People often say “computah” instead of computer, but it’s not their fault. Most people learn to spell the word using phonics, which doesn’t work for words like ‘compute’.
For most of us, phonics is the only way we know how to spell words that don’t follow a single-letter correspondence. And if you’ve ever said computah instead of computer, now you know why.
Here’s how phonics works: We match the first phonetic sound we hear to a letter and then we repeat that spelling.
If we do it right, we’ll get the correct spelling of the word. If we do it wrong, we’ll get a different word entirely.
To understand why so many people say ‘computah’ instead of computer, you need to understand the basics of phonics as suggested by https://websitesetuper.com/ and how it led to this common but incorrect way of saying computer.
Let’s start by analyzing this well-known example:
“I before e, except after c.” This is a good way to remember that words that end with e should be pronounced with a long vowel sound (“e”). But have you ever noticed that this rule doesn’t work properly when the word is “cease”? It’s not pronounced any differently from “seize” or “mice”. In short, this rule doesn’t work.
It only works half the time, and even then it’s a stretch. Not a good way to remember spelling.
So why do we learn it? Because it’s a simple way to teach a complex phonics system to kids who are just learning how to read. “Caesar” could be considered a ‘short i’ sound because the vowel sound tends to be short, plus it has an ‘e’ at the end which fits with the rule. But “seize” and “mice” don’t fit the rule at all.
The problem is that this rule doesn’t work to learn new words.
Here’s a slightly more complex example: “Alea iacta est” (“The die has been cast”). This phrase is hard to read and hard to say because we’ve got an ‘e’ in the middle of the word and we need to pronounce it two different ways: The first sound is ‘aye’ and the second sound is ‘ay.’ It’s easy for us to remember this if we write it out – but there’s no way we could know for sure what it means without reading it out loud.
Even if we did read it out loud, it wouldn’t be easy for us to pronounce – because our mind knows that the letter ‘e’ goes between vowels. So we’re forced to read it out like this: “The die has on the cast.” It only makes sense once we see it on paper (or on screen). For that reason, people often mispronounce words like these when they first learn them.
What’s the difference?
For example, try saying “Aurora Borealis.” Go on, try saying it. Now say “Northern lights.” The rule says you should pronounce both words with an ‘or’ sound but this rule (like many rules) is broken all the time in practice. The word “Aurora” is usually pronounced with an ‘er’ sound.
What’s going on here? Isn’t it supposed to have an ‘or’ sound? The problem is that our minds sometimes fit a word into a rule that fits most of the time, but not all the time. In this case, we fit “Aurora” into a pattern that sounds right to us: It’s got two vowels in it so we pronounce the first one long and the second one short. This pattern fits mostly but not all of the time.
If you’re serious about learning how to speak and write correctly, try to spend at least 20 minutes a day studying the written rules of the English language. After that, you’ll have no trouble saying “computer”.
Here are four reasons why you might be saying ‘computah’:
1. You’re looking for vowels!
If you’re reading or hearing something for the first time, it’s easy to mistake the opening vowel for an ‘e’ sound. You have to be aware of how pronunciation works with vowel sounds because this is one of the most common mistakes everybody makes when they’re learning how words are spelled. Our minds often fit words into patterns that make things easier but not always right.
2. You’ve been mispronouncing this all your life.
If you were taught to speak and write phonics, you probably heard words like “Aurora” and “mice”, pronounced the way they’re spelled, but probably not close to how they’re supposed to be pronounced. And if you didn’t learn about the rules, then probably everyone around you was making this mistake whenever they spoke or wrote them. This is just how things are with pronunciation. If you didn’t learn the rules, this is why so many people around you are saying ‘computah’ instead of computer! It’s no different than learning the rules of grammar for spelling letters incorrectly now that it’s time to speak or write properly.
3. You don’t want to be one of them!
If you’re putting yourself out there as a writer or speaker, you probably don’t want to be identified with the masses who are mispronouncing words. You might not want to make this mistake anymore or you might not know what the correct pronunciation is. Either way, it’s good to see how easy it is to learn these rules once you get started.
4. It shows intelligence!
People who employ their brains when they speak and write are more respected than people who parrot what everyone else says. If this sounds good to you, then it’s time to be more logical about how you say words. A few simple rules can help you easily understand how to pronounce thousands of words.