English language Uncategorized

Goodbye, Ruby CHYOOZ-day

Q: A reporter on the NPR news recently pronounced “Tuesday” as CHYOOZ-day. Is this considered standard English?

A: No, it’s not an accepted pronunciation. In American English, “Tuesday” is usually pronounced TOOZ-day. An acceptable variant, chiefly heard in the South, is TYOOZ-day. In British English, the usual pronunciation is TYOOZ-day, though TOOZ-day is also acceptable. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English doesn’t include CHYOOZ-day, but this pronunciation is widespread in Britain.

Britons also use CHYOO for many similar words. Some examples are “tube”‘ (TYOOB, which becomes CHYOOB), “tune” (TYOON, which becomes CHYOON), and “tulip” (TYOO-lip, which becomes CHYOO-lip). None of these CHYOO versions are in Longman’s.

In American English, “tu” sounds usually are only pronounced as CHOO/CHYOO when they are inside words, not at the beginning. Typical examples are “natural,” “eventual,” and “punctual.”

In some parts of Appalachia, however, people do say CHOOZ-day or CHYOOZ-day. In addition, “Tuesday” is spelled “Chuesday” in Gullah, an English-based creole language spoken by African-Americans in coastal South Carolina, Georgia, and northeastern Florida. The word also appears as “Chuesday” in some 19th-century slave narratives.

Here’s an interesting sidelight. In 2001 a pair of scholars published a paper in the journal American Speech based on their study of letters written by semi-literate white overseers on rural Southern plantations before the end of the Civil War.

Since these largely uneducated men wrote words the way they were pronounced (one example: “poly” for “poorly”), the letters give us a picture of how they spoke. At least one of the overseers wrote “chusday” for guess which day of the week?

Studies of the development of Southern American English have at times been controversial. Some scholars believe many field slaves learned much of their English by exposure to illiterate or semi-literate overseers. But other scholars feel many slaves picked up some English from Europeans before leaving Africa. One has to be very careful before drawing conclusions from this about the development of Black English in general. Still, it’s interesting to think about!

Getting back to that NPR reporter, most Americans would think that someone who pronounced “Tuesday” as CHYOOZ-day was speaking with a mouthful of marbles or a bad case of Anglophilia.

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