Thursday, April 15, 2010

Proper Phởnunciation

I have noticed that a consistent source of confusion, embarrassment and despair afflicting us today is the inability to pronounce "phở" properly. One wants to show cultural awareness and sensitivity by pronouncing "phở" properly, but does not want to take the risk of saying it wrong, for fear of ostracisation by Vietnamese colleagues and by snobbish U of T St. George students. To end the ambiguity, tears and misery, I have provided below what I hope is a helpful and easy-to-use guide which will make sure that you don't phởck up.

Saying "phở" for Dummies

Note: the following steps are not to be done in succession every time you want to say the word "phở". They are steps to take while practicing saying it. When using "phở" in a conversation, perform only the last step.

Step 1: Say the English word "fur" at a pitch in the middle of your speaking range (your mid-level pitch). Usually this is the pitch that you produce when not purposely lowering or raising your voice's pitch.

Step 2: Repeat Step 1, omitting the "r" sound at the end.

Step 3: Repeat Step 2, lowering your voice's pitch by a bit (I usually do this by approximately a major second. My mid-level pitch is around a B2 so I start "phở" at around an A2).

Step 4: While saying the truncated "fur", lower your voice's pitch substantially, but not to a ridiculous degree. (If you do not know music theory, skip to Step 4) I usually aim for a major third or perfect fourth below my mid-level pitch, defined in Step 1.

Step 5: Repeat Step 4, raising your voice slightly as you finish the word. Do not raise your voice's pitch back to its initial pitch, but raise it audibly. Most of the time spent saying the word should be spent on the part with the falling pitch. The raising of the pitch at the end is like a (necessary) flourish. (If you do not know music theory, ignore the following sentence and use your intuition as to how much you should raise your voice) My voice usually raises a major second or so from the lowest pitch I achieve while I say "phở".

NB: Be sure to start with the English word "fur" and not with "foul", "fornicate", "fun" or "fob".

That's it! Now you can walk into any Vietnamese restaurant and order phở, instead of phố (street), like most non-Vietnamese people do. Phở is much tastier than cement.

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