Pronunciation

Pronunciation

When I moved here, people did not understand me. I guess whoever lives in an area can say that others have an accent, whereas wherever else I have lived my mid-Atlantic way of speech, (so I am told that is how I sound by experts), has been non-descript until then, no problem for anyone.
Boy, was my pride hurt!

People at the store had no idea what I wanted when I asked about pecans.
They pronounce it “puh-CAHNS”. I had heard it pronounced that way many times, but here it is said so breathily on the first syllable that it is barely heard; (they thought that I wanted something that was canned.)

I once referred to a person’s ‘peonies’, and they could not understand that I was referring to the flowers in front of us in their own yard, not until I literally pointed them out.
“Oh, Pe-OH-nies! I had no idea what you were talking about!”
I had used the same vowel sounds, pronounced all of the letters. I had put the accent on the first syllable, but they couldn’t imagine which flower in their yard I had paid a compliment.

(I only accented the wrong syllable and they couldn’t decipher which pink flower I was talking about that was in front of us. Let that sink in.)


I grew up in the Washington, DC area, as I am sure you know by now, and we had people who came from all over America and indeed, all over the world. I had no problem making myself understood to people from ‘the country’ (ten miles away, which is now all suburb), to anyone who knew any English from as far away as  you can get, (without becoming closer again from the other direction), yet I never had a problem making myself understood.

Not that it is only the folks from here that had trouble with my speech, but the daughter-in-law of a friend came down from Long Island with her son and new husband to visit for the holidays. The woman was from Columbia. My friends were New Englanders and the woman thought that was how Americans were supposed to speak, with  “Yankee” accents, Bostonese or various New York accents, as that is where she lived and worked. She simply could not understand what I was saying to her at any given time. I gave up trying to make conversation at the two dinner parties I attended with her at her in-laws’, two Christmases in a row. I would have her mother-in-law or husband translate if I really wanted to say anything to her. (I understood her heavy accent just fine).

Despite the accents and the amusing way in which some of the accents  came across that I had encountered from round the world, I understood and was able to get my words across without fail.

I met my first Bulgarian when I lived in Idaho; he was married to a Czech woman and we were friends.
While there I lived and worked with people from all over the country that came in because of the Naval base, their  wives, siblings, or service personnel. We had a Puerto Rican neighbor, I knew Italian shopkeepers, Including relatives of Cubby Broccoli), and I worked with a woman from Lancaster, England.
I met many people from all over in The Denver area, people from all over.

I am at home in transient areas and had no problem being understood.

Fortunately for all concerned, cable and satellite TV has made it easier on the newer
‘Brought-Ins”’ who find the younger generations of ‘Locals’ can understand them better than when I got here 28 years ago.

However, I have run across many people who can’t get other people’s accents.

You never would have known it to talk to my mother and most of her siblings, but English was not her first language. She grew up in an old-fashioned immigrant neighborhood in Pennsylvania and the teachers in her schools (mostly Irish–American), saw to it that the Italians, Polish, Russian, German, Jewish and other immigrant students could speak, read and write proper English in order to succeed, ever though most went home where they spoke the families’ native languages.

(My mother’s generation was the one that fought and won WWII. Had they not been able communicate well, this country would be a LOT different, but I digress).

My mother and her five sisters all took the ‘business course’ and became executive  secretaries, right under the bosses. Every one of them. Three of the brothers owned their own businesses and did well, (the black sheep of the family kept his born-in-the-old-country accent, I believe because it was a hit with the ladies.)

Even so, unless it was an Italian accent or a Spanish one, my mother had trouble understanding people and it was funny at times.

Let an Englishman or a Frenchwoman near my mother and they may as well have been speaking a language that died out centuries ago. Many odd things happened, with many conversations, not to mention misunderstood lyrics and dialogue that well, we had to straighten out.

Be that as it may, a family story was often told about my mother accompanying an off-the-boat relative to the grocers where they had to ask for products on the shelves, (no self-serve then, or for a long time there). When it came time to tell the grocer where to have the groceries delivered, (up until a year or so ago, years ago, few would have understood that), my mother was prepared to translate the address but when she asked the relative for it, it sounded to her like “OOn-dizzy, daisy, dorto”. She asked the relative to repeat it. She heard the same again. The relative got huffy, but my mother had no idea what she was saying, so she described to the grocer where the relative’s house was.

When my mother got home, she asked her father what in Heaven’s name the woman was saying. He laughed. The relative was as giving her house number, running the numbers together:
oohno, due sei, sette, otto,  (1-2-6-7-8), correctly pronounced “oohno, doo-ay, sey, settey, ohtoh”,
but it came out, at least to my mother’s young ear:
“oon-dizzy, daisy, dorto”, and that was repeated for many decades whenever anyone  messed up a house number.

