This pronunciation is a scone-scratcher

What you call these tasty treats may say something about you, although exactly what it might be is not clear.

What you call these tasty treats may say something about you, although exactly what it might be is not clear.

Today we're going to talk about scones – and the first question I'm going to ask is: do you say "scone" to rhyme with "gone", or does your version rhyme with "cone"?

 In some circles the latter pronunciation is regarded as an upper-class affectation, while the former reeks of working-class origins.

 As I pronounce the word to rhyme with "gone", the analysis would seem to hold true because my working-class origins are firmly embedded in Lincolnshire's fertile agricultural soil.

 However, a British study to mark the 100th anniversary of Daniel Jones' English Pronouncing Dictionary has revealed that the pronunciation of scone – and many other words – has less to do with your social aspirations and more to do with your geographical origins.

 Obviously, this does not greatly apply to New Zealand where accents and pronunciations are nowhere near as varied as they are in Britain but the memory lingers on.

 Immediate descendants of British immigrants tend to maintain their parents' manners of speech, so the pattern is repeated, if somewhat diluted, here.

  Cambridge University has produced what it has labelled The Great Scone Map and the pronunciation of the word "scone" reveals a distinct pattern across the nation.

 People like me, who rhyme the word with "gone", are much more likely to come from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England. As my ancestors on both sides originate in the north it's hardly surprising I am following in their speech pattern.

  Those who rhyme the word with "cone" come predominantly from Southern Ireland and the Midlands. The rest of the country is obviously just confused and uses a mix of the two pronunciations, with the social climbers opting for the "stone" version.

  The English Pronouncing Dictionary tracks the fascinating way our language has changed over the last 100 years. For instance, the words "pour" and "poor" were once pronounced differently – and apparently still are in some areas. Most people, however, pronounce the word as in "pore".

Ad Feedback

 One interesting fact to derive from a study of the dictionary is the case of the disappearing R.

 Apparently – and I have to say I haven't noticed a similar trend here – words such as "arm", "square" and "near" are now being predominantly pronounced in England as "am", "squih" and "nih".

 However, probably in an unwitting blow for nationalism, people in Scotland, and also in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, still pronounce "arm" with the R prominent.

   I find some of the findings of this study disturbing reading. It appears there is a trend for the letter T to be disappearing in words such as "butter", which is increasingly being pronounced "bu'er". This is technically known as a glottal stop. I just hope it doesn't become a global stop!

 Similarly, the trend towards southern English speak is being revealed in the way words such as "mother" and "father" are pronounced. The "th" is being replaced by V or F, as in "muvver" and "farver". Arthur (or should that be Arfer?) Daley and his sidekick, Terry, have a lot to answer for.

 As phonetics expert Professor Jane Setter, of the University of Reading, explained: "Some experts believe that in 50 to 100 years the use of "th" in popularly spoken English will have disappeared.

"The idea horrifies some English language teachers but at the end of the day we have to accept that words and their pronunciation are flexible and changeable," she said.

"They are not fixed entities to be enshrined in stone. 

"One of the most profound influences is undoubtedly the London accent, which has a noticeable glottal stop. It is the language of the capital, after all, so it is certainly going to affect the southern part of Britain."

I shudder at the thought that in the not-too-distant-future we will be advertising New Zealand bu'er overseas.

 However, there is hope. There are still bastions that refuse to succumb to passing trends.

 In the appropriately named village of Scone, in Scotland, the locals still pronounce  it "skoon".


 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback