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Hypercorrection March 9, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Cantonese, Grammar, Phonetics.

Recently, to my surprise, I have found out that I have been mispronouncing a word for over 30 years, in my own native language!

The word is ‘愛’ (oi3) in Cantonese, meaning ‘love’. It is a commonly used word, and many people like myself, mispronounce it as ‘ngoi3’. It is usually not noticeable, but in terms of phonetics, it is a completely different sound.

To be exact, I am pronouncing the word in the ‘less correct’ way. The official Cantonese dictionary accepts this pronunciation as a variant. The wide spread of this ‘less correct’ pronunciation was an result of an unconscious rule of adding the initial ‘ng’ for all words that do not have an initial. The rule is not always correct.

In fact, there is a linguistic term for this kind of rules – hypercorrection. It describes the over-generalization of common usage by imposing artificial grammatical rules that are not necessarily correct in all cases. An example in English is the rule of not ending any clause with a preposition. After being hypercorrected, Winston Churchill made this famous quote:

“This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

To be honest, I am still having a hard time to convince myself that I am wrong (or ‘less correct’). Many people nowadays will not accept the original pronunciation, and would assume that it is incorrect. I don’t like its sound either. I find my pronunciation of the word more natural.

I have 2 choices now. I can either correct myself, or I can wait for the dictionary to be updated, which could happen one day.

Have you ever found yourself mispronouncing any word in your own language? What would you do about that?


Passing the Time January 17, 2007

Posted by Edwin in English, Grammar, Toastmasters.

Should we correct other people’s grammar? Would we like them to do the same to us? If so, how should we go about doing it?

There has been a rather active discussion on Master Steve’s blog last week about correcting grammar during conversations. Coincidentally, Grammar Girl published a podcast on the same subject around the same time.

My opinion is that it is normally not appropriate to correct each other’s grammar during a conversation, unless the other side specifically requests for it. But yet, I believe having designated times in doing such an activity is very helpful to learners of languages, which by the way, include our own native tongues.

The Toastmasters club is one great example. For those who think this club is only there to help you overcome the fear of public speaking, it provides much more than this. One special area in Toastmasters is the ‘evaluation session’. Every part of the meeting gets evaluated at the end.

Last week, I was assigned to be the chairman of my Toastmasters club meeting. At one point, I said something like, ‘I would like to pass the time to our Toastmaster”. It just happened that another person said the same thing a while later. In the evaluation session, the General Evaluator pointed out that this is indeed not a correct sentence. ‘Passing the time to whoever’ does not make much sence in English. It turned out that I subconsciously borrowed it from a Chinese usage (將時間交給…), which is perfectly correct.

If incidents like this one never happens, I will probably never know my mistake. Therefore, my own opinion on the whole issue of ‘correcting other people’s grammar’ is that, in general, people would love to hear the corrections, but it has to be done in an appropriate way. To me this means at the right place, at the right time, and using the right tone.