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Talking Dictionaries on Web Offer an Earful of Pronunciations

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: we answer some questions from listeners.

RS: Asad in Bangladesh and Emmanuel in Ghana ask somewhat related questions. Asad would like advice about a dictionary or a Web site to consult for the correct pronunciation of English words. And Emmanuel would like to know the American pronunciation of two words in particular: these, T-H-E-S-E, and those, T-H-O-S-E.

AA: Well, we can direct both of you to free dictionaries on the Internet that provide audio files with many entries. For example, at bartleby, B-A-R-T-L-E-B-Y, dot com, here is how the American Heritage Dictionary pronounces T-H-E-S-E.


AA: And here is how it pronounces T-H-O-S-E.


RS: Once again?


RS: And?


AA: Our next question comes from a Burmese listener, Rajiv, and it also involves the letters T and H. "When I say 'birthday,' do I need to blow air at the end of the first syllable?"

RS: The answer is: yes. BIRTH-day. And just to prove it, I hold my hand in front of my mouth -- BIRTH-day. And, yes, there was a puff of air at the end of the first syllable, enough to have blown out a birthday candle. Moving on to the next question, an Iranian ophthalmologist -- wait, that is the correct pronunciation, isn't it?


Anyway, an Iranian doctor, H. Hashemian, says: "We live in a complex of buildings we call here a "shahrak' meaning small town. What do you call it in American English?"

AA: Well, a lot of people would call it a complex. But a couple of other terms that come to mind are "development" or "project." Generally there's a specific name. For example, Los Angeles has the Park La Brea Apartments.

These buildings were started in the early nineteen forties and have a total of more than four thousand apartments. We see on the Park La Brea Web site that the company that owns the property refers to it as a "complex" and a "gated community." Gated community is the term for a housing development with a wall or a fence around it.

RS: We're going to have some fun with this next question -- actually, a set of questions from Sampath Kumar in India. Let's see if you can fill in the blanks. First question: Someone who performs daring gymnastic feats is a __________?

AA: That's easy -- a gymnast.

RS: One who studies the evolution of mankind is __________?

AA: We're going to say, an evolutionary biologist.

RS: One who overhears the conversation of others is __________?

AA: An eavesdropper.

RS: One who pretends to know a great deal about everything is __________?

AA: Well, the first term that comes to mind is a know-it-all.

RS: One who thinks of his own welfare and talks about himself is __________?

AA: Self-centered or conceited.

RS: And, finally, one who talks in his or her sleep is __________?

AA: Is, is -- we didn't know! People who walk in their sleep are called sleepwalkers. That's a common term. But

we've never heard anyone refer to "sleeptalkers." So we did a little research on the Internet.

RS: We found that the medical name for talking in your sleep is --

AA: Somniloquy.

RS: Which means that a person who does this would be a --

AA: Somniloquist. And in case you're wondering, somniloquy is spelled S-O-M-N-I-L-O-Q-U-Y.

RS: And that's WORDMASTER for this week. You can learn more about American English at our Web site, And our e-mail address is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

AA: And speaking of fancy words, we leave you with Lou Berryman and a song called "Lexical Dude."