Monday, June 08, 2009

Celery/Salary


This headline (Sunday Times Lifestyle, 17 May 2009) may sound ‘punny’ to Singaporeans, but speakers of other varieties of English would probably find it rather baffling.

In Singapore English, the vowels /e/ and /æ/are often merged, so that celery and salary become homophones, i.e. are pronounced alike. In other varieties, however, they are not homophonous: in British English, for example, they are respectively /'seləri/ and /'sæləri/.

Of course, context may help: salary collocates or goes with negotiation. But if one doesn’t pronounce salary like celery in the first place, then the collocation probably wouldn’t arise at all, and one would still be left wondering what negotiation has to do with the vegetable.

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