04 November 2010


There is an interesting discussion by John Wells on his Phonetic Blog (here) about the way spelling can influence pronunciation. For example:
  • forehead used to be pronounced as /ˈfɒrɪd/ (so it rhymed with horrid), but now it is usually /ˈfɔːhed/
  • scallop was once /ˈskɒləp/ but now for most people it is /ˈskæləp/
  • falcon used to be /ˈfɔːkən/ but now increasingly it is /ˈfælkən/
  • the 't' in often was once generally silent, but the word seems increasingly to be /ˈɒftən/
The incidence of such "spelling pronunciations" seems to be even greater in places such as Brunei. For example, salmon almost always has an /l/ in it, even though the 'l' is traditionally silent; and subtle generally has a /b/, even though the /b/ would be silent for most people in Britain or the USA.

Another spelling pronunciation I hear very commonly in Brunei is company with /ɒ/ rather than /ʌ/ in the first syllable. In fact, in recordings of undergraduates at UBD, I found that 13 out of 20 have /ɒ/ in the first syllable of this word.

This is not entirely surprising. In fact, the English town Coventry was once pronounced with /ʌ/ in the first syllable but now it generally has /ɒ/; and similarly the /ʌ/ in the first syllable of constable is now /ɒ/ for some speakers.

I suspect that Bruneians are actually at the forefront of linguistic change in the way they pronounce company. In fifty years time, everyone will be saying it that way, except perhaps for a few old-fashioned traditionalists in Britain.