Fine language makes fine impression

Language is like a song – it has its rhythm and melody. When you listen attentively to other languages you may notice that some of them are rather quick like Chinese or Spanish and others stretch like a spaghetti because of phonetic lengthening which is present for example in Italian in Sicily. It is said that people with good ear for music are able to articulate foreign sounds more efficiently. There is a lot of truth in this claim. One can guess our cultural, social or educational background after the way we pronounce different words. A particular word can be articulated in several different ways, for instance Cracow inhabitants lengthen phonetically word endings and Koszalin inhabitants their middles. Ways of articulation depend on the phoneme resources which are present in a given language or dialect.

Where lies the difficulty?

If particular sounds are not present in our mother tongue, learning of a proper articulation can be very tough. Let us take for example consonant [th], which in English is voiceless dental fricative. When we were children we had much more malleable auditory system and unfettered desire to play with a language. Our auditory system stiffens with time that is why each adult who starts to learn a new language automatically search for sound counterparts in their mother tongues, for instance most of Polish adult learners would pronounce word ’thumb’ as ’samb’ or ’famb’.

Foreigner also faces an uphill struggle

Also foreigners who would like to learn Polish will have tremendous problems with hearing the difference between such sound pairs as: [ś] and [sz] or [ć] and [cz]. It will take them some time to solve the mystery of our Polish swishing and rustling mother tongue. Poles spend lot of time on learning the correct articulation of English words that are in common use. Often they make the task easier for themselves by Polonizing those words. However, the Polish pronunciation of words such as Disney, (Elvis) Presley, Britney (Spears), or Tetley (Tea) is incomprehensible to me because all of those words end with [i] which is present in Polish. This near-close near-front unrounded vowel is present in Polish word ’raki’ (ang. crayfish), so it should not be a problem at all. Nevertheless, it is common to pronounce those words with a diphthong [eɪ] instead of [i], for instance:

  • Disney – [’dɪzni] is incorrectly pronounced as [’dɪsneɪ],
  • Presley –[’prezli] is incorrectly pronounced as [’pɪesleɪ],
  • Tetley – [tetli] is incorrectly pronounced as [’tetleɪ],
  • Britney – [’brɪtni] is incorrectly pronounced as [’brɪtneɪ].
  • Sydney – [’sɪdni] is incorrectly pronounced as [’sɪdneɪ].

Holand or Poland?

Another thing is quite embarrassing because it turns out that few people can correctly pronounce the name of their country in English. Incorrect articulation of a word ’Poland’ often misleads English-speaking interlocutors because some people give foreigners an impression that they live in Holand. Poles tend to pronounce their country name with short vowel [o] instead of diphthong [əʊ] and the stem ’-land’ brings to interlocutors minds the word ’Holand’. Please remember that it is crucial to pronounce diphthong [əʊ] in ’Poland’ which surely help to associate the word with an actual country.

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