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Top 50 Words Nigerians Commonly Mispronounce (III)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. For the first part of this series click here For the second part, click here. 25. Fatal. The great m...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

For the first part of this series click here

For the second part, click here.

25. Fatal. The great majority of Nigerians pronounce this word just the way it’s written: “fa-tal.” I had thought that our pronunciation is close to the preferred British pronunciation, but I found out that both British and American speakers pronounce the word as “fey-tl.” The “a” sound between the “t” and the “l” in the word is never articulated. The “ey” sound is also preferred in the word’s other derivatives such as fatalism (“fey-ta-li-zm”), fatalistic (“fey-ta-listik”), and fatalist (fey-ta-list). Nevertheless, for fatality both “fey-ta-liti” and “fa-ta-liti” are socially favored in British and American pronunciations.

26. Fuel. While Nigerians pronounce this word like “fu-el,” native English speakers pronounce it something like “fyool.” A related one is “oil” which Nigerians, especially southern Nigerians, tend to pronounce like “o-yel” or “o-yil” but which native speakers pronounce as “oyl.”

27. Gear. Like most Nigerians, I used to pronounce this word as “jia” until I came to America. Native speakers pronounce it something like “gia(r).” The first “g” in the word has the same sound as the “g” in “girl.” This is also true of the verb form of the word: geared. It’s pronounced “giard.”

28. Google. I have no clue why Nigerians, especially young Nigerians, pronounce this word as “go-gu.” The “go” in the popular Nigerian pronunciation of “Google” usually sounds like the “go” in “God.” But that’s the pronunciation of “goggle,” which means to look at somebody or something stupidly—like villagers do when they come to the city for the first time. The proper way to pronounce Google is “guu-gul.” That shouldn’t be hard to figure out because any word that has two “o’s” usually requires us to have a long “u” sound when we pronounce it. Examples: cook, book, look, crook.

29. Gigantic. Both American and British English speakers pronounce this word like “jai-gan-tik,” but Nigerians pronounce it like “jai-jan-tic.” Note that native speakers sound the middle “g” like you would the “g” in “goat.”

30. Gnash/gnarl/gnostic. The “g” in these words is silent. So the words are pronounced “nash,” “na(r)l,” and “nostik.” Many Nigerians tend to sound out the “g’s” in the words.

31. Hoarse. Nigerians pronounce this word like “ho-as,” but native speakers pronounce it exactly like they (and we) pronounce “horse.” So, while British speakers pronounce it “hos” (with a long “o” sound) Americans pronounce it “hoRs” (also with a long “o” sound but with the “r” rolled).

32. Honest/honor/honorable/hour. The first “h” in these words is silent, but many Nigerians sound out the “h.” So the words are pronounced “onist/onur/onureibl/aw-a(r).”

33. Hyperbole/epitome/litotes/simile. While Nigerians don't sound out the last “e” in these words, native-speakers do. So hyperbole is not pronounced “hai-pa-bol”; it is pronounced “hai-pa(r)-boli.” Epitome is not pronounced “epi-tom”; it is pronounced “ipi-tomi.” Litotes (the figure of speech) is not pronounced “lai-tots”; it is pronounced “lai-tow-tees.” Simile is not pronounced “si-mail”; it is pronounced “si-mu-lee.” But the rule doesn’t apply to “academe.” It is not pronounced “aka-demi”; it is pronounced “aka-deem.”

The reason these words’ pronunciations are atypical is that they have retained their original pronunciations from the languages through which they came into the English language. The last “e” in many Greek and Latin words is sometimes articulated and at other times silent. In French loanwords, as you saw from previous weeks' installments, the last letters of many words are silent, and English sometimes retains these original phonological features.  English sure embodies many mutually contradictory linguistic heritages. 

34. Issues. Most Yoruba English speakers pronounce this word as “izhus.” Other Nigerians pronounce it as “i-sus.”  But the word’s “proper” pronunciation is “i-shoos.”

35. Library/librarian/secretary/secretariat. Nigerians leave out the middle “r” sounds in these words. Library is often pronounced as “lai-bri” in Nigerian English. But native speakers pronounce it “lai-bre-ri.” The “r” is usually articulated. It is worth noting, though, that “lai-bri” is a legitimate variant in British pronunciation; it is not in American pronunciation. What of librarian, which Nigerians pronounce like “lai-be-rian”? Well, both British and American pronunciations articulate the middle “r” to have something like “lai-breh-rian.” 

Similarly, unlike Nigerian English pronunciation that elides the middle “r” in secretary and secretariat, British and American pronunciations sound it out. Instead of “se-ke-tri,” British speakers say “se-kri-tri” and Americans say something like “se-kri-tari” (the last “a” is soft). This also applies to secretariat. While Nigerians pronounce it “se-ke-tey-riat” native speakers pronounce it something like “se-kri-tey-riat” with subtle differences in how the vowels are articulated, which I am not interested in exploring here.

