Sunday, September 9, 2012

Of Spanish Rain and Asian Flood

  Obeisance before the altar

I was reading my novel and listening to the sermon at the same time in church today when something said from the pulpit caught my attention and made me look up from my novel, a hard-cover volume that appropriately resembled the Bible in appearance when seen from a distance.

You see, even if you were not the least bit interested in sermons but if you heard someone saying "obeisance" but he pronounced the "bei" to rhyme with "buy", you would probably take notice of the sermon a little more.  And if the same word was repeated at least ten times in the sermon (the topic of the sermon today being worship) with the "buy" distinctly and unmistakeably enunciated and if it soon became clear to the listener as it did to me, that the "buy" was not just a simple "buy" but really a /baɪə/, the listener would probably put away his novel which I did in a trice and listened for more.  And I heard the same thing, again and again and again - the top clergyman in my church pronounces the word in this unusual way and if you don't believe me, you can listen to the recording.  I understand all sermons are recorded by the church.

The difficulty some people experience when pronouncing /eɪ/ is well documented all over the world and unusual pronunciations arising from it are not just in the exclusive domain of Cockneys, as popularized in the musical "My Fair Lady".  Most of us in the Asia-Pacific region seldom get to hear /eɪ/ pronounced the Cockney way unless we're in the company of Aussies.  What is more common for us is the Sabahan or Sarawakian variant which I find more pleasant.   "The ran in Span stass manly in the plans" is how a Sabahan would sing the song.

I believe there is one more pronunciation quirk that identifies the Sabahan although I must stress that a friend of mine who hails from that part of the world disputes this but I think I'm right.  I believe (but as I have said, this is disputed) that they pronounce "flood" and "blood" as /flɜːd/ and /blɜːd/.  My friend insists that this is a common pronunciation among the less educated in this region and he may be right.  It may very well be just an extension of the more common /lɜːv/ for "love" and /glɜːv/ for "glove".

But coming back to obeisance, there is really no excuse.  I have never heard anyone pronouncing it that way before.  I really hope those of you who know him well will direct him to this post of mine.  Because the word is not so commonly used, there is less opportunity for it to be mispronounced and any peculiarity in one's pronunciation of it is sure to stand out.  I have explained in my blog before why I'm reluctant to talk about language and pronunciation with my friends.  Here is the link to that post:  Click here

I have just clicked on that link to test it and I was surprised to see that I made mention of that same personage in my church on 1 December 2010.  This is a pure coincidence.  I really have the highest regard for him and I know he's not the sort who will be offended by what I have written. But if I'm wrong in my judgment and he is really upset that I have brought up examples from his speech, all I can say is I'm glad I have removed all clues to my personal identity from this blog.  It's not wise to incur the wrath of a man of God.

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