Lately, as usual, I've been noticing odd pronunciations of words in the media, and by people I see in my daily life.
When I was young, or a young adult, I don't recall now having had this sensation, of hearing odd variations in speech, which bothered me the way they do now.
Is this sensitivity a condition of older age, of some aspect of cantankerous crotchety-ness?
I often have the feeling that "wrong" pronunciation is an aspect of simple ignorance, or of a poor education.
People who pronounce words wrongly tend to think of language as a simple facility. For them, as long as others "understand" what you're "trying to say" correct grammar or pronunciation simply don't matter. Why speak or write correctly unless there's some reason to do so? Language, after all, is a social medium, whose life is defined by utility.
Lately, I've heard people pronounce the word student (or students) in ways that I don't recognize as typical, either of "American speech" or even as typically English-speaking.
The way I learned to speak it was STOOd-nt, with the final "t" consonant sound closed off by the tongue against the roof of the mouth, or made soto voce with the upper nasal palate.
But now I hear people saying it these ways:
STOO-den or STOO-denz
or STOO-DENT or STOO-DENTS
or STOO-dun or STOO-duns
These variations suggest to my ear a distinctly germanic quality--which I imagine to be counter-intuitive, since German exerts very little influence on American culture these days. I've even heard this:
This last is quite germanic. E.g.: Studenten (plural of students in German).
I'm not clear about why this word should be undergoing this subtle change. It's almost as if some English speakers are hearing the word as foreign in their own milieu. Who, after all, would devise independently to pronounce student as shtoo-denz in America, today, and why? It's baffling to me.
Hardly anyone has the courage (or the cheek) to correct mispronunciations these days. Everyone seems disinclined to be thought picky or fastidious. It almost seems worse than looking or sounding dumb.
It seems a part of the current tendency toward politically correct behavior and non-discriminatory courtesy. Ignorance is almost a kind of excused difference.
Stupidity isn't a failure, but an honored (or at least protected) trait. We wouldn't want to hurt someone's feelings by suggesting that they've committed an error. It might cause pain. And pain, or embarrassment, is cruel, or awkward. It's more important to get along, to keep everyone happy, or at least happily ignorant, than it is to single out individual failures.
Maybe, in America, there is no such thing as a correct pronunciation. We're a big melting pot of different cultures and languages in this country. No pronunciation is correct, none is wrong.
Maybe, in a hundred years, we'll pronounce students STOO-ns, suppressing the D and T consonants completely, simply because enough high school seniors in successive generations were just too lazy to learn how the word should be said.
Language is a living thing, and we can neither predict where it will go, nor prevent its transformative progress through excessive rigor and regulation.
My resistance to the decay of words such as student is a contrary motion to the continuing metamorphosis of our common vocabulary. I want the word students to sound like students forever, but a single life is a very brief blip on the graph of time. It's nothing more or less than a temporary convenience. How I feel about it is of no importance, in the larger scheme of the world's sidewise drift. I, like all the rest of the human race, am just a student of the language, not its guardian angel or rueful apologist.