"Keep your mouth passage wide open with the tongue at the floor of the mouth and send a voiced breath through it without causing friction", bellowed Dr Sitaram at me. I complied meekly with an 'aah', taking great care lest the ' voiced breath ' should escape through the wrong end of my alimentary canal. Peering through my oral cavity, the doctor gave a grunt of approval.
If you though that Dr Sitaram alias Situ might be an ENT specialist, you would be wide of the mark. In reality, Situ has been the principal of a local short-hand institute for over three decades and during the course of his illustrious career, he had accumulated a fund of knowledge in English language that could any day fetch him a doctorate, if he wanted it. Therefore I often addressed him fondly as 'Dr Sitaram'. And the oropharyngeal jugglery alluded to at the beginning of this article was Situ's own way of teaching me the usage of cardinal vowels, a la Prof Henry Higgins.
Under Situ's Tutelage
Situ has been all along a purist, in addition to being phonetic* fanatic. The way I pronounced a few of the English words made him squirm in his chair as though he were afflicted by a boil on his bottom. In retrospect, I could well imagine the way he suffered in silence like lamb in labour trying to turn a deaf ear to what he thought was my phonetic handicap. Finally he said enough was enough and summoned me to an exclusive 'crash course' in English phonetics.
Situ's 'sessions' turned out to be an ordeal for me. My bowels churned and made strange (phonetic) sounds each time I was asked to try a vowel variation. I had to undergo the indignity of holding a post card bet ween my lips to learn a 'plosive' or a metal clip pinched to my nose to try a 'nasal consonant' or even a bit of gauze thrust between my tongue and palate to produce a 'fricative' ( Eliza Doolittle might have turned in her grave). As for mastering the phonetic symbols, I thought that learning the Chinese script would have been a cinch in comparison!
Well, after traversing the jungle of consonants and vowels, dipping in a pool of 'diphthongs' and tripping over a pair of 'triphthongs', I attained sufficient phonetic skill that made Situ beam with contentment.
(Continued in the next post, Phonetic Faux Pas)
* Phonetics: Study of speech sounds and their production.
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