Friday, March 30, 2007

‘Cher’ and ‘Mee’

In Singapore, pupils often call their teachers ’Cher. And in Chinese- and Singlish-speaking homes, kids often call their mothers Mee (with a rising intonation). Contrast this with English-speaking societies, where mothers are called Mum/Mom, and, in colloquial American English at least, a teacher is Teach.

All this has to do with stress. Not the stress that comes with being a mother or a teacher, of course, but where the stress/accent falls in a word. Because teacher and Mummy are stressed on the first syllable in Western native varieties of English (i.e. British, American, Australian, New Zealand, South African), it is this syllable which is retained when the word is abbreviated. In Singapore the opposite holds true: teacher and Mummy are stressed on the second syllable; hence it is these that survive.

4 comments:

Michirure said...

Orh.. I didn't know that it is the stress that makes all the difference! No wonder I found it okay to just call you 'cher'.. Now I know.. That's a really interesting find for me. =)

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hmm, I did wonder whether any Singaporean kids call their fathers 'Dee'. I guess most would call them 'Pa' or 'Papa', so no chance of hearing 'Dee'!

Michirure said...

Oh.. It's because we call our fathers 'Daddy', so using the same stress patterns, it comes 'Dee'!

The Grammar Terrorist said...

How interesting -- I never knew that. Thanks for telling me. I'll have to keep my ears open next time I'm on the train.