Friday, February 13, 2009

Idiosyncratic pronunciations

Kim Hill has long puzzled her listeners by insisting on pronouncing film as "fillum", in the manner of the working-class Irish. Now her fellow Radio New Zealand presenter Kathryn Ryan has come up with another idiosyncratic pronunciation: azma.

In a discussion on respiratory illness this morning, Ryan repeatedly used the American pronunciation for asthma, using a hard “s” – a sound very close to “z” – in place of the soft “s” traditionally favoured by New Zealanders (including the person she was interviewing).

I have never heard this American pronunciation in New Zealand before. It’s hardly a life and death issue, but you have to wonder where these odd ideas come from.

Ryan’s preference for “azma” draws attention to one of the many peculiarities that distinguish British and American-style English. In certain words where we use a soft “s”, such as asthma, the Americans use a hard one. But conversely, in some words where we use the hard form of “s”, the Americans sound it as a soft “s”, so that our “nauseous” becomes their “norshous”, and the names Leslie and Wesley transmute into the quaint-sounding (at least to us) Lesslie and Wessley. It’s not uncommon to hear Americans refer to Elvis Pressley.

To use another Americanism (or should that perhaps be Americanissm?), go figure.


Nicola Young said...

On National Radio this week, one journalist referred to artesian cheeses which I decided must be ones with water washed rinds. It soon became apparent she meant 'artisan' (pretentious word, but at least the meaning is clear). I thought National Radio journalists were taught how to pronounce the English word, or is it just Te Reo that's considered important? They're almost institutionalising the pronunciation of 't' as a 'd': the National Pardy, the Labour Pardy, etc. I accept that the English language is a life one, but surely words should be pronounced so they make sense?

Nicola Young said...

Opps; typo! I meant the English language is a live one! Clumsy typing.