Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Vanishing T

One of the beauties of the English language is its adaptability: its readiness to accommodate new coinages, accept foreign words as its own, change its orthography (look it up, loveys), and allow the correct meaning of a word to shine through a wide variety of pronunciations, both regional and dialect. Yet Livia finds herself yearning for the beautiful, crisp sound of the letter T defining the middles of words. Global communication and a tendency in America toward a non-accent accent, however, are gradually erasing that lovely letter.

Think about it for a moment, loveys: when was the last time you heard the name of the dreary season pronounced with its central T? "Winner" seems to describe both the season and the person picking up the lottery check. Shopping malls (and hospitals) have become "cenners"; horses now "canner"; and fugitives are "wan-ed."

And the words with doubled-up letters are faring no better: the two in this sentence (sennence) are pronounced "leder" and "beder."

Livia is certainly not suggesting that we all begin to sound like snooty butlers in bad drawing-room comedies. She does suggest that the trend toward extreme casualness in American life leads to a variety of unappetizing results: enter (enner?) any office building on a Friday in the summertime, and you'll get the idea. On her good days, Livia attributes sloppy pronunciation to an overabundance of informality.

On her bad days, she believes that a rising tide of anti-intellectualism is destroying American culture and that sloppiness in pronunciation is simply a manifestation of a truly frightening dumbing-down of our populace. She can only hope that, now that we have actual grown-ups running the country, attention to thought and expression will regain a central place in public discourse.

But don't hold your breath.