Due to the outbreak of Covid19 in many foreign worker dormitories, the Minister of Manpower (MOM) Josephine Teo has been in the spotlight. At many press conferences where she had to address various issues relating to the high incidence of migrant workers infection, her most frequently-uttered word is none other than “dormitory” (ies).
Josephine Teo’s pronunciation of the biggest keyword in Singapore’s Covid-19 vocabulary today could have been off-key — and often, distractingly inconsistent. Many a time, the 4-syllable “dormitory” clumsily rolls off her tongue as daw-mur-tur-ree with every syllable almost equally stressed, making it neither British (daw-mur-tree), American (daw-mur-tall-ree), nor quite Singlish. At the same time, there are occasions — even in the same speech peppered with the somewhat jarring pronunciations — she makes crisp enunciations of daw-mur-tree with the third syllable soothingly silent.
So why does the “usually eloquent” Josephine Teo fumble over this 9-letter word (or 11 in plural form)? Inconsistent pronunciation, apart from geographical adaptation or influence, is often associated with unfamiliarity of a particular word and/or its pronunciation. However, this is unlikely the case for a seasoned speaker like her, and definitely not for “dormitory” which is definitely in the familiar terrain of her work vocabulary.
Based on a podcast of an interview the London School of Economics postgraduate had with business radio station Money FM on the recent Budget and how it can help businesses on 26 March — and this was before the dormitories’ outbreak made headlines — her pronunciation of “dormitories” then was spot on.
However, her pronunciation deviation and schizophrenia started after the dormitories became hotbeds of coronavirus transmission, and MOM the target of blame and criticism. Cases in point: her speeches in the multi-ministry task force media conferences on 5 April 2020, 14 April 2020, 21 April 2020 and 2 May 2020, etc (check YouTube for more). Strangely, on a Parliament meeting on 4 May 2020, she deftly effected daw-mur-tree (trees) throughout. Then on the May 16 multi-ministry task force media conference, where she appeared fresh from a haircut, she reverted to daw-mur-tur-ree (rees) largely.
Often, in times of unusual stress and anxiety, one can exhibit temporary speech irregularities. Just as a shy guy stutters while professing his love, one can also be at a loss for words upon hearing bad news. In the case of Josephine Teo, her pronunciation of “dormitory” may have strayed from habit due to the great stress the D word has put upon the nation and her. Confronting or uttering it could even be upsetting.
Credit: FB Communications Whisperer