meaning

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Rhotacism – mispronunciation of ‘r’

I was intrigued to discover that there is a condition called rhotacism – I assumed, having come across so many communities in East Africa where ‘r’ is pronounced as ‘l’ that it was more of a cultural issue than a speech challenge.

A quick search led me to this posting which clearly refutes my cultural take and gives an idea of how widespread (look at the list of related posts) the disorder/challenge is.

It’s not too much of an issue for people (silent) reading but it would be a challenge for someone trying to read their work at a writers’ group or other such gathering. I called a place by the wrong name for years as my first introduction to it had been by a group of people all suffering from rhotacism, or at least one person having suffered from it and teaching the others how to pronounce the word. This is particularly relevant to areas where education is not as developed or available as it is in the UK, the US and most of EUrope.

The outcome of this: I’ve learnt a new word and it’s good to know there are ways to overcome the affliction. Now to find a fiction book which mentions the word (search on Google books and you’ll be amazed at the number of books featuring rhotacism).

While I can’t think of any TSL author using rhotacisms, as it’s a common feature in Africa I thought I’d share some TSL Africa related books.

first published 4 February 2018, updated 2024

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The joy of language

Language is a funny thing – it’s fluid, it appears to be constant but the use and meanings of words change.
When we arrived in the UK from South Africa, we quickly learnt to say ‘trousers’ and not ‘pants’. The meaning were quite different in the two countries. What I understand by the word ‘now’ is not what a British person understands and to confuse them (British) even more, say ‘just now’ or even ‘now now’. Then in South African English we have ‘ja-nee’ (adopted from the Afrikaans meaning ‘yes-no’ – what??? I hear you exclaim).

So often I come across the same word used by authors in the same sentence let alone the same paragraph. When I was doing my thesis, I was reliably informed by one of my supervisors not to use the identical word in one complete sentence unless you absolutely had to. It made sense in terms of reducing confusion but more significantly enriched my writing (if only I could do the same when I speak).

To be honest, I hate the writing process – I only do it because it disseminates the wonderful stories that I discover as an historian. But the one thing I do enjoy about the art of putting words on paper is the challenge of finding synonyms – words or phrases. So I was particularly excited when I came across this article on lost words. And reassuringly, I’m not the only one who likes words, so does Ayòbámi Adébáyò.

And, rightly or wrongly, I’m all for recouping those lost words and reinstating meanings of a by-gone era. Too many words have been high-jacked for political purposes which in a global world such as the one we operate in, is most restrictive. Not least because it removes variety and the element of learning. I recall once being asked to reprimand a student for plagiarism – the evidence? They had used the word fracas. Such a ‘big’ word used by a student from India in the UK automatically meant they’d cribbed from somwhere. The student was not reprimanded but the staff member was given a lesson in cultural nuances. So long as we keep insisting that authors write to meet ‘our’ language requirements publishers are not going to break down cultural barriers and truely embrace diversity.

(I can’t help but chuckle that the ‘readability’ sampler on this blog says ‘needs improvement’: no sub-headings, one-third of the sentences are too long and shock-horror! I’ve written in the passive voice).

Why not try some books written in a non-traditional English style? For starters, here at TSL we have:
Shaka are Dead
The Roots that gave birth to Magical Blossoms
Kenya Days, Moonlit Nights
Then there’s:
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Haskek

first published 4 January 2018, updated 2024