When I was a kid, my cousins from Pennsylvania and I used to visit each other. An older cousin has a daughter who is in between in age of me and one of my mother’s sister’s children. The older cousin and her kids  didn’t live very far from the other aunt and cousin, but they sounded more like they came from New Jersey. One on trip, we girls were in the back seat of the big car they had back then, traveling  to PA. The cousin’s daughter brought a road game along. There was only room to put down one initial on the game card, so the second cousin said, “OK, since you two have the same first initial, I’ll put a B, Tonette, you put a J and T—, you put down a HAICH.” My cousin asked,  “What’s a HAICH?”

Well over fifty years later, it still amuses me. My cousin could not figure out that if we couldn’t use our first initials, and the second cousin and I were using our last name initials, she couldn’t figure out  that “HAICH”, meant “H”, her last name initial.
(Believe it or not, she grew up to be a brilliant doctor.)

I could go on, but I rather have already.
Have you ever been amused by a mispronunciation or had one that was so ‘off’ that it stayed with you or in your family?

Have any showed up in your writings?

About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
This entry was posted in America, Daily life, decisions, dialogue, experiences, Family, foreign languages, Friendship, helping others, holidays, language, Life, memories, Miscellaneous, misunderstandings, phrases, pronunciations, Random thoughts, Tonette Joyce, Words. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Pronunciation

  1. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Oh my, where shall I start? My grandma, mom, and most of my relatives can’t (or couldn’t) pronounce the letters L and R, so my first name is pronounced “pah-toe-ree-shee-ah.” (The third syllable begins with a sound that’s sort of between an l and r). There is no “F” sound in the language, and one day Mom asked me to “hold the laundry.” I held it for a while on my lap while continuing to watch TV, until she yelled at me for not folding it.
    I think I’ve mentioned on this blog about my experience in Texas. I was driving at dusk, when a man started yelling at me “LOTS! LOTS!” I rolled down my window and yelled back, “Lots of what?” He tilted his head curiously and said, “It’s gettin’ dark out, so y’all gotta put yer laaahhts on.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, so funny! I have always had Japanese around me, here in Kentucky, more than anywhere else, as we have a lot of Japanese factories here and they bring their management people here. They are the cultured ones, but they hang with each other, as much as I would like to know them better. There is a couple on Youtube with a European-American wife married to a Japanese man in Japan. She tested him on words for him to guess which was an ‘L’ and which was an “R”, since Japanese has a blended sound. Italian also has blended sounds and a lot of people learning them, (including a certain Husband who shall remain nameless), can’t get them right no matter how long. For instance, “Zizi” (“Aunty”). It’s like tsetse fly, which a lot of people can’t pronounce
      properly, (Start out lit a Z, but say T; it isn’t “teht-sie” or “t-zee”). That Husband CAN say my mother’s family name, which has a “gl”, but the “G” doesn’t have it’s own sound, it makes the L into a ‘ly’-type sound.

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  2. Jeff Salter says:

    love your anecdote about the street address.
    And I can well understand this relative’s motivation: “(the black sheep of the family kept his born-in-the-old-country accent, I believe because it was a hit with the ladies.)” LOL
    I’ve probably told this bit before, but when we lived briefly in central LA, one of my co-workers at the library had a husband named Jew-Ann (that was the way it was pronounced and I never saw it spelled). So every time she would refer to Jew-Ann, I was curious-er and curious-er. I’m sure I never asked here directly, but I finally found someone who spelled out his name for me: J-U-A-N.
    And I said, “oh, you mean Juan!”
    She gave me an odd look.
    Turns out there were many names — like Inez — in that little area because of some Spanish ancestry that the current folks had apparently forgotten about. Therefore when a child was given an ancestral name like “Juan” they naturally pronounced it, “Jew-Ann”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “JEW-ANN” ! Oh my gosh! This reminds me of some years back when I happened across a station playing 1950s westerns. When the credits rolled, they had a character’s name spelled “Heysoose”. I supposed they figured that ‘White Bread’ Americans might be confused or even offended if they saw the name “Jesus” credits.
      (“Jesus? Where was Jesus? This wasn’t a Gospel story!”)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Elaine Cantrell says:

    The only person who I’ve ever had trouble with is my daughter in law. She’s from Korea, and we still struggle to understand each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suppose it helps to always be in a ‘home’ area and not one where there are a lot of transient folk. Not knowing anything about the lanuage, (I just realized), I think that Korean people have a real struggle with English, judging by those I have encountered. There was a specialist when I moved here,(one of the few at the time), who was from Korea and although many people went to him, all of the people that I talked to said they did not understand him at all, but just took the medicines her prescribed. I was horrified; I mean, what if HE didn’t understand THEM, and what instructions, advice, warnings did he give to them that they were not getting?

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