Accent Modification: “Why is ‘of’ pronounced ‘uhv’? WHY?!!!” – (corrected post.)

(Ed. note: Thank-you to the many readers who reported the typos. I appreciate that so many people are reading my posts – Lesson learned – Warmly, Helen)

Ah, yes, the really sensible “why” questions about all the things in English that defy rules, guidelines, intuition, if not gravity. Often, when I start teaching Accent Modification to a new student, and I witness their frustration at the lack of reasoned guidelines, I have an urge to apologize for the strain of it all. I really do understand it, being a secondary speaker of print-to-speech logical languages like Spanish and French. And sometimes I do apologize, wincing, “Yes, I’m sorry. It makes no sense.” And I nod into the student’s shock and dismay at what they’ve been saying “wrong” for twenty-five years, as if I’ve just told them that the Ferrari they just bought is an undriveable knock-off.

And we know this “unruliness” of English is everywhere the student is or wants to be: in verbs, in nouns, in adjectives, at work, in friendships, on the phone, in job interviews, in hopes, plans, and the future.

Here is an interesting thing to consider, though, around the illogic of English pronunciation: Although it produces plentiful “uh-ohs,” embarrassed look-backs, and a sense of trickiness, it also pushes all students’ minds to stay wide open in listening and gathering information. It keeps the mind and the ears yawning wide. And, if there is a curiosity about it, which we encourage, the unruliness can be met with great expectation and humor. In real fact, some of the great enemies of learning anything are lock-down, predictability, dread, and caution, while some of the greatest friends of learning anything are openness, curiosity, a touch of whimsy, surprise, and enjoyment.

So I encourage Accent Modification learners this way: Try not to take these revelations like a sucker punch, but like a kooky kind of gift. A gift that you have opened up, and exclaimed, “Wow! That’s wonderful! Thank you! How great! What is it?!”

Sure! Here’s what it is: It’s “of,” “bargain,” “create,” and “know,” among piles of others. Enjoy!

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