By Akeem Lasisi
Thought we’d seen the back of the condition that predisposes Yoruba people to pronounce “caucus” as “cancurs”. Until yesterday. Na the same we dey call “trousers” “trousis”, call “mattress” “mattrass”, render “motor” as “mutor”, “Kano” as “Kanu” and “Kaduna” as “Kadunor”. Wetin dey do us sef?”
This is how media executive, Bamidele Johnson, ‘shook the table’ a few days ago – permit me to use that slang. The statement sounds like a joke but it is largely a reflection of the problems that many of us, including non-Yorubas, have with the pronunciation of some common words. Consider ‘trousers’, for example. The Lagos-based witty commentator is right to have observed that a lot of people call it ‘trousis’. Yet, the injustice against the word is deeper than that. In terms of grammar, how many people commit the blunder of saying, ‘Where is my trousers?’ Many. The correct expression is ‘Where are my trousers’ because, like knickers, shorts, stockings, pants and glasses, ‘trousers’ comes in pairs and thus commands a plural verb. In this class, we have treated this on one or two occasions:
My knicker is dirty. (Wrong)
My knickers is dirty. (Wrong)
My knickers are dirty. (Correct)
My sandals is new. (Wrong)
My sandals are new. (Correct).
His trousers has torn. (Wrong)
His trousers have torn. (Correct)
Back to pronunciation, one may not be part of the ‘trousis’ bandwagon, but there are other landmines that only few people are able to escape when articulating ‘trousers’. First, the ‘er’ in the word is not to be pronounced as A, not as the ‘a’ you have in samba or mamba. It is like the low vowel in words like cancER, answER, bouncER etc.
The second matter is that the first and second ‘s’ should sound as Z, not S that is mostly said. The reason is that when ‘s’ is preceded by a vowel (such as in ‘his’, ‘was’, ‘years’), the consonant should come out as Z. Compare this to when ‘s’ is preceded by a consonant like p and t: wasps, mats etc. In these cases, the ‘s’ sounds as S. But when preceded by a vowel, it should be pronounced Z:
maps – mapS
tanks – tankS
has – haZ
trousers – trouZerZ
I agree with BJ (Bamidele Johnson) that there is no excuse for pronouncing ‘mattress’ as ‘mattrass’. The worse is that those who mispronounce it so are likely to accordingly misspell it. It’s like saying ‘priviledge’ and prospone’, and eventually writing the words so, whereas the correct spellings are privilege and postpone. So, who started the sleaze of pronouncing the ‘e’ in mattress as A? I think our man who launched the protest on Facebook should go ahead to institute a #ENDMATRAS campaign.
Meanwhile, there are some other words where the vowel E (as in met, wet, red) is similarly massively robbed. One of such is ‘leopard’. Many of us pronounce it as l-IO-pard. This is wrong because the pronunciation is lEpard, with the first syllable sounding the way its counterpart in ‘leper’ does.