Monday, December 19, 2005

Sound of "V"

English is the richest language. In addition to its 26 alphabets which we use in our day to day life, there are 28 symbols for vowels, 86 for consonants and 75 other marks for tone, stress, aspiration and other phonetic details. But some times it also adds to the confusion.The two consonants ie., "V" and "W" keep creating confusion in my life at least. "V" is the fourth letter of my first name . But more often than not, my name is spelt by most with "W" at that place. My name with "W" looks to me as some one else's name. Although I have extra fancy for the letter "V" but that is also the correct pronunciation if we take the English phonetics into account. "W" is a letter with a bi-labial sound ie., you have to bring both your lips together to say " We" or "Women". On the other hand the letter "V" gives out a labio-dental sound ie., the lower lip touches the upper teeth. So my name with a "W", if pronounced correctly, will literally be a lip twister. Although after coming to Kolkata I am finding a different problem altogether. Our Bangla friends would have nothing to do with either "V" or "W". There is no sound of "V" in bangla bhasha. Hence in Kolkata I invariably find the fourth letter of my name written as "b". On one occasion at a counter where I had to call out my name, the man behind the counter went to the extent of bisecting it and made me Bal Binder Singh and wrote in short form as B.B. Singh. I now realize that why there are Vimals and Vijays elsewhere but Bimals and Bijoys in West Bengal.  

The other day I read in the newspaper that the International Phonetic Association had added one more phonetic symbol to their alphabets to represent a particular sound of "V", which is used in 70 African languages. The sound is made by first pulling one's lower lip inside the mouth and then releasing it by flapping it against the inner side of the upper teeth. So they have named it a labio-dental flap. How thoughtful of the them. I wish the said phonetic association does some thing to solve such problems too.

Coming back to the sound of "V", I may narrate an incident when I was a young officer in the Indian Army. While marking orders / circulars to all officers, our Adjutant ( the officer- in- charge of administration) would invariably spell my name with a "w". Every time I would score out the "w" and write "v" over it. He felt offended and called me to explain that why did I make the corrections in his writing (a young officer is not supposed to make any corrections in the writing of a senior). I told him that my name had "V" and not "W" as the fourth letter. He would say that what difference did that make. Instead of explaining the English phonetics to him I simply told him that I liked "V" better because the word "Victory" was spelt with "V". He quipped that even "Winner" was also spelt with "W" so he kept writing my name as he pleased. One day I had to send some communication to him and I got my opportunity. His name was Capt. Vijay Kumar (a retired Colonel now). So I marked the letter to him and wrote his name as Capt. Wijay Kumar. Never after that he spelt my name with a "W".


Capt N.S.Bisht said...

Hey Balli,
Nice writeup on phonetics and the positioning of our lips when we speak out different words. Coming down to the problem of phonetics in your part of the country - just be thankful they dont call you " Ball-Winder" or "Ball-Binder".Ha ! Ha !!

Balli said...

Yeah ,they can turn you into anything by the twist of their toungue. Huh!