Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Cummer gain?

In Rawbone Malong’s book on Sow Theffricun Ingglish, Ah big yaws?, “Cummer gain?” is something Woozers (WUESAs – white urban English-speaking South Africans) say when they mean “Would you mind repeating what you just said? I didn’t quite catch it.”

In recent discussions on the alt.usage.english newsgroup there has been quite a lot of discussion on the different ways speakers of different English dialects pronounce words, causing people to say “Cummert gain?” or its local equivalent.

extrememakeoverOne of the examples I gave was from the TV programme Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, where the house of a poor but deservi ng family is renovated, and when they return and see their renovated house they all exclaim, almost without exception, “Oh my GUARD!”

Well, that’s what is sounds like to me.

Either Americans say this a great deal, or the renovatees on the TV programme are coached to say it by the producers. I suspect it may be a little of both. After all, Americans seem to be in the habit of abbreviating it to OMG, so it must be a fairly common saying among them.

The objection, of course, is that they are not actually saying “Oh my GUARD” but “Oh my GOD” — “God” may sound like “guard” to speakers of non-American dialects of English, but it doesn’t sound like that to Americans.

So how do you explain “god” to Americans who pronounce it like “guard”?

Or how do you explain other words with the short “o” vowel, like “hot”, “cot”, “rod”, “sod”, “dog” and many others.

One way of doing so is through the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), where, we are told, this particular sound is represented by a kind of backwards a — ɒ. You can read about it here.

Because it is difficult to type that on most keyboards, an Ascii IPA has been developed, in which it is represented as [A.] — a capital A with a full stop after it.

The problem with that is that one of the examples given in the Wikipedia article implies that the Afrikaans word daar is pronounced like English hot in Limpopo province. I’ve not heard that, ever. It also says that in South African English, uncultured version, park is pronounced like pock, as in pockmarked. I’ve never heard that either. I have heard some people pronounce park like pork, as in “Pork the cor”, but that is a different vowel from the o in “hot”.

So it seems that there are limitations in phonetic alphabets as a way of describing the pronunciations of different dialects of English, or other languages. But the Web provides a solution.

There is a nice international pronunciation site,, where you can listen to different people pronouncing words in various dialects of various languages, and you can also add your own if your own language or accent is not adequately represented there. You can listen to my pronunciation of various words here, and if you click on the words, you can hear how other people pronounce them.

One of the most useful phrases for illustrating the vowel we have been discussing here, is “hot dog”, and I invite other English-speaking South Africans to add their pronunciation of “hot dog” to the file.

In South Africa we have 11 official languages, and if you speak any of them as your native language, please add it to the pronunciation files. I’d like to hear how Afrikaans speakers, especially those from Limpopo province, pronounce daar, and I don’t think that even if you say Daar doerrrrr in die bosveld you will get anything that remotely resembles the “o” in English hot. But I’m open to being convinced, so if you normally pronounce it like that, please convince me.

I would also be interested to see how the IPA represents the Zulu “u” in umuntu, and how native speakers actually say it. It is similar to some English sounds, like the oo in book, in Woozer English (which is quite close to, but not identical with, the black urban English-speaking South African English popularly called the “Model C accent”). But the u in umuntu is not identical with the oo in book, which, I suppose, is why they stopped spelling Zulu as Zooloo.

So whatever your accent or variety of  English, go to the Forvo web site and add to the sound files. And if your language is not English, you can add to those sound files too. It seems to be pretty good in Russian, too. I’m glad about that, because one of the difficulties I have with Russian is that the stress always seems to fall where I least expect it.

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One thought on “Cummer gain?

  1. Thanks Steve I’ll definitely going to have a look at forvo

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