I was listening to myself speak, or more to the point, pronounce a word – issues – the other day. Ever since the lovely Kath and Kim have graced our screens with their unique way of talking I have been pronouncing ‘issues’ without a ‘sh’ sound. So instead of saying ‘ishues’, I say ‘issues’ without the ‘sh’ sound and an elongated ‘yoos’ sound.
This got me thinking the other night about the English language and about the time that I went to the USA. It was my first overseas trip and I was going to be travelling by myself. Ah the brashness and courage of a 25 year old youth ey? I think I would be more hesitant about doing that sort of thing now. For some reason I’d always wanted to visit the States and I thought it would be a relatively easy country to travel in for my first port of call and to make it that bit easier they speak English and so do I.
Of course, as I know now, there are many different variants of English which I found out when I tried to go somewhere on a bus one day. I was in Las Vegas and wanted to go from the Strip to Downtown – near The Dunes hotel in fact. I got on the bus and said to the bus driver, ‘I’d like to go to the Dyoons Hotel (Dunes Hotel) please,’ as that’s the way we say dunes here in Australia. The bus driver gave me a questioning look and asked me to repeat it. I said a few times that I’d like to go to the Dyoons Hotel downtown please. He still didn’t get it. It then occurred to me that I needed to say it the way the locals say it and that is ‘Doones Hotel’ without the ‘y’ sound. He got it then and I was on my way. Just as well I’m fairly observant and knew how to say it so it made sense to him otherwise I’d still be there.
An Australian friend who lived in the US for a few years told me a similar story about her attempt to buy a word processor – a bit before the advent of the personal computer. We generally say ‘word’ (without the rolling r sound) and ‘prohcessor’. She ended up having to pronounce it ‘worrd prucessor’ before they understood what she was trying to say.
So we obviously get so caught up in the way we speak that when someone throws something different at us our mind doesn’t compute the real meaning. I wouldn’t have thought Dyoons and Doons is that much different but to this bus driver it was.
This happened to me to a certain extent when I was on a train from Prague to Budapest about a year later. I’d been surrounded by Czeck speakers all morning and when I heard two men speaking English it took a while for me to work out that they were saying someone was sitting in their seat. That someone was me and I’d been sitting in a reserved seat the whole way from Prague and nobody had been able to communicate that to me. One of the men was lovely and I spent the next few days with them but that’s a whole other story.