Two deliberately created alternative pronunciations?


During the past week, I lstened to a fascinating radio programme which included a contribution by the world expert on meerkat behaviour, Tim Clutton-Brock.

I was surprised that he pronounced the word for their mating behaviour as /pɒliˈgaɪnəs/. As always these days, not trusting my own memory and usage, I consulted all the pronouncing dictionaries I own, and not a single one gave this as a possible pronunciation.

How could a world expert mispronounce a word which he must have heard from his colleagues many hundreds if not thousands of times?

But then it occurred to me that he may be deliberately mispronoucing it in order for it not to be confused with the very similar, but much more frequently heard word, polygamous.

A similar deliberate ‘mispronunciation’ is used by foreign language teachers in order to distinguish between the two sorts of examination that test the production and understanding of an L2: aural and oral. The two words have identical pronunciations in my accent at least, and I suspect most others, but failing to distinguish between them could have consequences for students and teachers if they were confused. Hence the language teacher’s pronunciation /ˈaʊrəl/ for aural and /ˈɔːrəl/ for oral.

And for those still wondering what word Clutton-Block was using – polygynous, usually pronounced /pəˈlɪdʒɪnəs/.

PS I wonder how he pronounces misogyny and misogynous.

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