In the English language there are many dialects. These dialects have created some wide spread discussions on the pronunciation of many common words. The topic was even famously satirized by Fred Astaire, in the Ira Gershwin work; Let’s call the whole thing off! The words recited in this quirky song are only a few of the well known words that have disputed pronunciations. Upon further examination of the disputed words, it becomes clear that many of the arguments lie in the pronunciation of a specific vowel sound within the word. These distinctions can be attributed to many things, not least of which being geographic location.
The words /disputed/ and /pronunciation/ themselves have quite ambiguous pronunciations. The first syllable in /disputed/ is often pronounced [dIs-], but is also commonly pronounced [dәs-]. Here, the speaker is choosing either the high-front vowel [I] or the middle [ә]. This distinction between [I] and [ә] is also present in the pronunciation of /vanilla/. Many speakers will pronounce the word [vanәla], while others will choose to say [vanIla]. The word /pronunciation/ is said both [pron^nsiejʃn] and [pronaunsiejʃn]. Slight distinctions can also be made between the use of the suffux [-ʃn] or [-ʃun]; this variation in speech is also evident in the pronunciation of the word /portion/.
The most memorable, and most quoted, piece of Gershwin’s work is the distinctions between the pronunciations of the words /tomato/ and /potato/. Both undergo the same transformation. The speaker chooses between the front-high [ej] or the low-back [a]. The pronunciations [towmejtow/powtejtow] are more commonly found within the
Another common vowel transformation is seen in the words /either/ and /neither/. Here the /-ei-/ is pronounced with the front-high [i] or the low-middle [aj]. Variation seems to be congruent within these two words; that is to say, a speaker is not likely to say [iθɹ̩] and [najθɹ̩]. One of the vowel sounds is more likely to be attributed to both words.
The vowel /a/ also sees variations in its pronunciation; similarly in words like /data/, /gala/, and /patronize/, and also in the words /aunt/. The /a/ is either pronounced [ej] or [æ]. Hence, [dejta], [gejla], and [pejtrәnajz] become [dæta], [gæla], and [pætrәnajz]. The [æ] pronunciation has been attributed more to the
The dispute in pronunciation does not always fall on the vowels. In the word /arctic/ there is a strong disagreement in the pronunciation, or lack there of, of the central /c/. The spelling of the word would suggest the pronunciation [arktIk]. There is an argument, though, that two /k/ sounds should not be voiced so close together; this belief brings on the pronunciation [artIk]. Pronunciation of this consonant would probably remain congruent in /Antarctica/ and when referring to /the arctic/. Another consonant dispute also involves an [i] to [ә] transformation. The words /diabetes/ is often pronounced [dajәbitiz], but has also been known to take the form [dajәbitәs]. Some speakers are also apt to eliminate the nasal [ŋ] from the words /length/ and /strength/. Hence, the pronunciations would alter from [lεŋkθ] and [strεŋkθ], to [lεnθ] and [strεnθ].
Some disputes are caused when sounds are inserted into words where they do not belong. This is evident in the words /athlete/ and /athletic/. Instead of the common pronunciations, [aθlit] and [aθlεtIk], the speaker pronounces the words [aθәlit] and [aθәlεtIk].
It is clear that people develop different methods of speech, and this difference causes disputes in the pronunciation of particular words. These words mentioned here are only selections of the ambiguous pronunciations in the English language. As colloquial dialects, and slang such as Ebonics, permeate deeper into speech there are sure to be many more disputed pronunciations.