How people pronounce words can reveal their familiarity with the words, things or places. And their mispronunciations might reveal their cultural and, or educational background.
When a news reporter refers to a Mississippi town near the Gulf Coast as “Be-loc-si” instead of “Bi-lux-e,” it is certain he has not been to Biloxi. The same can be said of the thousands of service personnel, myself included, who were there during and since World War II.
I have visited Egypt’s huge capitol, Cairo, located near the Nile Delta. Not knowing Arabic, I don’t know how the locals pronounce the name, but much of the world’s people call it “Kye-roh.” I have also visited in Cairo, Ill., located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. There, it’s called it “Kay-ro.”
Washington State is home to “Spo-kan,” not “Spo-cane.” In New Hampshire, Concord is “Con-kurd,” while in North Carolina, the town is “Con-cord.” A coastal town in North Carolina is “Bow-fort,” while the town in coastal South Carolina is “Bue-fort.” And people with lazy speech, South or North, might say “Dee-troit” instead of “De-troit.”
Eastern North Carolina has a community named Conetoe, pronounced by those who know as “Ka-nee-ta,” not “Kone-toe.” Chalybeate Springs is a community south of Durham whose pronunciation one might never guess. While it looks like “Kalley-beet,” it is in reality “Ka-ly-bi-ate.”
All TV and radio announcers newly moved to any area should take a course in local community pronunciations. One case in point is to hear new or uninformed announcers speak of Angier (“An-jur”), a town south of Raleigh, as “An-geer.”
For some reason, perhaps cultural, some speakers add the letter “r” to names, so that Chicago becomes “Chi-car-go.” Closer to home, “Sel-ma” becomes “Sel-mur,” and even President John F. Kennedy referred to Cuba as “Kue-ber.”
The names of towns and cities in the United States derive from the countries from which people came to America. North Carolina has many such town names, including Carthage, Warsaw, Belgrade, Vienna, Florence, Lisbon, Dublin, Kilkenny, Aberdeen, Durham, Windsor, Stratford, Bath, Plymouth, Hampstead, Vandemere, Hertford, Manchester, Salisbury, Oxford, Verona, Portsmouth and Newport.
Other North Carolina communities take their names from the Bible, including Zebulon, Antioch, Smyrna, Eden, Shiloh, Ararat and Bethel. Many states have community names taken from presidential names, such as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Jackson.
North Carolina has community names associated with bridges (Lumber, Hemby); mills (Hurdle, Hope); lakes (Junaluska, Waccamaw, Lure, White); rivers (Haw, Roaring); springs (Holly, Seven, Eagle, Barium, Boiling, Hot, Red); waterfalls (Linville); hills (Chapel, Mint, Mars, Kill Devil, Rose ); mountains (Beach, Black, Sugar, King’s, Pilot); beaches (Atlantic, Kure, Carolina, Caswell); creeks (Buies, Bear, Black); groves (Newton Grove, Cherry, Cedar); and trees (Poplar, Walnut, Hickory, Pineville, Pine Level, Oak City, Elm City, Southern Pines, Spruce Pine, Whispering Pines).
In reference to pronunciations, consider our everyday use of words that contain the letters “sw,” such as swab, swag, swim and swamp. It seems strange to me and perhaps to other English-speaking people, and certainly to foreigners trying to learn to speak English, that a few of the “sw” words are universally pronounced with the “w” being silent. One notable such word is “sword.” I don’t know the reason for the silent “w,” but it might be akin to the oddity that omits the “h” in words like “hour,” “honorary,” “honest” and “honorable.”
Strange language? Yes. Just imagine how difficult it must be for non-English-speaking people to learn to speak English.
Ray Hodge, a retired pastor, makes his home in Smithfield.