Teachers' Day, redux

Nothing reminds you about the relentless penetration of new technology than receiving more Teachers' Day greetings via SMS than in person or handwritten missives, as was the abolute norm four years ago. Even more interesting was that I received numerous Teachers' Day greetings from non-students, including mother, aunts, friends and vendors. Has the holiday so penetrated the wider market that it's become, like Mother's or Father's Days, an occasion for automatic salutations-of-the-day to anyone you know who happens to fall into the category of what the Day is for?

Then I learned from First Aunt that her granddaughter's preschool instructed all the children to bring gifts for their teachers for Teachers' Day. Somewhere between my jaw dropping open in a rictus of astonishment and then freeing itself to yammer any number of outraged protestations, I remembered what Keat commented over at Top of Mind about "tacky plastic ornamental doodads" labelled for sale as Teachers' Day presents and decided that, clearly, the end is nigh because even Teachers' Day --- I mean, think about it, doesn't it sound vaguely Confucian-socialist, something no other developed nation would celebrate as a school holiday? --- has succumbed to the scourge of commercialisation.

tscd asked me in my previous post what my students gave me this year. To be honest, in composing that post, I was torn between publishing an inventory of loot and ignoring the situation altogether --- the former seemed tastelessly narcissistic while the latter might smell vaguely of premeditated false humility. Then, of course, there was the consideration that I didn't actually collect very much loot this year, so a short list could then leave the bitter aftertaste of the blatant clamouring for extravagant displays of affection or, conversely, the self-pitying blubbering of an inadequate mind clearly unsuited to the travails of teaching. And unlike trisha, I don't have the dignified modesty to reflect, "There's something worse than not getting any gift, it is getting something you don't think you deserve."

I have too many thoughts, I know.

Okay, here's the list, to satisfy curious readers. In publishing it, I hereby declare that I am not fishing for more pressies, I certainly don't need or want more stuff, and I'm certainly not trying to guilt anyone into wishing me happy T-day either. If you've said it, thanks! If you haven't, no hard feelings! Let's all get on with our lives already!

This year's loot from students:
  • Two handwritten thank-you notes, both of which referenced my abhorrence of the adjectives "unique" and "unusual" in describing literary style --- hurrah for students who paid attention last week!
  • A block of homemade cake that now sits in the fridge (too full from today's buffet to break into it yet).
  • A poem (not written for me, but written by the student).
  • Various SMSes received since Tuesday evening.
Thank you all.

What happens when two teachers and my grammatically strict mother go shopping? We talk about all the words that get mispronounced and mangled in Singapore. Pop quiz:
  • How do you pronounce "their"?
  • How do you pronounce the letter "H"?
  • How do you pronounce "student"?
  • How do you pronounce "resources"?
  • How do you pronounce "mood" (not a trick question)?
  • How do you pronounce "patronage"?
  • "their" --- it's "there", not "they're".
  • the letter "H" --- it's "aitch", not "haitch".
  • "student" --- it's "STEW-dent", not "STU-dent".
  • "resources" --- try "re-ZAW-ces", not "re-SAW-ces".
  • "mood" --- it's "mood", not "mode".
  • "patronage" --- if you're British, it's "PAIR-tronage"; if you're American, it's "PAY-tronage"; either way, the last syllable should take a "niche" sound, i.e. "PAIR-tron-niche", not "PAIR-tron-nayge" (if you're British).
Thus endeth the lesson.

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At 9/01/2005 2:32 pm , Blogger Daryl said...

Happy Teachers' Day! I totally agree about not using "unique" or "unusual"...

Anyway, because I love dialects of English, I should note that STEW-dent vs STU-dent is actually a British English / American English thing too. To cite Wikipedia: "Commonwealth speakers retain [j] before [u] (a glide) after more consonants than do American speakers. Both distinguish coot from cute, but most Americans do not distinguish do from due or dew." Hence the pun in the American motel name Dew Drop Inn, which doesn't quite work in Commonwealth variants of English.

Speaking of dialects of English, "haitch" is acceptable in Irish and Australian English. (There's a whole history of class warfare inherent - or in'erent - in being snobbish about aitch-pronunciation.)

At 9/01/2005 8:51 pm , Blogger NARDAC said...

RE-SOR-ses (long e, long o, but don't sing the second syllable up. that's singlish.)

PA-troen-ij (short a, like "pat" (brit, not american)

At 9/01/2005 8:54 pm , Blogger NARDAC said...

oops... that's a zzz, not a sss, for the resources.

At 9/01/2005 11:23 pm , Blogger Jess said...

Someone please explain why all this is important unless I'm gonna be a newscaster in England...

At 9/01/2005 11:39 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Teachers Day! A day late, but still..

At 9/02/2005 12:30 am , Blogger Agagooga said...

You're as bad as my sister. All pronunciation that differs from hers is wrong, even if the OED endorses it.

At 9/02/2005 2:04 am , Blogger wahj said...

What's wrong with "haitch"? - daryl's right, both are perfectly acceptable. Don't even get me started on the pointless distinction between "zed" and "zee" either.

Sorry, but I think pronounciation snobbery is a manifestation of the most petty form of snobbery. As long as it doesn't completely mangle the word (i.e. doesn't hinder meaning), most pronounciation is perfectly acceptable.

I draw the line at the examples such as "tunnel" for "tonner" - as in "Go to the tree-tunnel over there", one of the many mangled sentences I remember from my first day in the army, which confused me to no end until the sargeant helpfully pointed at the three-tonner truck parked across the road. Nothing like the army for mangling English, pronounciation, grammar, spelling and all.

