Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Perils of Letting Southerners Teach Phonics

No offense to my Doppelganger intended.

Now, my wife isn't technically a Southerner. She was actually born in Mesa, Arizona, and was raised from age 3 in Santa Clara, in the heart of Silicon Valley. But her parents were Southerners through and through. Papa was born and raised in Cullman County, Alabama, and her mother was born and raised in Graves County, Kentucky--that little part in the far western end of the state where the border with Tennessee bumps a little bit to the south.

They're Southerners to the bone.

Now, it's not as noticeable anymore. They've been living in Silicon Valley so long that their accents have mellowed. And while Papa is still a country boy at heart, Mama has always had a bit of a maverick streak in her, and often found herself in rebellion to the Southern culture surrounding her--or if not open rebellion, at least covert subversion. While they can still function when they go back to the South to visit, I suspect they're pretty happy when they get back--especially Mama. They've absorbed enough California that they don't really fit all that well in either culture.

And, well... my Tonya is a bit like that herself. Even though she's a Southwesterner, even though she's a Silicon Valley girl, she doesn't really fit. Not in the Santa Clara valley, not out here in the Sacramento area, and definitely not the South. And yet, having grown up only one generation removed from the farm, she still has a lot of those little quirks, which occasionally manifest themselves in weird ways.

She can spit watermelon seeds much farther than I can, for instance.

But I've been noticing, um... unusual speech patterns in my eldest daughter for some time now. How to describe them? Well.... imagine that scene from the movie "Singin' In the Rain", where the movie stars are all having to take speech lessons so that they can perform in the new talkies, and the voice coaches are trying to get them to speak with full, rich, "round" sounds. Remember how the lead actress can't break out of her whiny Brooklyn accent? Well, if you can remember that scene, you can imagine our five-year-old with a similar not-full, not-rich, not-"round" sound. For example, she speaks the word "jam" as a two-syllable dipthong, like jā'-ăm.

And I'd been puzzling over for a few weeks now: where'd she been getting this?

Tonight, it hit me. You see, I overheard my wife giving my three-year-old an elementary phonics lesson.

I've mentioned before that we've been using the Hazel Loring method (Warning: pdf file), which we found at Don Potter's website. And in this method, the parent spells out words from a list, one letter at a time, and progressively lets the student sound out the word.

Today's method involved the "nk" combinations: ank, ink, onk, unk. She started in on the first few words on the list--things like sank, and tank. And the Adrenaline Junkie was dutifully sounding these words out.

But then my wife stopped to correct her, with the following phonetic rule. "No, we don't use a short vowel sound on these words. When followed by the NK, we use the long A sound."


So I listened as my wife systematically taught my daughter to mispronounce a whole bunch of words--sānk, tānk, bānk, dānk, and thānk, instead of sănk, tănk, bănk, dănk, and thănk.

So I manfully went in to correct my wife.

"Um, honey? Don't you mean it should be sănk?"

She looked at me like I had three heads. To be fair, she tried to sound it out the way I had said it, and it just sounded funny to her. It sounded funny to me when she tried to pronounce it that way, too--because that's not the way my wife usually sounds.

So I went and pulled out the dictionary and looked up the word sank. Sure enough, the non-Southerner was right. The dictionary must have been edited by a Yankee: the word is officially pronounced "săngk".

Apparently, she was trying to get our kids to pronounce all the "ink" words as "eenk" as well: "I theeeenk she weeeenked at me when I was over by the seeeenk."

So. This explains a lot! So I got to mock her mercilessly tonight.

She's never been one to call people names. But if she were, I'm sure I'd have to correct her again: your husband is a wănker, not wānker....



Chris said...

Dearest Timothy,

You can look this up in all of the new-fangled Yankee-inpired resources you want, but I'm siding with Tonya.

The more syllables, the better.

Night, ya'll!

Cat said...

I've never lived in the South, and I say sānk, tānk, bānk, dānk, and thānk, as well as theeenk.
I side with your wife.

Crimson Wife said...

Too funny! I grew up in New England and my DH is from near Philly. While neither of us has a particularly strong accent, there are certain words we each pronounce just differently enough to result in arguments over the "proper" way to say them.

For example: my DH pronounces the name of his sister Erin and my cousin Aaron the same, while I pronounce them differently. He also pronounces "Mary", "marry", and "merry" the same, while I again pronounce each differently. He also pronounces "aunt" like "ant" (shudder) while I pronounce it to rhyme with "haunt" or "gaunt".

Timothy Power said...

You know the one that gets me?

My wife can never keep straight the difference between "Calvary" (the place where Jesus died) and "Cavalry" (guys riding around on horses).

I get weird images in my head when she says, "Here comes the Calvary!"

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