English is a funny old language. That my mother tongue doesn’t bother with internal consistency doesn’t bother me much – except when it comes to Text-To-Speech.
Using Google Maps to provide route guidance in the UK is a challenging affair. Driving through Reading, the computerised voice continually mispronounced is as “Reading”.
Err… that is to say, it should have said “ˈrɛdɪŋ” instead it said “ˈriːdɪŋ” – that is, “red-ing” rather than “reed-ing”.
Ok, hetronyms are a notoriously difficult to get right – even for humans. Without context, it’s hard to know which pronunciation should be used.
But, I’ve heard my sat-nav pronounce “Woking” as “Wokk-ing” rather than the correct “Woe-king”. Vexing to those living there, distracting for those relying on accurate directions.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I learned that a friend of ours was getting married in Canandaigua, New York. While not as linguistically complex as, say, Poughkeepsie, it caused some consternation in our household. How can you travel to a location you can’t even pronounce?
That’s when we stumbled across the curiously named “HowJSay.com” – it supplies audio samples of people speaking particular words. So now I know how Canandaigua is pronounced.
I wonder if there is any sensible way to crowd-source pronunciation for a mapping project like OpenStreetMap. Sadly, Google Maps doesn’t have a way to contribute language changes and the less said about Apple Maps the better!
This is not a minor problem, Wikipedia lists hundreds of UK place names with counter-intuitive pronunciation.
There’s no direct harm in a sat-nav mispronouncing a town or street name – although it can be very annoying for anyone expecting the correct vocalisation.
So, should modern maps allow for the correct pronunciation of place names? I think they should. That then draws us to an interesting question about regional pronunciation. An Englishman, Scotsman, and American all walk in to a bar – they each pronounce the word “Edinburgh” very differently. Who is right?
I leave you with one of Richard Lederer’s hetronymic poems to enjoy.