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More Words Nigerians Commonly Mispronounce

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. I was frankly taken a little aback by the enormous overflow of enthusiasm with which my series on Nigerian ...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I was frankly taken a little aback by the enormous overflow of enthusiasm with which my series on Nigerian English mispronunciations was received. Although I wrote the series in response to several requests from my readers, I didn’t expect many people to find it interesting or worthwhile. Many readers said my use of unconventional phonetic spellings made the series particularly helpful. 
I have way more words on my list of common words Nigerians mispronounce than I am inclined to write here. Maybe I should consider writing a layman’s Dictionary of Nigerian English Pronunciation since I am not a trained phonologist. 

In today’s edition, I conclude with bonus words and suggestions from my readers. The suggestions readers sent to me were many. I cannot capture all of them here.

1. Annihilate. This word is popularly pronounced “ani-hi-leyt” in Nigerian English. Native speakers pronounce it “anai-ileyt.” Note that the “h” is silent.

2. Adjacent: Almost everyone I know in Nigeria pronounces this word like “aja-sent.” Native speakers pronounce it “ajey-sent.”

3. Bouquet. This French loanword is pronounced either like “bow-kei” or “biu-kei,” but many Nigerians pronounce it “bu-kwet.”

4. Excited. The mispronunciation of this word as “eg-zai-ted” isn’t a national trend. It appears to be restricted to southwestern Nigeria, but I have heard several people outside the region say “eg-zai-ted” instead of “ik-sai-tid.”

5. February. A reader asked me to include this word, but I initially hesitated because the word has different acceptable native-speaker pronunciations. Then it occurred to me that a broad swath of Nigerians pronounce it in ways that are different from the various variants in native-speaker pronunciations. Nigerians tend to pronounce this word as “fe-bwa-ri.” There are two dominant native-speaker pronunciations of this word. One is “fe-bru-ari,” which appears to be the most socially favored in Britain and northern United States. In the American south I hear people say “fe-biu-ari.” They, too, kind of "swallow" the "r."
Downloaded from a Facebook friend's timeline. My apologies if anyone finds it offensive. It's intended to be self-deprecating humor. I'm guilty of  :misarticulating" many of these words, too, if that's any comfort.

6. Fork. Nigerians used to pronounce this word like native British English speakers do, that is, they used to pronounce it “fo:k”— with a long “o” sound. But I hear that teachers in primary and secondary schools in Nigeria now teach students to pronounce it “fe:k.” Well, no one pronounces “fork” that way anywhere in the world. Pronouncing fork “fek” makes you sound like a mentally subnormal idiot with speech impediments.

6. Garage. Nigerians universally pronounce this word as “ga-reyj,” but it is pronounced “ga-raaj” or ga-raazh” by native speakers. 

7. Itinerary. Many Nigerians “swallow” the middle consonants in the word to produce something like “ai-ti-nari.” Native speakers articulate all the consonants in the word to have something like “ai-ti-nu-rari.”

8. Nigeria. It is perhaps the biggest irony of our “nationhood” that almost no Nigerian pronounces the name of our country “correctly.” Last year, I’d planned to write an article on the imperative to change Nigeria’s name to something other than Nigeria, and part of the argument I wanted to advance was that the name “Nigeria” is so foreign to us that almost no Nigerian pronounces it correctly. One of my readers brought this to my attention again three weeks ago. He pointed out that even President Goodluck Jonathan doesn't pronounce Nigeria correctly. Well, there are regional and ethnic variations in the way "Nigeria" is pronounced in Nigeria. While Hausa people pronounce Nigeria “naa-je-riya,” the rest of the country pronounces it like “nan-ji-ria.” Many language groups in southern and central Nigeria that don’t have the “j” sound in their languages either pronounce it “nan-ye-ria” or “nan-ge-ria.” The British people who imposed the name on us pronounce it “nai-jee-ree-a.” So do Americans and other native English speakers.

9. Pariah. This word, which came to the English language by way of India, entered the active idiolect of Nigerians during the late General Sani Abacha’s regime after the print media ceaselessly described Nigeria as a “pariah nation.” But it seems like nobody bothered to find out how the word is “properly” pronounced. So most of us pronounced it like “pa-riya.” But native speakers pronounce it something like “pa-rai-a.”

