Pronouncing Mathematics, Civics, other subjects

Akeem Lasisi

Today’s lesson will take us back to the phonological realm. I want us to subject to scrutiny the way we pronounce certain words we have always used, at least since the primary school days. Specifically, we aim to sharpen our articulation of school subjects. For instance, how do you pronounce ‘Mathematics’?

First, note that it is not maTIma… That is, the ‘th’ in the term is not to be pronounced as T, but as TH, as we have in think, three, oath and through. I have, on several occasions, called the attention of the class to the fact that the process of pronouncing ‘t’ is different from that of ‘th’.  When we pronounce ‘t’, the tongue comes up and the front part touches the roof of the mouth just behind the teeth. But when we pronounce ‘th’, the tongue does not go to the roof or back of the teeth. Rather, it moves forward, with the tip coming through the teeth, without the temporary stoppage that  ‘t’ experiences. So, any time you have ‘th’ in a word, you should not call it T. Therefore, you say maTHimatics, not maTimatics.

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Yet, there is a second phonological signal that many do not respect in ‘Mathematics’: the K before S. Remember, the pronunciation of ‘accept’ is not asept but aKsept. That of ‘except’ is not esept but eKsept. So, ‘Mathematics’ should sound as maTHimatiKs, not maTimaTis.

Very quickly, then, we highlight how the embedded consonant K is often thrown away when many pronounce Civics, Physics and Economics. The first should be pronounced as civiKs, not civis; Physics should come out as physiKs, not physis; and Economics is economiKs, not economis. In the case of ‘Economics’, a puzzle could also arise on whether it should sound as EconomiKs or IconomiKs. In other words, should the letter ‘e’ that starts the word be pronounced as the E that starts end, enclose, eliminate etc.? Or should it be articulated as the ‘I’ starting is, ignorance, erase, evolve etc.? Note that both versions are correct. Economics can be pronounced as ec-no-miKs or ic-no-miKs.

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English: IN-glish or A-n-glish?

It is interesting to observe that even ‘English Language’ also sometimes suffers mispronunciation. While many rightly say something like IN-gliSH, others fail in the highlighted two areas. First, the opening sound is like IN, not A-NG. This means that the letter ‘e’ that starts the word should not be pronounced as the diphthong that begins words like away, alone or ago. Secondly, the consonant that ends ‘English’ is SH, not S. As a result, it is too illiterate to say EngliS, when you should say EngliSH.


Lastly, you should always remember that the ‘h’ that starts ‘History’ is not a silent sound. It is real both in writing and speech. So, it must always be articulated – clearly articulated. It is History, not Istory. The fact that the ‘h’ is not a silent sound accounts for why we use article ‘a’ and not ‘an’ before ‘history’:

The school has employed an History teacher. (Wrong)

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The school has employed a History teacher. (Correct)

Afonja is an historical film. (Wrong)

Afonja is a historical film. (Correct)

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