The changing sounds of English

They say that you can tell you’re getting older when policemen start to look younger. Don’t know about that, but I have noticed the new doctor at our practice looks like a student.

One of the other signs I have noticed is an increasing awareness of changes in spoken English. Not so much in grammar and spelling. I’ve given up on that because it would be a sign that I am attached to the English as I was taught at school as the yardstick for the language as a whole, and any changes are almost an assault on me as a person.

It relates more to certain changes in English pronunciation which are harder to understand. Some years ago, I first became aware of a change in the way people pronounce the words community and communications. The initial syllable com was being shortened to kim, so the words sounded like kimmunity and kimmunications  I thought at first that it was a local pronunciation issue, but since then I have noticed it has become more widespread and is now frequently to be heard in the broadcast media.

Then there’s the word nuclear. It is somehow morphing into nuc-a-lear. Even my son says it. Then there’s almond, now being pronounced as written, rather than armond.

Most recently I have come across a strange change in the pronunciation of the word vulnerable, which is being pronounced as if it didn’t have the first letter l: vunerable. Even Ian Duncan-Smith says it, though I suspect that he wouldn’t know what it meant if it bit him on the bottom.

Language changes all the time. If it didn’t we would all still be speaking like characters in Beowulf. We smile now at the strangulated upper class English vowel sounds of the 30s. Just listen to the way the Queen speaks now as compared with when she first came to the throne. But why do the sounds change at all? What is it that drives vowel sound shifts? Whatever it is, it seems that those changes happen more quickly because the media reflect and disseminate variations far more quickly than happened in the past.

 

 

 

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