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Learning pronunciation of English words

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Learning pronunciation of English words

Most Americans struggle with learning a foreign language, both with the sounds and the grammar. Declensions are a killer in Slavic languages. They are almost non-existent in English, for example ‘gold’ and ‘golden’. A noun takes many different forms in Slavic languages. German doesn’t have as complicated a system of declensions, but it is nevertheless difficult for Americans to learn that you just can’t simply say, ‘the book’ in German. It may be ‘das Buch’ or ‘des Buches’, or ‘dem Buch’, etc. At least in German the definite article (‘the’) mainly gets changed, but in the Slavic languages the noun itself gets changed because the Slavic languages don’t use definite articles.

English is a bit crazy because it is so eclectic, that is, we have drawn words from so many linguistic sources that pronunciation seems to be all over the place.

The English rule of adding the letter ‘e’ at the end of a word changes the previous vowel’s pronunciation from short to long. For example: ‘bit’ has a short ‘i’ sound. ‘bite’ gives the letter ‘i’ a long sound. Confer ‘hat’ and ‘hate’. But then why is the ‘e’ in the word ‘fête short? Because it comes directly from French. Almost all French words that have a circonflex ( that little ‘hat’ over the ‘e’) are similar to English indicate the loss of the letter ‘s’. The French word for ‘forest’ is ‘forêt. The circonflex replaces the missing ‘s’. So, ‘Fête’ means ‘fest’ in English.

Look at the problems that foreigners face learning to pronounce English words correctly. Here’s an interesting note: you have heard of ‘kith and kin’. What exactly does that mean? ‘kin’ are relations, ‘kith’ literally means ‘known’, hence ‘kith’ means acquaintances. But ‘kith’ is a variant of ‘couth’, so someone who is uncouth is literally someone who in unfamiliar. So language made the leap to say that since someone is ‘unfamiliar’ they must be de facto ‘uncultured’, just as the Greeks used the word for a foreigner, ‘barbaric’ as someone wild. Is that fear of the unknown? Probably.

Why don’t the words ‘are’ and ‘care’ rhyme. Didn’t the ‘e’ at the end lengthen the ‘a’? Why don’t ‘boot’ and ‘foot’ rhyme? Why do ‘gum’ and ‘come’rhyme? How about ‘woe’ and ‘mow’? Why do ‘kite’ and ‘knight’ rhyme? Look at ‘bough, cough, dough’. They don’t rhyme. Search, birch, lurch, perch!