Friday, May 07, 2010


The above are publicity banners for an exhibition on William Farquhar, who, as every self-respecting student of Singapore history would know, and as the banners helpfully inform us, was the first Resident and Commandant of Singapore, 1819–1823.

In Singapore, the Scots surname Farquhar is usually pronounced /fʌkwʌ/ or /fɑ:kwɑ:/ — the usual pronunciations taught in schools.

So it invariably comes as a shock to Singaporeans to learn that it is pronounced in standard British English as /ˈfɑ:kə/ or /ˈfɑ:kwə/ (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 3rd edition).

However, considering that most Singaporeans do not consistently distinguish between the vowels /ʌ/ and /ɑ:/, it is perhaps wiser to stick with the Singaporean pronunciation than to insist on the standard.  Or if the standard pronunciation is indeed important, then teach the variant with /w/, i.e. /ˈfɑ:kwə/ rather than /ˈfɑ:kə/.

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