Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Khan from the epiglottis

I haven't seen My Name is Khan, but I'm told that Shah Rukh Khan's character makes a big deal out of the pronunciation of his name. "Khan, from the epiglottis," he keeps saying.

He's confusing epiglottis with uvula; at the end of the trailer (2:49) he pronounces the name with a uvular fricative. The uvula is the thing hanging at the back of the throat that cartoon characters grab when they get eaten by bigger cartoon characters.

Altho the Hindi-Urdu sound (written ख़/ﺥ) is sometimes pronounced as a uvular, most sources I've looked at say that it is not uvular, but velar. The velum is the soft palate. At the beginning of this promo (0:14), Khan pronounces the name with a velar fricative.

So what is the epiglottis? It is a bit of cartilage located just above the larynx that is thought to protect the trachea when we swallow. Speech sounds made with the epiglottis are extremely rare. They can be found in the Caucasian language Agul.

3 comments :

Anton said...

I think they say epiglottis for comedic effect. The problem is most Hindi speakers are not familiar with the "correct or original pronunciation of Hindi words derived from Arabic or Farsi. As with all borrowed words, most Hindi-speakers approximate the sounds of the foreign language. But Muslims, who would be familiar with Arabic pronunciation, care...

Beth said...

Wow! This is fascinating! I've been paying extra attention to how various people say "Khan" since the film came out, and interestingly I have heard several folks of Indian origin pronounce it the way I do when I'm being lazy, or how William Shatner does but with less rage, basically "Kahn." But when I stop and think about it, that's not surprising; I'm sure there are all sorts of common names in the US that I mispronounce even though they're part of my native tongue.

goofy said...

There is some variation in how the sound is pronounced in Hindi. One way is identical to ख and pretty much the same as how Shatner pronounces it. The other is the velar/uvular fricative that Khan uses in the film. As Anton says, Hindi is in flux with sounds borrowed from Persian and English. The sounds spelled ख़, ज़, फ़, ग़ are pronounced different ways depending on the speaker.