Stop pronouncing vaccine as FaSSine by Akeem Lasisi


It is one of the most important trending words. Not even food, drug or dress seems to be as important as it is now. The reason is that as important as food and dress are to man, it is only when you are alive that you have them. For ‘drug’, apart from the fact that coronavirus does not really have a cure yet, prevention is always better than cure.

The term I am serenading is ‘vaccine’, the word describing that ironic substance that all nations and billions of people are yearning for. So ironic is its character that it harbours a virus injected to fight a disease the virus itself can cause. A beautiful wonder of medicine, indeed!

After that winding introduction, let’s go into the main matter. How do you pronounce ‘vaccine’? It is a simple one that is not supposed to give any problem or suspicion. Yet, experience has revealed two problem areas in the way many articulate it. While some are able to escape one, they also have issues with the second.

Let’s break it down. There are two syllables in ‘vaccine’: VAC and CINE (not VA-CCINE!) Now, the anomalies usually occur in the realisation of the first. In the first instance, the consonant that begins the pronunciation is the voiced V (/v/), not the voiceless F (/f/). A lot of words with V often fall victims to the mix-up that occurs with the latter, as many people pronounce the V as F. This, in certain cases, is as a result of phonological interference. In others, it is a matter of habit, mistakes or carelessness. So, instead of ‘Visit’, many say ‘Fisit’; instead of ‘Vow’, you hear ‘Fow’; just as ‘advantage’ becomes adFantage, ‘over’ turns ‘oFer’; and ‘Vincent’ comes out as ‘Fincent’ etc. Often, you hear, ‘I want to see Mr Fincent.’

It is, therefore, not too surprising that many carelessly pronounce ‘vaccine’ with F staring it. Please, whenever you have to express the word, let the V be properly voiced.

The second error is a little subtle and relatively difficult to track. It is the one that surfaces when pronouncing words with what I refer to as the invisible K. Words such as accept, except, access, respect and inspect do not have the orthographical k in them, that is, the k you have in abcdefghijk etc. or when you spell them. Yet, when they are being pronounced, the phonological consonant K (/k/) manifests. Unfortunately, many fail to realise this. So, when articulating the terms, they let them come out rather flat. So, you hear sounds like aSSept, eSSept, aSSEss, resPET and insPET. The fact, however, is that the K must come out because it is an integral part of the phonology. So, for accept, except, respect and inspect, we should have something like aKsept, eKsept, respeKt and inspeKt.

By now, you should know what I am driving at as far as ‘vaccine’ is concerned. Its pronunciation is not what is often heard: vaS-Sine. No, apart from the fact that the first syllable should start with the voiced V it should also end with K: vaK-sine. So, in your articulation of ‘vaccine’, let us hear your V and KS clearly, instead of joining those who just say FaSSine.

In rounding off (not up), let me remind you about some other medical expressions we recently treated. Remember that the correct preposition with immune is to, not against. Also, one tests positive for a disease, not to it, just as you need not begin ‘coronavirus’ with a capital letter once it is not at the beginning of a clause.

May sound health continue to be our lot!

This article was first published by The Punch