Tag Archives: spelling

Of draws, argers, and the perfidious English R

26 Oct

There was rather a funny moment at church this week when the man giving the sermon was talking about how his Bolton accent makes it hard to articulate the place-names Ur and Ayr, at least so that anyone can understand him. Ur was easy enough from the context (Abraham’s home) but he did have to specify that Ayr was on the west coast before we got it, because frankly both names just sounded like vocalisations of uncertainty – “er?”

This was shortly after I had seen someone on the internet writing about how you can cook the “storks” of cauliflower – a mistake that could only be made by someone with an English accent because stalk and stork do not sound the same in a Scottish accent (and Americans tend to pronounce silent ‘L’s, in my experience).

And that was shortly after I discovered that paraphernalia is not spelled “paraphenalia”, as I had always believed, because there is a sneaky second R that is silent in an English accent. (The same thing happened to me the opposite way round with perse[r]vere a few years ago.)

All of which is to say that I still can’t fully understand English accents, despite hearing them on the TV for decades and even living in the country for nearly a dozen years when I was younger. At high school in England I was briefly convinced that there was a type of cooker called an arger until I saw the name written on the side of my friend’s Aga.

But I have come to believe that this is not my fault: English people don’t understand English accents either. It’s not just “storks” of cauliflower; I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen drawer spelled “draw” (a chest of “draws”) and other similar spelling mistakes because there genuinely is no difference in an English accent between the “ah” sound and the “ar” sound (as evidenced by a man on Twitter advising that the country name should be pronounced “Parkistarn”). If there is no difference between “or”, “oar” and “awe”, how am I supposed to know which one is being said?

If you can read phonetic symbols, you can even see this in some dictionaries: the R sound simply does not appear except at the beginning of words. Sometimes they add an alternative version with the central /final R sound for any Scots or Americans who may be reading, though.

Of course, it works the other way round, a wee bit. Vowals are always malleable (“pull” and “pool” sound the same in my accent, for instance, but very different in Yorkshire), but we Glaswegians do have a tendency to turn the T sound into a glottal stop and TH into just an H. Maybe someone not from round here can tell me whether that’s equally confusing.

But this is just my little moan about how I never have and never will get to grips with English accents. Which may go some way towards explaining why I felt very foreign when I moved to England, something I talked about on Revival FM with Matt Dick yesterday. More of the later, when it’s broadcast, but for now, teɪk keə! (Or just teɪk keɪr.)

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