The American effort to standardize English pronunciation and spelling

probus

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 7, 2011
Member Type
Retired English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
I think learners should be aware of this poorly organized but persistent movement to standardize and simplify the spelling and pronunciation of English.

I have read that it began fifty or sixty years ago as a direct result of Americans' refusal to pay their teachers adequate salaries. According to this theory, a generation of poorly educated teachers emerged. Supposedly, because of their poor education, they found their work difficult, and attempted to make it easier by simplifying and standardizing. I should say that I have no reason to support or believe in this theory of the origin of the movement. What I do know for certain is this: 1) the movement had begun 50 years ago when I was young, and 2) it continues today.

One of the earliest prescriptions I recall is this: when two vowels are separated by a single consonant, the first must have the long sound. So in Canada we say "yesterday the sun shone" to rhyme with don. But Americans insist on shone to rhyme with stone. Similarly, we pronounce the herb basil to rhyme with Brazil. But Americans now insist on baysil. Examples of this can be multiplied endlessly.

Another feature of this trend is the abolition of silent consonants. For example, the pronunciation of palm as pom is disappearing. Everyone on radio and television now pronounces the l. Similarly for calm and other words containing formerly silent consonants.

Related to this last feature is an intolerance for variance in pronuncuation. We formerly said sowth for south, but suthern for southern. The apologists of this movement now insist upon sowthern.

Arguably this movement makes English easier for learners. I deplore it nonetheless.
 
Last edited:

Tdol

Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Staff member
Joined
Nov 13, 2002
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
Japan
I thought that Noah Webster started the spelling changes.
 
J

J&K Tutoring

Guest
I looked up the word basil in my Concise Oxford English-Chinese Dictionary. Then I happened to notice the words basic, basis, and basin on the same page. What say you about those words?
 
Last edited:

Charlie Bernstein

VIP Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2009
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Interesting. I recall getting into an online argument a few years ago with a standardization zealot. He really thought everything in English needed to be rewritten, e.g. Too bee or not too bee, that iz the kweschin.

He was the member of an organization dedicated to it. Let's see if I can Google it up . . . .

Found this, which doesn't mention poorly educated educators:

- Wiki on simplified English

Many of us make spelling mistakes, but that's part of the fun of English. In the US alone we have plenty of varieties of English, it would be a shame to legislate them away.

Anyhow, can't find the organization or any mention of ignorant teachers but will keep searching.
 

Tdol

Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Staff member
Joined
Nov 13, 2002
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
Japan
I looked up the word basil in my Concise Oxford English-Chinese Dictionary. Then I happened to notice the words basic, basis, and basin on the same page. What say you about those words?

I would pronounce basil with a short vowel sound, unlike the others.
 
J

J&K Tutoring

Guest
I would pronounce basil with a short vowel sound, unlike the others.

That is the pronunciation in my dictionary. The point I was trying to make is that it's a bit narrow to lay blame for the inconsistencies of English pronunciation solely on American English speakers.
 

Tdol

Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Staff member
Joined
Nov 13, 2002
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
Japan
Hey, I'm British and we're far from consistent. ;-)
 

Charlie Bernstein

VIP Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2009
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
That is the pronunciation in my dictionary. The point I was trying to make is that it's a bit narrow to lay blame for the inconsistencies of English pronunciation solely on American English speakers.

In this corner, we only do that for Basil Rathbone. (Because he's the only Basil we know.)

The herb rhymes with nasal.
 

GoesStation

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
This lonely American pronounces it as the Brits do, perhaps as an inheritance from my mother. Her first immersion in English was eighteen months in London, and although she Americanized most of her pronunciations, she retained a few Britishisms to the end.
 

probus

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 7, 2011
Member Type
Retired English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
Just heard another example on the national TV news this evening: worship pronounced to rhyme approximately with porridge, as opposed to wership.
 

Tdol

Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Staff member
Joined
Nov 13, 2002
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
Japan
One thing I have noticed is the mispronunciation of certain words on the news where I suspect that people have only read them and not heard them, so don't know where the stress falls, not that worship should fall into this category.
 

GoesStation

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Just heard another example on the national TV news this evening: worship pronounced to rhyme approximately with porridge, as opposed to wership.

Who pronounces worship as if it had an e in it?
 

emsr2d2

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jul 28, 2009
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
UK
Who pronounces worship as if it had an e in it?

Everyone. It's pronounced like "were-ship". Confusingly, "warship" is pronounced like "wore-ship".
 

Skrej

Key Member
Joined
May 11, 2015
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Not everyone, but those are the kinds of differences I chalk up to regional variants, more than to spelling issues.

I've heard 'worship' pronounce as 'wear-ship', 'wore-ship', and even 'were-ship', depending upon what part of the country I've been in. And that's just within the US.

Standardize it however much you want, but people are always going to pronounce things differently than they're written.
I mean, somebody with a non-rhotic accent is already ignoring the very same 'r' they'd never consider omitting if they were to write that same word.

English isn't nearly so irregular with its spelling as people think anyway, it's just that there are a lot of rules governing them. Depending on the system you follow, there's something like 31 or more spelling rules (and sub-rules).

Most people don't know about all these spelling rules, so they mistake multiplicity for irregularity. I only remember being taught a handful of them in school, but then that's probably why I'm not a great speller myself.
 

GoesStation

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
I don't say the word very often, but I've always pronounced it nearly the same as warship. I think that's the usual pronunciation in my region.
 

Tdol

Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Staff member
Joined
Nov 13, 2002
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
Japan
What part of the States are you from?
 

GoesStation

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Southwest Ohio, on the Appalachian dialect boundary.

My family moved from here to the San Francisco Bay Area when I was twelve. Not long after, a clerk at a movie theater asked me if I was from England. Years later I started revisiting my home region after a few years in Toronto and southern Michigan. The accent which I now hear and to some extent reproduce sounded English to me at first.
 

Tarheel

VIP Member
Joined
Jun 16, 2014
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Who pronounces worship as if it had an e in it?

Me. I pronounce the first three letters in worship the same as those in work or worsen or worry.

(I'm from Missouri.)
 

GoesStation

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Me. I pronounce the first three letters in worship the same as those in work or worsen or worry.

(I'm from Missouri.)

That's interesting. For me, the first syllable of worry is different from the other two. It's the same as war - and the first syllable of worship.

I've heard people start worship with a schwa, and thought theywere the ones with a "careless" accent!
 
Top