The impordance of being earnest…

It isn’t a typo – let me explain.

The English language is complex, sometimes illogical (especially when it comes to pronunciation), and rich in variety. English also changes and evolves with each passing year, thus expanding our palette of communication tools. Only recently words like “selfie” and “upvote” were added to our dictionary.

What I’m grappling with is the American habit of bastardizing English by mispronouncing the words.

I was in a meeting the other day led by a young well-educated American woman with an important role to play in the company. We were discussing a new procedure she had devised – one that would help partners and customers and sales people alike. When complimented on the work done on this effective new process, her response was “Thank you. I think it’s really impordant to have something like this in place.”

Really? “Impordant”? There’s a “d” in the word “important” now?

Oh, it isn’t just this one woman. And it isn’t just this one word. I hear “dinn’t” more often than “didn’t,” “shoulnn’t” more often than “shouldn’t.”

The phenomenon doesn’t seem to be regional. Quite the contrary – countrywide, Americans are adopting new ways to pronounce old words. It may be more prevalent in younger American speakers, but no one seems to be exempt. In the last five years or so, the mis-pronunciations have run rampant. I hear them daily from both the famous and non-famous: news anchors, reporters, radio personalities, and their on-the-street interviewees.

Why? Where did this practice come from? Is this to be the new norm? Are words like “important” and “didn’t” and “shouldn’t” going the way of “butter” and “kitty” – “budder” and “kiddy” respectively – a turn of sloppy speech that most Americans (including myself) have adopted.  My friend’s name is “Rita,” however, more often than not, she’s called “Rida.”

I can attribute some of the changes to sloth – it is easier to say “budder” than “butter.”

These newly bastardized words, however, are difficult. It’s hard to insert a “d” into the word “important.” It’s challenging to wrap your tongue around “dinn’t” and “shoulnn’t.” There’s nothing lazy about it. It’s hard work to mispronounce those words.

There is an episode of The Twilight Zone from 1964 called “Soldier.” In it, a savage man is captured by local law enforcement for disrupting the peace. No one is surprised when this savage individual fights and protests his incarceration – but he does so in a language that no one understood and no one can identify. His guards shout at him in English (because we all know that speaking louder promotes better understanding). The man’s response is to increase his volume as well.

Eventually the jailers come to realize that this being is from the future (it is a Twilight Zone episode, after all). And that he is speaking English. Not the garden-variety American vernacular we use now. Instead, the language of the future has morphed into something no longer recognizable as our native tongue.

Is it inevitable that our language will become so distorted that a being from our century will not understand Americans 100 years from now?

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About Lori Hart Beninger

Lori Hart Beninger is a native California writer with three critically acclaimed historical novels (Embracing the Elephant, A Veil of Fog and Flames, and A Peculiar Peace) that follow two 19th century young adults as they struggle with survival and acceptance in the pivotal era of the California Gold Rush up to the American Civil War. Please visit www.ontrackpublishing.com for synopses, availability, reviews, and more.
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