Friday, August 17, 2007

The Telugu's English pronunciation blues - Part I

Disclaimer: This article is not to demean a particular section of the society. It is an analysis of problems faced by me during my journey Towards Better English (TBE), but most of these are still present in Telugu-speaking people. Some of them may apply to other Indians also.


Good pronunciation is one of the milestones on the path TBE. Every word should be pronounced in a way that most of the audience can understand.

This article is not directed towards accents, but various problems faced or common errors made by a typical South Indian, especially Telugites and importantly me. My ire is primarily against my primary and secondary school teachers of English whom I feel are the real culprits.

1.‘a’: The first trouble starts with the first letter of the English alphabet (again careful to not append ‘s’ after TBE-I ). The teachers start teaching the language by making us yell the letter “AAAAAAAAA…..”, “Beeeeeeeeeeeeee” and so on. I had got used to this “A” so much that I used to pronounce the article “a” in a sentence as A in ancient rather than A in away.

2.‘h’: Next comes the letter H. The teachers in Andhra Pradesh generally teach this as “Hetch” – and we, the Telugites, add the usual stress as we do with Telugu words. It took me 10 more years to know that the “Ha” sound is not required. That’s why I was always confused why “an” should come instead of “a” before hour and honor (i.e., why it is our and not ‘ha’wer).

Telugites can observe this with the ‘MH’ in Devanagari on Maharashtra RTC buses and the ‘H’ in Telugu newspapers.

3.‘o’: This is not as common as the above two, but it happens in some schools in AP. ‘o’ is a vowel. Generally vowel sound comes from inside, whereas the consonant sound involves lips and/or tongue.
But my teachers somehow chose to teach ‘o’ as in vote rather than in old/own.

Again, I was confused with the usage of “an” before ‘old man’ when I learnt that “an” comes before vowel sounds. I used to pronounce ‘old’ as ‘vold’.

4.‘v’: I had always pronounced this as ‘vee’ until an instructor in one of those English in my organisation remarked quoting me that the South Indians pronounce ‘v’ incorrectly and that the upper teeth should press the lower lip while producing the ‘v’ sound; especially for words like ‘victory’.

Somehow, I got rid of the first three, but still trying my best with the fourth one. I will write about pronunciation blues with some common words in the next one.

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