The Pronunciation Unit

The Chorale at Laroque.  We’re limbering up for a Christmas concert, and for one of the numbers, I’ve been put in charge of Pronunciation Studies.

‘Amezzing gress, ’ow sweet zuh soond….’.  Every week, we practise sticking out tongues between our teeth in a thoroughly exaggerated way to get that dreaded ‘th’ sound out of our mouths, but it’s so hard for the French to remember, even harder to do….

I’m not mocking here: I’m all too well aware how difficult it is for us English to get certain sounds right as we mangle the French language in our turn.

How can it be that we’re all born with the same vocal equipment and ears, and yet only a few short years after we first learn to speak, seem unable either to hear or reproduce the sounds and inflections of any other language?  The ‘r’ sound is often especially problematical.

We have a young English friend here. She’s eight, and has been here since she was three.  To our ears, she’s utterly French as she chatters away to her friends, but apparently, if you listen carefully, she gives her origins away.  It’s lucky that most of us, wherever we come from, find that our own language spoken in a less-than-perfect accent can sound both charming, and on occasion, even sexy.

12 thoughts on “The Pronunciation Unit”

    1. Yes, and you’ve probably noticed that many French speakers have been taught American, as opposed to British English. But I don’t mind that the two versions of English are somewhat different. What is it we say? – ‘Two nations divided by a common language’


      1. I can put up with the division; it’s the attempt at a take over which really irritates this grumpy old woman!


    1. I can’t speak for Kathryn. She may mean, as I took her to do, that there are now many expressions/words in English (obviously I can’t think of a single one now I’ve been put on the spot!) which don’t sound -er – English to our ears. Like everything else, they’re a mixed bag. Some really enrich our vocabularies, others sound a bit jarring. But that’s true of home-grown additions too


      1. Sorry Margaret. It was not aimed towards you. Found it a quintisential additude to Americanisms and she left it open to play when she wrote “they are taking over”. Like the relookering thing you have going on there. Must say that even I had a bout of culture shock when I entered the USA this time around. Surounded by Americans, I felt that there was no place to hide. It is, and I am sorry to have to say this, not your langqauge alone!!!!! Being a dynamic thing and sent throughout the world during colonialization, bastarisations of the true English were inevitable.


      2. You’re quite right! It’s not ours alone, and it’s inevitable – and largely enriching – that big independent continents such as America and Australasia will develop their language in ways that may be different. It’s straight English absorbed into French that always pulls me up short: but not half as pulled up short as the Académie Française! Till Sunday??


  1. What have I started?! I realise that language is dynamic but I enjoy the specificity of correct grammar which is so much more expressive than the casual approach so often employed in the name of “communication” when in fact all that it communicates is that the speaker is lazy. I also understand that English has evolved in other parts of the world to which it was exported and that this is inevitable and right. What irritates is when it permeates back here. I cite “train station” and the use of the “z” instead of “s” in words such as rationalise. As I said I’m just a grumpy old woman who also feels slightly embarrassed about what we are doing to other languages, particularly French. I like linguistic difference and would hate to see a time when all language is a homogenous mix.

    Vive la difference (I can’t find accents on my new lap top!)


    1. Yes, ‘train station’ is one of my pet hates too, but I don’t know where it comes from. And the ‘z’ thingy? Blame Word spellchecker! If you don’t keep your wits about you, it’s changing ‘colour’ to ‘color’ and all sorts! I don’t think WE’RE doing anything to French. They’re adopting English- style words all by themselves!


  2. Wouldn’t it seem strange if all of us, for the sake of purisim, went back to the english of Shakespeare? Don’t find changes lazy nor am I embarassed by the changes in the French language because of English. Vive la difference and united we stand. Love languages, love the differences and love the crossovers. Sorry Margeret, we are off to the coast for a few days starting Saturday. The week after is a 3 footer, sorry for the lazy approach to that. See you soon though.


    1. To be fair Sue, I don’t think any of us in this discussion wants a static language. And I agree, it changes all the time, even while we think we’re watching it. How dated a novel written in the ’60’s seems – I mean in this instance from a language perspective. And it seems we agree too that we love the differences in language between cultures. All the more reason not to encourage – say – American OR Englsih spellings, where they are different, to become the norm everywhere. Sorry you won’t be there Sunday. And the week after? 3 ***? Not a chance!


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