WNW: *What* Central?

The mouth tends to be a lazy organ.

The result is that what we "know" we're hearing or saying isn't always so. Very often the mouth takes the route of least resistance, and the result is a slightly different pronunciation than is "correct" or even what we think we're hearing.

A prime example is a long-A sound next to an L.

Much of the time, our mouths just don't make the effort to really make the long A a strong sound, and it ends up being softened to something closer to a short E (or even a plain old short E).

When I first heard the idea, I argued it. No way did I say well instead of whale, tell instead of tale, or sell instead of sale.


But . . . did I really say those words with a clear, long A when I was in the middle of a conversation?

I started to pay attention. Yes, of course I might say it "right" when it's just one isolated word. But what about when I'm talking in full sentences, just chatting? Do I clearly say yard SALE?

What about others I talk with? Do they relax the A? Even a little?

Turned out that yep, sometimes I did relax the A, just like nearly everyone else I talked to. We just didn't notice it unless the pronunciation led to confusion and the speaker had to pause and repeat the word, this time that one long vowel.

I witnessed the power of this phenomenon back in college. I had several theater friends who regularly participated in plays at Orem's Hale Center Theater.

Over and over again, when they'd tell people where they were heading for rehearsal, the listener would get a confused look on their face.

"You're going where?"

Take the long A in Hale and make it a short E.

No wonder people were confused (especially at religiously conservative Brigham Young University).

It happened so regularly that eventually our group reached the point of just calling the theater not Hale Center but Hell Central.

It was simpler.

But really, we just thought it was hysterically funny. (We were mature like that.)

NOTE: Be sure to drop by Happy Meets Crazy today, the very first stop of my blog book tour!


Kristina P. said…
That is funny!

Oh, and we got some brochures at work for an adoption agency called "A Act of Love." It makes me angry!

And I still have a bit of computer time today.
Luisa Perkins said…
I actually find that to be a charming component of the Wasatch accent.

My mom (who taught in the Granite School District until recently) once got a note from a student. It was concise, just four words:

"Mrs. Johnston, git rill."
Heatherlyn said…
Oh great. Now I'm going to be thinking about how I pronounce certain words when I speak, and listening to others.
amelia said…
That drives me MAD (and I totally do it). Also, when people say "fur" instead of "for."
in time out said…
funny. thanks for sharing. you deserve all the writing cudos you get. awesome. good luck on your tour. --stacie
Lara said…
It really bugs me when people do that, but now that you say you listened closely to yourself, I probably am just as guilty. I kind of always thought it was a Utah thing.
Kimberly said…
I'm feeling mildly paranoid now - do I do this?!
LexiconLuvr said…
I love when you post about pronunciation or words. No one talks much about the "language" in writing. That just so happens to be my favorite part of writing! =]
NorahS said…
I don't do that (much.) One thing I do that I drive myself crazy over is that I rarely say "yes." I almost always say "yeah." I think it is my German ancestry and 3 1/2 years of (mostly forgotten) high school German coming through. Ja!
Melanie J said…
I think it's funny. It's the same reason I called the SFLC the Syphillis. It's very mature.
Yeah, my neighbor wrote "For Sell" on his car window.

Ewelina said…
I was just going to say that that's why less educated people mix up those spellings, I think. But then I realized that many less educated people pronounce the E like a long A. So it would "What the hale!?!" (Is it okay to swear in the comment section if you misspell it?)
We Minnesotans REALLY pronounce our vowels. Either way, we love to say AAAAA. or AAAAAHHHH

I say "garage sale in Minnesota" perfectly correctly :)
Heidi Ashworth said…
This is a totally Utah thing (at least that is how Californians look at it). You can tell someone is from Utah when they say well instead of whale (or Pow instead of Powell). However, we have our own lazy habits. I have a hard time saying my own name clearly enough to be understood sometimes. Sad, I know.
Mina said…
I agree with Heidi--Utah phenomenon. I also am driven crazy by my Texan husband who says melk and pellow. It's fingernells on a chalk board, man!
Annie said…
OOH, I over-enunciate. My "Sale" has such a long-A sound it's almost a two syllable word: Say-el. My accent is a mixture of California's West Coast and Wisconsin's Upper Mid-West. It's a crazy mix!
Josi said…
I'm horrible at this; a true Utah. Next week can you explain why in small towns people say harses instead of horses.

And I went to Seagull in Ogden today, picked up your book and then stood in line behind another woman who was also buying it. Can't wait to dig in.
Jenna Consolo said…
I noticed this about Utah especially too. I think this is one that I actually do okay in, finally! Funny!
Sandra said…
Let me tell you about A Act of Love. That is the adoption agency that I used. It is one of the most wonderful, spiritual agencies around here. The founder, Kathy Kunkle, knows that the name is grammatically correct, but she choose it as a pure advertising thing. It allows the agency to be the first one listed in the phone book. She spent a long time going back and forth with keeping it for that reason and changing the name to An Act of Love instead.

As a non government or church agency and just starting out with her own resources, the need for clients was real and if you are listed 3rd or more, clients stop looking- just like we do in a google search- if you are not on the first page, you are not going to be found.

Clients are no longer an issue at the agency. In fact, birth parents as well as adoptive parents come from all over the country to use them to facilitate adoptions because of the love and care that this agency gives.

I could go on and on about this agency and the personell there, but I won't. Just know that while it is not grammatically correct, Kathy knows this and once you know the agency and her employees, you forget. (and truly, most of us drop the article and just call it Act of Love anyway.)
WOW...never even thought of that, but I'm the laziest of lazy so I definitely do that when I talk.

Who ISN'T that mature in college? lol!
Annette Lyon said…
That's an interesting case, Sandra--purposely being incorrect for the sake of a marketing position.

(I wonder if she could have come up with another second word with a consonant first to make the "A" correct, though. :)
wendy said…
We are sloppy talkers eh. I try to talk properly with the "queens english" as we say in Canada. My husband and I always tease about how people say Layton (Utah) ---more like lay-un.
Becky said…
Loved Happy Meets Crazy's review! A great kick off to your blog tour.
Amber said…
Hey I've been to Hell Central theater! I'm heading over for your blog tour now...
But that is the Utah accent, it's not universal. Head to South Carolina or Oregon and Hale is always Hale. (Although there are plent of other words that are mispronounced.) So I don't think it's a product of oral laziness, just the mix of cultures that ended up here and relative isolation (or whatever it is that influences accents.)
It is highly typical of Utah speech, but in the South (I'm Southern born'n'raised and majored in Linguistics at the Y), Hale and hell still end up pronounced almost indistinguishably in many dialects--hence the originally Southern joke about the church choir practicing during a thunderstorm ("Sounds like hail." "Aw, it ain't that bad!")
Annette Lyon said…
Jordan, I used the hail/hell wordplay in one of my books--but had to rephrase it because of course I couldn't say "hell" in an LDS novel. (I did anyway in another spot with a geographical/literary reference and had to fight for it.)

Fun stuff.

Depending on when you graduated, you might have known my dad. He was Linguistics chair while I was at the Y (nice perk--when I was tired, I could go take a nap on the couch in his office . . .).
An Ordinary Mom said…
Hell Central ... got to love that :) !!

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