06 August 2010

subtle salmon

A topic I have discussed before is how use of English around the world, including places such as Brunei and Singapore, might be influencing changes that are occurring in English generally. For example, I have suggested that the following may one day become standard usage, and this trend might be hastened by the frequency of occurrence in New Englishes:
no shoes and slippers (see here)
fruits and veggie (see here)
last evening (see here)
These all involve changes in grammar; but pronunciation also evolves over time. One common trend is that spelling can influence the way words are pronounced. For example, when I was young, forehead was pronounced as /fɒrɪd/ (rhyming with horrid), but nowadays it is more commonly said as /fɔ:hed/, reflecting its spelling; and similarly often seems increasingly to be said with a /t/ in the middle, though for me this /t/ is silent.

In this connection, there was an interesting recent discussion about ELF Pronunciation on Language Log (here) (where 'ELF' stands for English as a Lingua Franca), suggesting that /l/ is nowadays commonly pronounced in salmon and also that /b/ occurs in subtle, particularly among non-native speakers of English. I suspect that such new ways of pronouncing these words will become the norm in English quite soon, and it will only be old-fashioned people like me that persist with a silent /l/ and /b/ respectively.

It would be interesting to find out how people in Brunei pronounce salmon and subtle. I predict that few speakers have silent /l/ or /b/ in them. And those speakers who do use spelling pronunciations for these words might feel reassured to know that they are probably at the forefront of a world-wide trend.