36. Liaison/liaise. Nigerians pronounce this word like “lai-ason.” We also pronounce liaise like “lai-as.” But British speakers pronounce liaison like “li-ey-zn” and Americans pronounce it like “li-ey-zon.” Both British and American English speakers pronounce liaise as “li-eyz.”

37. Listen/fasten/hasten. The “t” sound in these words is silent in native-speaker pronunciations. Listen is pronounced something like “lisin,” not “listin” as Nigerians pronounce it. Fasten is “fasin.” The elision of the “t” sound also occurs in the word’s other derivatives such as fastener (“fasna”), fastening (“fasnin”), refasten (“rifasin”), unfasten (“on-fasin”), etc. And hasten is pronounced “heisin.”

38. Machete/ matchet. Nigerian English speakers pronounce these words alike, that is, “ma-chet.” But machete, which is the more modern form of the two words, is “properly” pronounced “ma-she-ti.” Machet, the older word, is pronounced “ma-chit.”

39. Plagiarism/plagiarize/plagiarist. Many Nigerians pronounce the first “a” in these words like the “a” sound in “attack” to have something like “pla-gia-ri-zm,” “pla-gia-raiz,” and “pla-gia-rist,” but in all native-speaker pronunciations, the first “a” after “l” sounds like the “a” in ape. So it’s “pley-gia-ri-zm,” “pley-gia-raiz,” and “pley-gia-rist.” In other words, the first “pla” in the words sounds exactly like the word play. 

40. Plumber. The “b” in the word is silent in native-speaker pronunciations unlike in Nigerian pronunciation where it is usually articulated. Instead of “plom-ba” native-speakers say “ploma” with a soft “a” sound at the end. The “b” is also silent in these derivatives: plumb (“plom”), plumbing (“plomin”), plumbable (“plomeibl”).

41. Poignant. Although this is not a usual word in Nigerian conversational English, the few Nigerians that I’ve heard pronounce this word often sound out the “g” in it. In native-speaker pronunciations, however, the “g” is silent. It is not “poi-gnant”; it is “poyn-yont.”

42. Pivotal. Nigerians pronounce this word as “pai-vo-tal.” That’s the pronunciation I grew up hearing from my elementary school teachers who attended “pivotal teacher training colleges,” a sort of stopgap teacher certification for secondary school leavers who desired a career in elementary school teaching. It wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered that the word is pronounced “pi-vo-tl” in the dominant varieties of English pronunciation.

43. Ritual. This word is often pronounced “ri-twal” in Nigerian English. But native speakers pronounce it like “ri-choo-al.”

44. Statute. This word sounds like “sta-choot” in native-speaker pronunciations, but many Nigerians pronounce it like “sta-tiut.” 

45. Stipend. It is pronounced “stai-pend” by native speakers. Many, certainly not all, Nigerians pronounce it “sti-pend.”

46. Sword. The “w” in sword is silent in native-speaker pronunciations. It is pronounced “sod” in British English and “soRd” in American English. Nigerians sound out the “w.” Interestingly, the “w” in sward, which is often confused with sword in written English, is articulated. It is pronounced “swo(r)d.”

47. Towel. Many Nigerians pronounce this word like “to-wel.” Native English speakers pronounce it something like “taw-ul”

48. Tortoise. Nigerians pronounce this word like “to-tois.” I met a Nigerian woman in Louisiana in 2005 who had great difficulty making her American friends understand what she meant by “to-tois.” They were by a swamp in the middle of a campus and she was telling them something about tortoises, but they had no clue what she was talking about. She was frustrated. It was because, first, Americans are more familiar with “turtle” than “tortoise” and, second, they pronounce the word like “toRtis.” The last “o” in the word is kind of silent in all native-speaker pronunciations.

49. Verbatim. Almost every Nigerian I have met has pronounced this word like “va-ba-tim.” But it is pronounced “va(r)-bey-tim” in native-speaking pronunciations.

50. Wednesday. Nigerians pronounce this word “wed-nes-dey.” But in all socially favored native-speaker pronunciations the “d” is silent. So it’s “wenz-dey” or “wenz-dee.”

I will conclude this series next week with bonus words and other great suggestions I received from readers.

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1 comment

  1. Nice write-up, sir. Something of this nature help students and learners that are enthusiastic to drop there pronunciations and pick the correct ones. In your bonus list, it would be helpful to "sachet" and "principal" for they are also mispronounced by many Nigerians. Thank you, sir.


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