Tangled Histories of Misuse.

Ugh. I had a couple of issues with this piece. (I haven’t read the book! I’m only reacting to the interview.)

I am not a huge fan of prescriptivism, language pedantry and masquerading style preferences as rules of right vs. wrong. (I’ve written about them before; in other places they’ve written about it much more extensively than I have.) I generally don’t get on a high horse about language use. But when you write a book on pronunciation called You’re Saying it Wrong, well, all bets are off. You’ve opened yourself up for some language snarking.

The verb is “pronounce” and the noun is “pronunciation”. Both Brent Bambury and Ross Petras used the non-words “pronounciation” and “mispronounciaion” on several occasion during the interview.

I know  “pronounciation” is far from uncommon; I’ve heard it quite a bit, from speakers of a variety of backgrounds (proficient/less proficient in English, highly educated/ lower education, English teacher/non-teacher). I’ve actually had someone on Twitter argue that it was becoming acceptable use. I, however, don’t think it’s quite at that point yet.  I maintain that this word was being pronounced incorrectly on a show about correct pronunciation and is therefore extremely ironic. (It’s also an awesome example of Muphry’s Law!)

I find these types of books and the interviews about them quite frustrating. It’s an example of the way of thinking that promotes the idea that language is the domain of all; if you can speak it, then you’re an expert in it, and we have to listen to your opinions on it. t’s mentioned in the interview that the authors aren’t linguists (as if you couldn’t tell!).

So what happens is that they talk about a bunch of random examples of things that peeve them, and talk about them as if they’re these special, mysterious things that are totally weird and inexplicable, as opposed to presenting them as the known linguistic phenomena they are.

They bring up the example of “spitting images” vs. “spit and images”, for example. This isn’t some random bizarre thing; this evolution of the words of an idiomatic phrase into something that sounds very similar is known as an eggcorn. There are tons of them, and they’re really interesting (and often entertaining) to examine. Like, guys, it’s a thing already.  You guys just don’t really know much about language, so you don’t know that (or at the very least don’t mention it in the interview).

In an (interview on a) book on pronunciation of words, you could get into so much interesting content. They do mention metathesis, which is great, but there’s so much more.  I’m by no means any type of expert in this area of linguistics but I find the the different classifications of loanwords and their nativization, calquing, phono-semantic matching, eggcorns, and a lot of the other phenomena that influence our pronunciation of words to be completely fascinating. Even just the issue of prescription vs. use is very interesting. But in the interview when this issue comes up–with the word “gif”, which they say that 99% of the population pronounce /gIf/ but apparently the person who invented them says /dZIf/–they just gloss over it and talk about how much of an idiot you sound like if you say /gIf/, avoiding what could be a really interesting discussion about language in use.

I’m kind of disappointed in the CBC for spending so much time talking to these non-experts on air. Like, invite in guests with some knowledge and insight! For example, maybe I own cats, and I observe all the crazy things they do around the house. And maybe I have some opinions on that behaviour and maybe even write a book on those opinions. But you’re not going to invite me in to talk on the radio as an expert on animal behaviour, are you?

Here’s one example from the CBC of how to talk about language. Find an actual expert, and have them talk about the phenomena, bringing in social, historical and phonological points of note. The only thing missing from that piece is any type of sound recording/samples.

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Glass Houses and Stones

  1. Thanks for this rant. I nodded along with disapproval. It reminds me of those ‘English is funny’ type poems with the tons of quirky spellings, pronunciations, and conjugations that the average person thinks are completely random, but we know have an interesting etymology (e.g. go / went). I hate these shares with me because I teach language… as if I will laugh along. HA HA. Cough.

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