The way we pronounce our language is evolving. I’m not really talking about regional accents that lead to different pronunciations of words such as ‘bath’ (contrasting the broad South [bα:θ] with the broad North [bæθ]); I’m talking about the subtle differences that can vary amongst your immediate family and friends. How do you pronounce ‘garage’, for example? What about ‘often’?
The British Library’s current exhibition entitled ‘Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices’ has highlighted some of these varieties by presenting recordings, read by members of the public, of a well-known Mr Men book. Interestingly, there seems to be a clear difference between the younger and older generations, so in the example of ‘aitch’ versus ‘haitch’, if you are under 30 you are more likely to voice the second option.
There are those who believe that there is a “correct” way to pronounce every word, but the pronunciation guides in most dictionaries would disagree. Take the examples of ‘scone’ and ‘either’, which both appear with two variant pronunciations in the Concise Oxford Dictionary.
The English language is, indeed, evolving and most linguists agree that there can be no right or wrong way to pronounce certain words. The debate regarding the debasement of English can be traced back to medieval times, so it’s hardly anything new, but that doesn’t stop us having our own opinions on what we consider to be ‘wrong’ pronunciation.
The BBC takes the matter of pronunciation very seriously and has its own pronunciation unit. This mostly provides recommendations on how to say foreign names and places currently in the news, such as Nova Friburgo, a Brazilian town recently the subject of severe flooding.