Finding America

Me and Tarah

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Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia and Smitten by Britain. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States. 

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  1. What is the difference supposed to be between British "su-DAHN" and US "su-DON"? There really isn't one. Nearly all Americans have the father-bother merger which means that, to an American, "sudahn" and "sudon" would be different ways of writing the same sound.

  2. Same thing applies to "IhRAHK" vs. "IhROCK". Also, the US pronunciation of "Tunisia" is more like "too-NEEzha" than "too-NEEzya".

  3. No difference in that instance. The real Sudan difference is, of course, between suDAN and suDON. I just listed suDAHN so that the southern Brits wouldn't shout at me.

  4. this one hurts. why not write them in IPA or something intelligible? :(

  5. p.s. israel, kenya, kuwait, papua new guinea, and malasia or any country ending in -sia could be added to this list :)

  6. Because I want to make it accessible to people who don't know the phonetic alphabet.

  7. They're for another list. I'm looking to organise these lists into a convenient breakdown of ten entries at a time.

  8. No difference in that instance. The real Sudan difference is, of course, between suDAN and suDON. I just listed suDAHN so that the southern Brits wouldn't shout at me.

    But isn't the list supposed to be demonstrating differences between US and British pronunciations? Here, you're creating a difference that doesn't actually exist. You should write both as suDAHN.

  9. You raise a good point, vp. Consistency is key.

  10. I'll write one more comment, which is going to be brutally honest, and then I promise to stop bugging you.

    It sounds as if you're going to write a whole series of posts on these pronunciation differences. I'm not sure whether they're mainly aimed at Brits or Americans (or both equally), but, in any case, I strongly urge you to take a few minutes first to think about the differences between (and also within) American and British accents.

    Between any two accents there are systematic and predictable differences in pronunciation. For example, as you point out in this list, most English people generally do not pronounce the final "R" in "Madagascar", whereas most Americans do. However, this is entirely predictable. The same thing happens in "butter", or "water", or any other word ending in "R". Similarly, the difference you give between American and British pronunciations of "Botticelli" is predictable: the weakening of the "T" sound to something more like a "D" is found throughout the language. Many Americans pronounce pairs like "latter" and "ladder" the same; others make a distinction that generally isn't evident to British ears.

    If you're going to point out such predictable differences, then you could probably include almost every word in the dictionary in your list. Clearly, that would be pointless. You want to include only unpredictable differences.

    There is also an issue with the way the differences in pronunciation are represented in spelling. For example, the list above gives "Yawragwy" as the British pronunciation of "Uruguay". To many Americans, this suggests a sound in the first syllable indistinguishable from "Yah". I'm pretty sure that's not what you intend. The sound you mean to represent would be better represented to Americans as something like "Yore-a-gwy".

    But, even here, there are still problems: many English people would actually say "Yoo-ra-gwy": those who don't have generally lost the distinction betwen words such as "tore" and "tour". This makes me wonder whether you're making this list out of your own personal experience, or whether you've consulted reference works.

    I'd suggest taking a look at the Wikipedia pronunciation respelling key as an example of a spelling scheme that works reasonably well across both British and American accents. The Wikipedia article on differences in pronunciation between American and British English is also useful.

  11. Indeed, I use both of those reference pages frequently. You'll find, in fact, that the latter includes "Madagascar", which I would argue strongly falls into the unpredictable camp of differences. The key difference here is not in the rhotic/non-rhotic 'r', but rather the final vowel sound. After all, Americans would not elongate the 'a' in words like 'popular'.

    I do agree that an analysis of dialectal variations (within each country) would offer considerably more insight, and I assure you that when I'm no longer working two jobs, it will be my goal to write a more thorough guide.

    For now, while I will endeavo(u)r to make the sounds more consistent, these guides are just very general, fun little cheat sheets and it's probably important that we don't lose sleep over them.

    That said, I very much appreciate your input on the matter. Food for thought.


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