One of my client’s mentioned that when she was a high-school student in Canada, it was very uncommon for her teacher to correct her pronunciation. She felt it would have helped her have better English today. In wondering why that was, she asked whether native speakers correct one another’s pronunciation.
The correct pronunciation of words mostly occurs with foreign words. If a person with a “foreign” name becomes famous, there will be much debate about how to pronounce the name correctly. I recall this debate with Barack Obama when he began running for President, though many people now know his name. Currently there is a lot of talk over how to correctly pronounce the name of the volcano erupting in Iceland. Mount Eyjafjallajokull is not easy for a native speaker to say. Foreign food and products are also frequently mispronounced. Correcting someone can show that you are more worldly than others.
Most interestingly, is the mispronunciation is often attributed to social class. I recall being taught to say “Joan saw my sister and I.” and not to say “Joan saw me and my sister.” Both are grammatically correct. There are some I was never taught such as “What kind of bird is that?” which apparently should be “What kind of a bird is that?”
Here is a list of words that apparently show class distinctions. Native speakers of English will sometimes correct one another with the so-called correct pronunciation. Correcting someone on these words can make you sound pretentious; perhaps that feeling was why my client was not often corrected during her high school days in Canada.
Word Upper Class Pronunciation Lower Class Pronunciation
asked askt ast
coupon koo-pon kyoo-pon
escape es-kayp ek-skayp
fifth fifth fith
height hIt hItth
library laI-brer-ee li-ber-ee
nuclear noo-klee-*r noo-ky*-l*r
often of-*n of-ten
toward tord twahrd