Mr Bascom's outpouring on bad pronunciation is deplorable
Stabroek News
November 9, 2001

Related Links: Letters on language
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Dear Editor,

Harold A Bascom's letter, published under the caption, "What's wrong with tree as three, give us a break Mr Eleazar", in your edition of the 6th November 2001, is symptomatic of the parody to which so many aspects of life in this country has been reduced.

Additionally, this outpouring of specious nonsense in the guise of enlightened commentary, by someone who ought to know better and who should be diligently striving to inculcate in our youths the habit of better and more edified usage of our language, is a classic display of the current abdication of responsible leadership by the so called opinion makers in this beleaguered society.

Notwithstanding the fact that he now resides in region eleven of the Guyanese diaspora, with all that such a reality involves in terms of the practise of situational ethics, it is inconceivable that this gentleman who holds himself out as being a playwright, novelist and book-publisher, does not seem to perceive that he has a duty to maintain the fundamental ideals of the language in use. Rather than to see its usage reduced to the nadir of its least common factor.

Playwrights, poets, novelists and those who espouse the use of the written form of language as their usage of preference, have seldom been noted for their precision in applying the rules of usage with rigidity.

And while some of the results of their delinquency can be quite affecting in terms of symbolism and dramatic impact, their efforts are mostly useless as guidebooks for the study of the language.

There are exceptions to the foregoing however. And it may well be asked whether the language would have been as descriptive, colourful and precise, without the efforts of some written media practitioners going as far back as perhaps, William Shakespeare.

It is consistency however, in terms of the application of the rules of usage which has, to date, ensured that the English language has remained as intelligible to as many peoples, in as many places as it continues to be.

Whether American, Australian or Zimbabwean, they all sound the 'th' through the teeth.

It is perhaps easy to understand that Mr Bascom suffers from the same malady which afflicts so many of our countrymen. This is an innate and inordinate compulsion to ape the frog who longed to be an ox. We attempt, with the least provocation, to ape everyone.

The American can be snug in his conceit. His native market encompasses millions whose hearts can beat in time with his cadence.

But, listening to any major American network can Mr Bascom honestly say that they encourage sloppiness in pronunciation by their broadcasters?

No Mr Bascom, the emphasis is always placed upon the key oral communicative factors of pronunciation, intonation, diction and projection. Drop an 'h' and you get dropped. Forget to teeth the 'th' and thou wilt be thwacked.

The foregoing holds generally true for all broadcasting establishments and even our Caribbean brethren, with their titular speech cadences, insist upon strict adherence to standard forms of pronunciation amongst their oral communicators.

Maybe that is one reason why their youngsters get more and better grades in English Language than ours do.

There is an undeniable link between speaking and writing. And, those who have studied the discipline of linguistics will aver that there is always a tendency to reduce to writing exactly what we hear in speech.

In other words teeth will be written as heard and constant usage of the corrupted form will eventually result in 'teet' still being said, even if 'teeth' is actually the written form observed.

Surely, Mr Bascom could not be serious when he posited that Bob Marley's use of his version of the Jamaican vernacular in an interview, gives license for the wholesale slaughter of the rules of prosody, syntax and enunciation.

Mr Bascom certainly did his argument a disservice by referring to that particular as being a credible benchmark.

The English language is filled with homonyms and homophones which in some instances, must be differentiated by mans of pronunciation.

So, as may be necessary, we must use our teeth and 'tongues', as opposed to 'tongs', as mechanism for discrimination.

Failing that Sir, all would be lost and, 'That' as opposed to 'dat', would be a 'Thing,' as opposed to 'ting' of Thunderous,' not 'tunderous' bad form.'

Yours faithfully,

CRB Edwards