I Wanted a Sandwich, but Asked for a Sangwich Instead

As a language and phonetics nerd, I am really curious to observe how people talk, how they pronounce certain words and what sort of language they use. My brain also has fun making mental associations between people who speak in a similar way. Sometimes I’d love for them to meet up!

I’ve been living in the UK for four years now and would like to share with you one of the many pronunciation struggles I’ve had as a non-native English speaker.

Sangwich vs Sandwich

I’ve pronounced the word “sandwich” wrong ever since I can remember. I only realised it last year, when a friend mentioned it to me. I was embarrassed and fascinated. Since it’s quite a subtle mistake, I have successfully managed to hide it for many years. Like a language ninja. But now that I know I am mispronouncing the word, I try to pay extra attention while talking about those two slices of bread with some cheese in between.

The British pronunciation of the word is /ˈsæn(d)wɪtʃ/. Instead, I pronounce /ˈsæŋwɪtʃ/ ( ‘sangwich’). Please don’t kill me. Here’s the thing: if I try to pronounce ‘sandwich’ including the ‘d’, I find it quite challenging. I have to slow down to make sure I am doing it properly. My tongue feels clumsy. If I choose to ignore the ‘d’, as many people do, and go for “sanwich”, I still struggle. Sad times.

Our vocal organs always try to make things easier for us while pronouncing words. This mechanism is loaded with an inventory of phonemes (sounds) which varies depending on our native language. This video by A Way with Words sheds some light on this topic:

Sangwich speakers: assemble!

They explain that the cluster of consonants ‘ndw’ is quite difficult to pronounce by people who aren’t English native speakers, as our original inventory of sounds doesn’t include those sounds. Turns out I’m not alone! There are many people around the world happily saying ‘sangwich’ instead of ‘sandwich’ too. Apparently, it’s a common mispronunciation within the Italian-American community in New Jersey, New York, Canada and also some Spanish speakers. This makes a lot of sense. I’m a Catalan native speaker and Italian and Spanish share a lot of linguistic traits with Catalan.

I still would like to dig a bit deeper though. Why do I find ‘ngw’ easier to pronounce than ‘ndw’? I can’t seem to find any Catalan words with the cluster ‘ndw’. I found one with ‘ngw’: “pingüí” (penguin). Somehow I find it easier to transition from the velar /ŋ/ to the bilabial /w/, and that’s why my tongue has been making these little adjustments to make speech smoother for me.

What about you? How do you pronounce “sandwich”? Apparently, there are at least four different ways. Let me know in the comments!

Originally published at Grills de Taronja on October 21, 2020.

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I’m a creative writer, ballet enthusiast and phonetics nerd. Life brought me to beautiful Scotland, where I daydream about getting a Highland cow as a pet.

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Mireia Prats Llivina

Mireia Prats Llivina

I’m a creative writer, ballet enthusiast and phonetics nerd. Life brought me to beautiful Scotland, where I daydream about getting a Highland cow as a pet.

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