Posted by: Jack Henry | January 11, 2022

Editor’s Corner: The case of the vase

Hello dear readers! One of you asked me if I could review the difference (if any) between the words vase (rhyming with face) and vase (pronounced vahz rhyming with schnoz).

Most articles I found focused on the pronunciation difference, but a few said they are actually different types of containers. Some say that a vase (vahz) is bigger, more expensive, fancier, and more valuable than a normal vase, but that both are containers to hold flowers.

However, most articles and blogs focused on the pronunciation. One article from Vox asked, “Do you put flowers in a vahz or a vayce?” Here was their answer:

Who cares?

Well, actually, a lot of us seem to care about the way we pronounce words. As study after study has confirmed, the way we speak influences the way others perceive us. Linguists sometimes refer to this phenomenon as the accent prestige theory: the belief that certain types of accents, because of their historical associations with high society, are more prestigious than others. According to this theory, we attach social judgments to people’s accents. And as research shows, these judgments can influence something as superficial as how physically attractive we find someone or something more substantial like hiring practices.

The study was simple enough. Give about 1,000 people six words that are often pronounced in two different ways and ask them to attach value judgments to the different pronunciations. As the results show, language is a social indicator.

For the five other word pronunciation comparisons and their “value judgements” (foyer, roof, chaise lounge, décor, and niche), see the article here.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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