At 9/02/2005 4:30 am , Blogger  said...

to my horror, even the radio stations (minus BBC) were wishing bloody happy teacher's day!

is recruitment round the corner or something?

oh, and for anyone who is interested, BBC has got vacancies for the position of Pronunciation Linguist. Interviews are on 20th & 21st Sept. =)

At 9/02/2005 4:31 am , Blogger Tym said...

Okay, first off, I should say, if it wasn't apparent from this entry and previous ones already, that I am something of a pronunciation snob. Not that I go around swatting people on the backs of their head if they mispronounce words around me or if the conventional method of pronunciation has evolved beyond the original --- but I hear the differences, I identify them, and if it bears mentioning (e.g. an egregious error like, I dunno, a common error in Singaporean English is saying "graps" instead of "grasp" or, as my mother noted yesterday, "pray-er" instead of "prair" (rhymes with "hair")), I correct them discreetly.

Of course, if it's my students, I correct them more shamelessly. Which is why one of the notes I received for Teachers' Day appreciated the fact that I had taught the student to differentiate between "Colombia" (the country) and "Columbia" (the university or space shuttle). Hey, if you're gonna apply to Columbia, you ought to know how to pronounce the name!

A lot of my prejudices spring from my parents correcting the mispronunciations that cropped up when I went to school. I learned at home to say "their" as "there" and "H" as "aitch", only to go to school and hear choruses of teacher-endorsed "they'res" and "haitches" for the same words. My parents growled at me and told me not to listen to my teachers (one of the rare occasions when they did) and those cases stuck in my head.

I agree with wahj that it shouldn't matter, really, so long as people can understand each other. And of course language, including its spoken form, is always evolving. But I guess the problem starts when people don't understand each other.. The number of times Singaporean English (not Singlish per se, just poor pronunciation of English or enunciation of words) has proven incomprehensible to non-Singaporeans makes me think there is a value to knowing which is the more commonly accepted and understandable pronunciation, and being able to code-switch when necessary in order to make oneself understood. I've heard English speakers of other nationalities do it too --- speak more slowly or carefully so that their native accent doesn't get in the way of a more neutral and comprehensible pronunciation of the words.

This is not to say that I have perfect pronunciation either. One word I still can't pronounce with panache, is "poignant". There are several others, permanent stumbling blocks in my efforts at articulation. Will catalogue them when I remember...

At 9/02/2005 7:57 am , Blogger NARDAC said...

Well, that just explains why I'm priggish about accents/pronunciation as well, cousin. Our proud family... sigh.

I guess the small differentiation between our cases was that I was able to hear a vast sampling of other accents in Canada, growing up, and thus picked up a very fine ear for mimicry. When you switch through four or five accents a day...

Anyways, the one that bugs that crap out of me is people who say "unersty" instead of "university."

panaphobic: people judge you not only by what comes out of your mouth, but how it sounds. It shows your level of education and culture. But I know this is such old news.

At 9/02/2005 9:32 am , Blogger Jess said...

nardac: ya lah but it's such a colonial hangover of sorts...

At 9/02/2005 9:54 am , Blogger Daryl said...

I'm a language snob, too, but one thing that really annoys me is when Singaporeans overcompensate, spotting mistakes and broken language rules where there aren't any. So my initial point wasn't so much that pronunciation doesn't matter as long as you're understood, but that "STOO-dent" and "aitch" are perfectly legitimate pronunciations.
Or, as another example, my mum was once told by a fellow teacher that the 'correct' word to describe food was "saltish" rather than "salty" - boy was that aggravating. Hey, if you're going to be persnickety, at least be right. :)

Actually, speaking of newscasters in England, it was actually quite refreshing to watch the BBC in the UK and listen to their glorious panoply of regional accents - it was great that the Beeb moved away from Received Pronunciation.

Here's a good British Council article on teaching pronunciation in an age of 'global English' - it has a good listing of the sounds that are essential to being understood, and the sounds that aren't.

At 9/02/2005 1:26 pm , Blogger Kiv said...

Guilty as charged...

Whatever happen to flowers???

At 9/02/2005 2:27 pm , Blogger NARDAC said...

panaphobic: I can't help it if I'd prefer not to be mistaken for a native, if being a native means a substandard level of english. I hope that's not what you're alluding a native should be.

At 9/02/2005 2:34 pm , Blogger Tym said...

panaphobic --- I suppose it's easy to see it as a "colonial" hangover because the language came to us by way of the colonialists. But given the widespread use of English today, surely the onus is on a person to make themselves understood in the respective context? So just as a Singaporean might have to pronounce words more carefully to be understood by an American, mayhaps an American may have to alter his pronunciation slightly to be understood by a Singaporean. (And I think that native speakers of English, regardless of their ethnicity or nationality, do try to do so when they realize they're not functioning in a native milieu per se.)

Daryl --- "Saltish"? Eeyur!! I mean, I say it, but I know it's not kosher. And thanks for the enlightening links!

Kiv --- Flowers die. Cake can be eaten. :)

At 12/30/2007 9:17 pm , Blogger Billy Henderson said...

Hey Tym...

Sorry to bother you, but I googled the word poignant and got your page. It seems that it is acceptable to sound the g as a hard g. The more desired pronunciation is, of course, with the g silent.

Could you verify that both pronunciations are acceptable?
Billy henderson


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