11 July 2011


There is an MRT station in Singapore called Woodleigh, and a former student just wrote to me asking me how it should be pronounced. There seem to be two choices: [wʊdleɪ] or [wʊdli:].

My answer is: it is not important what I think. This is a station in Singapore, not on the London Underground, so it completely irrelevant how I would pronounce it. It is up to Singaporeans to decide.

In fact, this should extend to other place names in Singapore. There is another station called Lavender. Now, how should that be pronounced? I would stress the first syllable: [ˈlævəndə]; but many Singaporeans would stress the second syllable: [læˈvendə]. And if that is how people in Singapore say it, then that is how it is said.

The interesting thing about the Singapore pronunciation of Lavender is that it actually conforms to the usual stress rules of English. If the second syllable ends with two consonants, we would expect it to be stressed. For example, trisyllabic words such semester, disaster, September, December, remember with two consonants at the end of the second syllable are all stressed on the second syllable. With Lavender, Singaporeans are following the rules, as is so often the case.

But for Woodleigh, I don't think there are any rules, so Singaporeans should decide. Or maybe there could be two different pronunciations, both of which are equally correct.