Two Pronunciation Notes from Indian English

Just some pronunciation notes I observed from speakers from Asia (South Asia and East Asia).

Slumdog Millionaire L

Because the movie features the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, I heard actor Anil Kapoor (the host of the show) speak the word millionaire … a lot. But of course the pronunciation is in the form of Indian English and struck me as particularly unusual, especially in terms of the /l/

There are only two changes he’s making from American/UK English which is [mɪłyəner]. First, he’s dropping the /y/ after the /l/ – which is pronounced but not really spelled.

Second, Kapoor doesn’t velarize this /l/ as it would be in my version of English. What I mean is that many instances of /l/ after a vowel in American English are “dark l” with the tongue raised in the back. In the “light l”, the back of the tongue remains lowered and only the front moves.

American English almost always velarizes /l/ in the ends of syllables (coda position). Because millionaire has a hidden /ly/ cluster (and English words don’t begin with /ly/ clusters, you can break up the syllables as [mɪł.yə.ner], hence the /l/ will be velarized. Another case of a hidden /y/ affecting pronunciation patterns even though it is not actually spelled and English speakers probably don’t realize it’s there – until Ling 100 that is.

So what Kappor is saying is [mɪləner] with plain /l/ and no /y/. Amazing how distinct it was for me.

I should mention that dark l is spreading in U.S. English. It’s found in “ambisyllabic” position (between vowels, depending on stress) in words like Philadelphia, Philly, Hilly and others. It’s also in word initial position for some speakers (sometimes Tom Brokaw for instance, per discussion on Linguist List). I think it’s primarily a Midwestern phenomenon (although others report it’s further spread), but even I velarize initial /l/ in “emphatic” pronunciation. At some point “dark l” wil probably just be the way American English pronounces “L”.

Double-Up or Develop?

Another Indian English quirk I first heard in college was hearing “double-up” /dʌbəl ʌp/ when the speaker meant to say develop /dəvɛlʌp/. Part of this is due to a difference in stress position – on the first syllable in India and the second syllable in the U.S/U.K.

The other, of course, has to do with the “v”. For most English dialects “v” is /v/, a voiced labialdental fricative with upper teeth on lower lip. In many languages though “v” is really bilabial /β/ with just two lips pressed together. To English speakers, this may sound like a /b/ which is the bilabial stop – hence “v” is sounding like “b”. In other cases though /β/ may sound like a /w/ which is also bilabial.

It’s all phonetically natural, but I admit I have to smile everytime I hear it happen.

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