My great friend Holly posted this link: 100 Most Often Mispronounced English Words.
What I originally began reading with curiosity I soon found myself reading with horror and eventually revulsion, not at the nature of the common mistakes described, but the mockery of the poorly educated, and the arbitrary, high-handed, divisive nature of the "selection" of the "correct" pronunciation. Finally I was unable to read all the way to the 100th entry as I happened across more and more examples of entirely unresearched words, of which for me the worst offender was the claim that we should say "in paretheses" not "in parenthesis"*.
Obviously if you read my post on The New Model, you will understand that I object to the notion of "correct grammar" as it is understood by most people. In brief: grammar exists to allow specialists and enthusiastic amateurs to describe language to eachother. It does not provide a set of rules that everyone must follow in order to use language "correctly". In even briefer: grammar is descriptive, not prescriptive.
In the 1920's, the British Upper Classes (which still existed in recognizable form back then), in a deliberate effort to distinguish themselves both from the British proletariat and from the upstart ex-colonial rebels (um... if you're American, that's you), altered their own pronunciation of English. It was viewed at the time as a natural progression of an ongoing process of "refining" the language, particularly since the English spoken in North America had changed so little in the preceding hundred years. Yes, I am saying that US English is more authentic than British English. Americans would do well to realize this. Authentic because you didn't deliberately try to change your language so that you could more easily identify and preserve artificial social differences.
Parents and teachers are of course absolutely correct when they say that if your child doesn't learn to use his language in the way that is commonly accepted as correct or proper, that this will be a disadvantage for your child, whose intellect will be judged on his vocabulary, diction and pronunciation (what we call "articulacy"), not on his knowledge or skill.
Sadly, in trying to prepare children for this kind of injustice, we perpetuate the injustice.
Even if the list referenced above was prepared by someone whose motivation was to help people in North America to be viewed and responded to (and judged) fairly by those around them, what it really does is tell people that they are wrong. I believe, however, that there is little grounds to be generous when inferring the motivations of the writer. Many of the distinctions are true only in middle-class North America. Many are specious. Many are spurious. Many are plain wrong. But a much larger proportion are examples either from dialect, or from different variants of English. The reality of everyday life in a North American city is that there are many varying pronunciations, whose origins are both from different regions of North America, and from different regions of the world.
In such conditions there is not, and there will never be agreed, common, immutable correct pronunciation. Pronunciation will change and continue to change, faster than grammar, faster than spelling, faster, even, than meaning. And it will continue (as it always has) to radiate - to split and separate, as one generation distinguishes itself from the last, as one socio-economic group distinguishes itself from another, as one ideology distinguishes itself from another.
So what does The New Model have to offer to pronunciation: simply this:
to be heard, we must learn to listen
People who live in multi/polycultural (and multi-lingual) communities learn very rapidly to modulate their speech to match the expectations of the person they are speaking to. This is critical to articulacy, and it is achieved through a careful balance of talking and listening. If you have a hard time making yourself understood (and this is as true in the street, in the classroom, in the home, in the debate chamber, in the courtroom, in the newsroom), you have to stop talking and get the other guy to talk. And then you have to listen. Nothing will get you understood faster or more clearly than listening.
If this sounds like a koan, then I need to add a bit more:
The consequence of listening is twofold: first, it gives you a handle on how the other guy talks; how he expresses himself and how he understands his own words. Second, it will give you a view of his attitude. Attitude is way more important than opinion. Attitude is how you approach your own opinions and the opinion of others. You can't even begin to make yourself understood if you have no idea of how your opinion will be received. So you have to give it in small bites and see how each bite is received.
I'm not overly good at this. But I try.
I know there are people reading this because I look at the stats. You guys have to comment now. Otherwise I can't listen, and those of you who think my pontifications are introspective ego trips (while partly correct) will continue to think so indefinitely.
* In case you can't be bothered to look it up yourself, 'a parenthesis' is a word or group of words inserted into another clause, phrase or sentence, indicated by punctuation, most commonly the round bracket (curved or normal bracket, what this parenthesis is in). The name of the punctuation mark is "bracket" or "round bracket".