13 April 2009


My former colleague at NIE in Singapore, Ludwig Tan, has sent me some splendid photographs that are relevant for pronunciation, and he has given me permission to use some of them in my blogs. Have a look at the sign below, advertising a shuttle bus operating in the centre of Singapore:
Notice that shuttle bus in the message is spelt as shutter bus below the orange image on the left. How can this spelling error occur?

In Singapore, an /l/ that occurs at the end of a word (a "dark" /l/) tends to be pronounced as a vowel, or "vocalised". We call this "L-vocalisation". The process is actually quite common in varieties of English around the world, and it is found for example in Estuary English, the style of pronunciation that is supposedly influenced by London English and seems to be spreading throughout Britain.

In Singapore, L-vocalisation is particularly common, and sometimes the final /l/ is omitted entirely, so school can be pronounced as /skuː/. Similarly, little and litter may sound the same, and, as we see above, shuttle may sound like shutter, with the result that some writers confuse the two words.

Does L-vocalisation occur in Brunei? I'm not sure, but my feeling is it is not so widespread, partly because /l/ is a common final sound in Malay (while it does not occur as a final sound in Chinese).