10. Pizza. I never ate pizza when I grew up in Nigeria. I had no idea what it was and I had no clue how it was pronounced. Nor did I care. But gastronomic globalization (as I’ve chosen to call the internationalization of otherwise provincial foods) is causing pizza to become a culinary alternative in Nigeria. The problem is, many Nigerians—at least those I related with in my recent trip to Nigeria—pronounce this (Americanized) Italian dish in ways that make it sound almost unrecognizable to the people who eat it. Nigerians pronounce it “pi-za.” I heard a young girl at a high-end Abuja restaurant pronounce it “pisa.” It almost sounded like “pisser,” that is, a person who urinates! Well, the people to whom the food is original pronounce it “peet- sa.”

11. Rendezvous. Many readers asked me to highlight this word. I personally don’t think Nigerians mispronounce it in any particularly egregious manner. I hear Nigerians pronounce it like “ren-dey-voo,” and native-speakers pronounce it “ron-dey-voo” or “ron-di-voo.” That’s not a big difference. I included the word in spite of my dubiety about its being a victim of mispronunciation in Nigeria because more than 10 people asked me to. Perhaps some people sound out every letter in the word—like “ren-dez-vus.”

12. Sotto voce. This Latin loanword for “in a low voice” is properly pronounced “so-tow-vow-chee.” But I’ve heard Nigerians pronounce it like “soto-vos.”

Other words that readers suggested are chef (which is properly pronounced “shef”),  cognac (which is properly pronounced “kown-yak”), yacht (which is properly pronounced “yot”),  chalet, (which is correctly pronounced “sha-ley”), jeopardy (which is correctly pronounced “jepa(r)di”), leopard (which is correctly pronounced “le-pa(r)d”), subtle (which is correctly pronounced “sot(u)l”), and sachet (correctly pronounced “sa-shey”).

I will update this blog with more words as they occur to me--or as my readers suggest.

Concluding Thoughts
All pronunciation, especially English pronunciation, is far from uniform. Even within native-speaker climes there exists a wide variation in the way words are pronounced. In my series, I held up the culturally privileged variants that are taught in schools, used in polite company, and in the broadcast media to illustrate the “deviations” of Nigerian English pronunciation. But why is Nigerian English pronunciation diverging more and more from native-speaker pronunciations? I answered that question in an April 29, 2010 article titled “Politics of English Pronunciation.” This was what I wrote:

“I will put it down to mother-tongue ‘interference’ and insufficient (or, in some cases, lack of) exposure to socially acceptable native-speaker pronunciation of particularly difficult (i.e., by non-native standards) aphonetic English words like yacht (pronounced /yot/ in native-speaker linguistic environments but pronounced /yach/ in Nigeria), etc.

 “In the absence of exposure to the socially accepted ways of pronouncing words in native-speaker climes, Nigerians generally pronounce the words as they are spelled, what grammarians call ‘spelling pronunciation.’ (The opposite of spelling pronunciation is ‘traditional pronunciation’).

“Spelling pronunciation, however, isn't restricted to second-language speakers like Nigerians and Indians. It also occurs in native-speaker linguistic markets, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s terminology. For instance, the ‘h’ sound in the word ‘host’ was once silent, as it still is in words like ‘hour,’ ‘honor,’ etc. But through ‘spelling pronunciation’ in Britain and America the ‘h’ is now articulated.

“Similarly, the ‘th’ in the word ‘author’ was traditionally pronounced with a ‘t’ sound but is now pronounced like the first sound in ‘thanks.’ Other examples of ‘spelling pronunciations’ that have been normalized or that co-exist with ‘traditional pronunciations’ in native-speaker English environments are ‘forehead’ (which used to be traditionally pronounced ‘forrid’ but is now pronounced ‘fohed’ in the UK and ‘forhed’ in the US), ‘schedule’ (where the ‘sch’ now rhymes with the first sound of ‘care,’ especially in American English, but is traditionally pronounced like ‘sh’), ‘often,’ (where the ‘t’ sound is traditionally silent but is now articulated), ‘appreciate’ (where the ‘c’ is traditionally pronounced ‘sh’ but is now sometimes pronounced ‘s’), etc.”

My advice for people who want to learn the correct pronunciation of words is that they should make it a habit to check the phonetic spellings of words in good dictionaries. Most people aren’t aware that dictionaries, in addition to telling us the meaning and usage of words, also teach us how to pronounce words.

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  1. Great Prof, Nigerians have their reading culture gradually declining, that is why Professors and PhD holders (President Dr Goodluck) can't pronounce words correctly, some of these PhD holders feel it is insignificant, but nay, it is very significant and undoubtedly important. Very good Prof, more ink to your pen.

  2. Hello,
    Can you give me your e-mail address? I have a question for you.


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