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why some words are so easy to mispronounce (and why that could be a good thing)

Writer : Amanda Cole, Postdoctoral Analysis Fellow (Institute for Analytics and Information Science) Division of Language and Linguistics, College of Essex

In Prime Minister’s Questions on January 19 the SNP chief, Ian Blackford, mispronounced the phrase haemorrhaging as “hae-ma-ge-ring” as a substitute of “hae-ma-re-ging”. To be honest to Blackford, that is truly a surprisingly widespread slip of the tongue and his that means was completely clear. However why did these two syllables change locations like that? And why are there different phrases that folks appear to slide up on, typically with humorous impact?

Blackford’s journey over the phrase “haemorrhaging” is a typical course of noticed by linguists the place entire syllables, or components of them, might be swapped. This course of known as metathesis by linguists.

That is significantly widespread when an individual is talking shortly or beneath stress. After all, public talking in entrance of your political friends and rivals on nationwide broadcast TV is the proper setting for this.

What occurred right here?

In English, syllable swapping generally occurs when components of various phrases change locations. For instance, an individual would possibly say: “I’ve a half-warmed fish in my thoughts” for “half-formed want”. This is named a Spoonerism, after the 19th-century clergyman and educational William Archibald Spooner, whose nervous behavior of transposing syllables earned him his place within the historical past of linguistics.

Swapping of sounds is extra widespread than it might sound. Consonant swapping as in “hae-ma-ge-ring” is present in many languages, equivalent to Tagalog within the Philippines, Amharic in Ethiopia and Quechua in components of South America.

It’s additionally one thing that’s performed on in language video games and jokes. Shel Silverstein’s poetry ebook “Runny Babbit” is a good instance of playful syllable swapping for comical impact.

Freudian slip or easy mistake?

Typically these slips of the tongue have unlucky results. A stream of broadcasters have slipped up on nationwide TV and radio over the title of Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt and have changed his surname with an analogous sounding, rude phrase. Linguist Patrycja Strycharczuk defined that this phenomenon could happen because the particular person is anticipating an upcoming phrase beginning with an analogous sound (equivalent to “Conservative Celebration” or “Tradition Secretary”). There may be additionally the truth that a impolite phrase is memorable and will by accident pop in.

Somewhat than switching syllables or remoted sounds, typically we could even say an entire completely different phrase that sounds related as a substitute of our meant phrase. These “malopropisms” (from the character Mrs Malaprop in Richard Sheridan’s 18th-century play The Rivals) have lengthy been utilized in literature for comedic impact. In Shakespeare’s A lot Ado About Nothing, Constable Dogberry declares: “Our watch, sir, have certainly comprehended two auspicious individuals” (as a substitute of “apprehended two conspicuous individuals”).

Some more moderen malopropisms are the varied and humorous instances that we had been left questioning if early morning newsreaders and MPs had but to eat once they spoke about “breakfast” as a substitute of “Brexit”.

‘Brexit’: finest begin to the day?

The New Zealand COVID minister, Chris Hipkins, additionally made headlines final yr by suggesting the general public ought to get out and “unfold their legs”. He quickly corrected himself to “stretch” and resignedly (and precisely) bemoaned that the media “would all have enjoyable with him later”.

He dealt with that one nicely.

Many “mispronunciations” are quite common in English. As an example, the pronunciation of “nucular” for “nuclear” with an additional vowel is utilized by some American English audio system (most famously US president, George Bush). In more moderen instances, English audio system, together with Joe Biden, have been heard to consult with the “omnicron” variant of COVID-19 with an extra consonant as a substitute of “omicron” because the “omni” starting is extra acquainted (and omnipresent) in English.

Why ‘mispronounciations’ aren’t simply errors

What are sometimes called “mispronunciations” or “slips of the tongue” aren’t simply embarrassing errors, they may also be language change in motion. Typically mispronunciations are so widespread that they develop into folks’s regular approach of talking. In components of the US folks could also be heard to commonly say “perty” versus “fairly”.

A historic instance is the phrase “apron” which truly comes from the Center English “napron” – which derives from the French naperon (small desk material). Over time, folks turned “a napron” into “an apron”, ensuing within the phrase we all know at the moment.

As well as, typically, what many could consider as “mispronunciations” truly simply displays completely different accents. For lots of of years if no more, and since Outdated English, some folks have mentioned “-ing” on the top of phrases equivalent to “operating”, “leaping”, “talking”, and others have mentioned “-in”. This latter pronunciation might be heard in English dialects spoken all all over the world and is commonly thought of a mistake, when that is merely not the case.

One other instance is the pronunciation of “movie” as “filem” in some accents which is neither a mistake nor current, because it has appeared within the work of Shakespeare. “Filem” can nonetheless be heard within the speech of English audio system in Scotland and Eire. For a lot of audio system of those dialects, the “l” and “m” sounds aren’t usually pronounced collectively and are separated by a vowel.

Speech “errors” are an incredible useful resource for linguists. They inform us about how folks use and course of language. They’ll additionally typically inform us about how language would possibly change. This poses the query: how many individuals need to commonly “mispronounce” a phrase till we start to contemplate that the brand new pronunciation is simply the common, regular approach of claiming it?

It might be that sooner or later sooner or later, Blackford’s pronunciation of haemorrhaging turns into the norm. Preserve your ears open – the subsequent time you hear a “mispronunciation” could possibly be the start of a brand new phrase within the making.


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