Sunday, June 11th, 2017

For Public Speakers and Singers

For many years now I have been troubled by the pronunciation howlers I hear from people who ought to know better. Such persons include Prime Ministers and other Parliamentarians, Parsons, Lawyers, Doctors, Lecturers/Teachers, radio and TV personnel and company Executives.

Mastering standard English pronunciation is not easy but possible and in this piece I wish to provide a few basic guidelines and suggestions.

The basic rules are the same for singers as well as public speakers and even writers.

For singers and speakers though, the sound of the word takes priority over the look or spelling of the word. We have to contend not only with silent letters in English but also with the overlooked fact that the name of some consonants begins with a vowel sound, e.g. L, M, N, R, S and X.

The ‘e’ or ‘a’ vowel sound precedes all of these and so technically they begin as vowels not as consonants. That is why you would say (and write too) “She has an M.A. in modern languages” not “She has a M.A…) The old rule ‘a’ or ‘thuh’ before a consonant and ‘an’ or ‘the’ before a vowel means a vowel sound.

Know too that some vowels that begin words begin with the sound of a consonant. Union, Universe and Unity are pronounced with an initial ‘y’, therefore, they begin with a consonant. So we get in sound “Thuh unity needed in this party…” rather than “The unity needed in this party…”

Don’t freak out now when I inform that ‘Y’ is a consonant at the beginning of a word but a vowel elsewhere!

The final ‘e’ in ‘where, there and are’ is silent, therefore, these words end in consonants for the singer.

The ‘h’ in ‘hour, honour and heir’ is silent, therefore, these words begin with a vowel sound. Even very educated Jamaicans struggle with the aspirate at times.

The w’ in ‘write and wrong’ is silent, therefore they begin with the special and tricky consonant ‘r’.

‘One and Once’ are pronounced as ‘Won and Wonce’, therefore, they begin with a consonant sound.

The consonant ‘r’ is tricky for singers especially because it tends to impede the ‘open throat’ approach to singing with ease. The basic rule of thumb for sounding this consonant is easy to get. Never ‘r’ before a consonant or pause (punctuation or dramatic), always ‘r’ before a vowel.

So to illustrate with a word that Christians (and others) love to use but end up abusing so often, Lord. Following the rule concerning ‘r’ this word is always said or sung as if it was spelt Lawd, not the Jamaican Laad though.

As I said at a very recent seminar for singers, applying the rule re ‘r’ makes you sound a bit ‘stoosh’ (as we say in Jamaica) but apply it nonetheless. So to illustrate further I give you the phonetic spelling of how a very apt line from a popular hymnic prayer would be when the unnecessary ‘r’s are omitted. ‘Deah Lawd and Fathur of mankind, fohgive ow foolish ways.’ The ‘er’ ending of words like mother, father are rendered as ‘uh’ so mothuh, fathuh with the ‘r’ added if the next word begins with a vowel.

You may have been pronouncing/singing as you should all along but now you have an idea why you were doing what you have been doing.

Now to a few suggestions/corrections for public speakers. The now seemingly popular pronunciation of ‘refer’ and prefer’ as if the ‘ref’ syllable is like that in referee, is wrong! Treat this syllable as if it was ‘rif’ and the accent goes to the following syllable.

Data and media are plural words media folk! Proximity is always near so ‘close proximity’ indulges a redundancy, ever heard of distant proximity?

Help is available for the confessedly needy!

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