Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pronunciational self delusion

I was having dinner earlier this week with a number of colleagues when the topic got around to pronunciation. After an initial discussion of being laughed at by Americans for our pronunciation of out, the conversation went something like this: A and B are Canadian, and C is British and knows a lot more about phonology than I do.
  • A: Canadian English is the clearest. Even the main US networks are hiring Canadians as anchors or their anchors sound Canadian.
  • B: Clearer than British English you think?
  • C: Oh, yeah.
  • me: Which British English?
  • C: If you could hear the way my brother talks...
  • me: But it just depends what you're used to, doesn't it?
  • C: But Canadians pronounce all the sounds clearly. It must be easier for students learning English to study here.
  • A & B: Sure.
  • me: Come on, how do you say Toronto?
  • A: toe Ron toe
  • me: Really? You don't say Trawna?
  • B: Maybe the younger people do, but not our generation.
Far be it for (OK, from) me to argue, but I just wanna point out that Patrick Corrigan's editorial cartoon in today's Toronto Star has mayor David Miller's bicycle being eaten by a pothole. A street sign in the background says, "Trawna".


Robb said...

"Trawna" seems to be a more regional variant on the city's name. I grew up in the West and always refered to Ontario's capital as "Toronto" and was surprised to hear a Toronto native refer to it as "Taronna."

Then again, in the West, everyone refers to Cow-town as Calgry (dropping the middle vowel).

My wife, who is a mid-Atlantic American, and I were watching some Corner Gas DVDs this week (a Canadian sitcom) and she kept smiling at the pronunciation of "again" and "against" since the vowels are clearer than Standard American (less of a schwa reduction). I told her that I used to talk that way when I first moved to the USA, and she smiled. "Sorry that my country has corrupted your pronunciation."

Corrupted or not, I teach American Pronunciation in an ESL program, and I occasionally highlight differences between Canadian, American, and British (standard) accents. There is no discussion of which is better, or a discussion of differences.

Anonymous said...

@Robb, a surprising number of cities have names that are pronounced quite differently by natives an non-natives. And that's not even counting some of the more off-kilter pronunciations England has.

Michael Stout said...

Thanks Brett,
I really enjoyed this post. Perhaps while you were in Japan you had students ask, "What's the best English to learn?". Sometimes I jokingly tell them Canadian English. So this post made me smile. Of course I don't really believe Canadian English is the clearest.
Also, I'm a native Torontonian and I've never called Toronto Trawna. I say T'rawnoh (well, that's the clostest I can get it without using phonemic script. The only people I've heard call Toronto "Trawna" are people who are not from Toronto. Of course I may have a hearing problem. Anyway, thanks again.

Brett said...

I expect it's a schwa at the end.