…you only know it from books, you’ve never heard or said it, and you don’t know how it’s pronounced?
In Mr. Blue Sky’s “Simple thing you finally figured out that made you feel stupid” thread, several folks have told tales about discovering the correct pronunciation of a word they’d previously only known from books. This happened frequently in a literature class I took last year, when we took turns reading aloud from various plays: one of the women would come across a word and mispronounce it without hesitation, and I would have bet that she’d seen the word before and knew what it meant, she just hadn’t ever heard it before. Do those kinds of words really qualify as being in someone’s vocabulary?
Part of me thinks that knowing what a word means equals knowing the word, but part of me thinks that if you only know something from a book you don’t really know it . . . and I lean toward the latter answer.
Using myself as an example, I have a fondness for reading legal thrillers and there are several Latin terms/phrases that I’ve become very familiar with as a result, but that I don’t know how to pronounce (I guess I haven’t watched enough legal thriller movies ;)). So in a technical sense, I know these words: I can spell them, I know what they mean, I could even use them in a sentence. But if I ever found myself in a conversation with a criminal trial lawyer, I’d have to confess my ignorance up front and ask how each term/phrase is pronounced (just knowing how the Latin would be pronounced isn’t good enough; when foreign words are used for something specific in English, sometimes the “original” pronunciation gets skewed). Do I consider them to be part of my vocabulary? Not really.
So what do you think? Can a word be considered part of someone’s vocabulary if they know what it means but don’t know how it’s pronounced? Why or why not?
(Just to be clear, I’m not insulting or otherwise criticizing people who know more words on paper than they know how to pronounce. We’ve all had moments when we hear a word and think “so that’s how it’s pronounced!” I’m merely asking if such a word can be considered part of someone’s vocab before that moment.)