By Salisu Yusuf
One of the problems encountered in learning English phonetics and phonology by the second language learners in Nigeria is the assumption that the English phonemic orthography is having the same trends as those of our first language. For example, the Hausa letter /c/ as in caca, ciki and abinci is always predictably realised as /c/. It can’t be realised as any other sound in any other environment. In contrast, English letters are unpredictable in their phonetic realisation. For instance, the sound /y/ can be realised in ‘lure’ as in ‘failure’ /’feilja/ or something like /felya/ not /felwa/ as we pronounce. The /y/ can also be realised in /year/, etc.
While the phonemic orthographies of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba are uni dimensional, that each written symbol or letter has a predictable sound, the English phonemic orthography is complex and unpredictable. For example, the symbol /ch/ can be realised as /sh/ sound in ‘charade’ /ʃəˈrɑːd/ or /sharad/, the /teous/ in ‘righteous’ /’raetʃas/ or something like /raicas/ not the /raitiyos/ we say.
What I am trying to say, is that the English spelling of words can’t be a reliable guide to pronunciation. For example, there are 26 English alphabets and 20 vowels but there are 44 conventional English sounds! Moreover, there are English sounds that aren’t found in African languages. For example, the /ʒ/ sound in ‘division’ or /ə/ in ‘police,’ etc.
Some English letters are not pronounced at all in their phonetic realisation. For example, the /t/ in ‘ ballet’ /’baelei/ or /balei/, the /au/ in ‘restaurant’ /’resrɒnt/ or /restront/ not /restaurant/ as we say, the /w/ in ‘sword’ is deleted /sod/, the /b/ in ‘plumber’ /ˈplʌmə/ or /plama/, the /t/ is deleted in pronouncing ‘sachet’ /ˈsaʃeɪ/ or /sashe/ not /sacet/, the /o/ in ‘leopard’ /ˈlepəd/ /lepad/is silent, the /b/ in bomb /bom/ is also silent, so is /s/ in ‘debris’ /’debri:/ or /debrii/, etc.
Some letters are substituted with other sounds that are different from the actual letters. For example, ‘memoir’ /ˈmemwɑ/ is closer to /memwa/, the ‘chure’ in brochure /ˈbrəʊʃə/ is /sh/ sound pronounce closer to /brausha/, the /toise/ in tortoise /ˈtɔːtəs/is /ta/ sound, pronounce as /totas/ not /totuwas/ as we say. The word ‘poignant’ /ˈpɔɪnjənt/ is pronounce as /poyinyant/, vehicle /vi:ikl/ is more closer to /viyikl/ not /vehikl/ we say. Chasis /ˈʃasi/ is /shasi/ not the /chasis/ we say.
Some vowels are changed during phonetic pronunciation differently from the written ones. Example, honey /ˈhʌni/ is /hani/ not /honi/, onion /ˈʌnjən/ or /anyan/ rather than the /oniyon/ we pronounce. Matrix /ˈmeɪtrɪks/ is /meitriks/ , village /’vilidz/ or /vilij/ not /vilej/. Stipend /ˈstaɪpend/, quay is pronounced as /ki/, chaos /ˈkeɪɒs/ or /keyos/, fuel /fjuː(ə)l/ is pronounced as closely as /fyuuwal/, verbatim /vəːˈbeɪtɪm/ or /vabeitim/ not /vaba../ we say. Albeit /ɔːlˈbiːɪt/ is pronounced as /olbiit/, receipt is /’risit/ not /resipt/, and liason /li’eizan/ or /liyezn/.
We pronounce certain combinations through generalisation of certain features of similar combinations from other environments. For example, the following words are pronounced from similar sounds say in example the word ‘ tuition’. So unlike in ‘ tuition’ almost all those English words with /ui/ combination are pronounced with a long /u:/: juice /dzu:s/ or /juus/, suitable /’su:tabl/, or /suutabl/, suicide /’su:said/ or /suusaid/, suit /su:t/( but ‘ suite’ is /swi:t/ or /swiit/) or /suut/, fruit /fru:t/ is /fruut/, etc.
In words with similar syllables, a preceding sound is used to randomly pronounce wrongly the immediate syllable. For example, gigantic /dzae’gaentik/ or /jaigantik/ is usually pronounced wrongly as /dzaidzantik/, etc.
These are some of the features that influence Nigerian phonetics. A companionship with an English dictionary, listening to stations like the BBC World Service, etc. can give us some hints on English phonetics and phonology.
Salisu Yusuf wrote from Katsina via firstname.lastname@example.org.