Friday, February 26, 2016

How to Pronounce February

I know; some of you are expecting me to demonstrate my knowledge and proficiency in pronouncing one of the great months of the year: February. Not so. If you’ll bear with me, I promise you this is no showing of superiority. If you’ve read my previous posts, this blog is all about two things: my observations related to grammar and communication, and you. Yes, it’s all about you. I want to point out some things that you may already know, and then I want to give you some takeaways that will be useful for the remaining months of the year. Everything is related to February.

February is known as a month for U.S. presidents, for those in love, and as a tribute month for many worthwhile causes and historical remembrances. So without doubt, we utter the word “February” throughout the month. However, because today is near the end of the month, fear not. As we move forward into the remaining months of the year, we will mention and refer to February often in many ways. What I’d like to do is give you some current information that will be useful, practical, and thought provoking.

I’ve lived in several cities in the United States and two countries abroad. I’ve heard countless people pronounce February. It’s a difficult word to pronounce using the preferred and traditional dictionary suggestion (#1 below), and so I’ve concluded there are four ways that most people pronounce it:

1. Feb-roo-were-e

2. Feb-u-were-e

3. Feb-u-air-e

4. A combination of the first three

After reading the current stances of the major dictionaries and grammarians, I discovered a useful observation. The first pronunciation is the oldest and still the most correct way of pronouncing February; the second way is also an acceptable way of saying it; and it’s best to avoid the third and fourth ways. But since the traditional pronunciation of the word (and similar words such as “surprise” and “particular” where the “r” is often not pronounced) is difficult, we adapt.

Let’s be realistic and admit that #2 is easier to pronounce than #1. If so, why not do it? Well, you can—and that is why I am sitting here writing this blog post on a subject that may seem meaningless. There is no reason for anyone to avoid pronouncing February if he or she is unable to correctly do it; the evolution of language permits us to do otherwise and feel good about it. If #1 is too cumbersome, use #2.

Words change over time, both in their meaning and in their pronunciation. February, for example, is a classic word (and there are many) that contains two identical or closely related sounds. Look at the pronunciation of #1 above and see how easy it is to get tripped up on the “roo” as you pronounce February. When this occurs, dissimilation occurs and one of the sounds either gets changed or dropped by its users. That is why #2 is a favorite among most people.

This week, for example, I asked five people to name the first three months of the year. Disregarding the occasional unique pronunciations of January, all five people pronounced February very similar to #2 and #3. No one chose to tackle #1. I wonder why. It’s because #1 hard to pronounce.

Well there it is. The story could stop here, but it doesn’t. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention to you the application of today’s rant on February; it’s not all about February.

First, realize that the sounds of words change, and if you’re in doubt whether your version is correct or at least acceptable, look it up in the dictionary. This might be helpful before you talk to a group, conduct a meeting, or give a speech.

Second, be tolerant of others as they pronounce words differently than you. It could be, for example, that in another’s person’s culture or background, this is the way they say the word and communicate to others. So let it go and have a cup of coffee. Note that since words change over time, you could very well be witnessing the evolution of the word’s pronunciation. Now that is pretty neat.

Finally, be open-minded and accept the fact that the study of grammar usage is a difficult, precise, and yet imprecise field of work; and there are some easy answers coupled with the difficult. There are people who spend all their working hours thinking about these things. My advice is to be aware of the issue as I have outlined in my blog post today, and use your good judgment and instincts if presented with a grammar or communication challenge.

Thank you for spending your valuable time on today’s post; I appreciate that. I will see you again in March, and I ask you to bookmark my blog for easier reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA         @randallponder

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