In college, I had a Japanese linear algebra teacher who was not a native English speaker. The subject matter was new and difficult, so with new terminology to learn, it was sometimes to difficult for my classmates and me to understand certain words through his accent, mainly because they were new words that we had not heard before, or heard in proper context. Also, just like most of my college professors, he didn't have the neatest handwriting on the whiteboard.

So the one I will always remember is a "Arfa". It was just a squiggally unfamiliar symbol on a whiteboard, some new mathematical entity called Arfa, no big deal. Eventually, we came to learn that this was the greek letter "alpha," but there were a few classes where several members of the class were referring to it as Arfa because that's what we understood that symbol to be called. Eventually, someone figured out that it was the letter "alpha" and we called it that from then on.

So, is there a word or term for this type of mispronunciation? (Not the professor's, but the students' mispronunciation)

  • Not specific to pronunciation, but could be called a "blind spot" - when you're unaware of something you've been getting wrong for a long time, a misconception
    – IanF1
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 7:15
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    A personal example: I heard the word "epitome" correctly pronounced, and saw it written, separately; it was a long time before I realised they were the same word - in my head the written word rhymed with "dome".
    – IanF1
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 7:18
  • 2
    Speaking of blind spot..... another phrase that comes to mind is "the blind leading the blind". The professor doesn't know the correct pronunciation (well, can't produce it), so the students follow along blindly, accepting the professor's pronunciation. Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 8:37
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    I like to refer to this as received mispronunciation.
    – anemone
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 8:45
  • 1
    @IanF1 - I had a very similar thing growing up. I had heard of the "River Tems" and had read about the "River Thames" and took a long time to find out they were one and the same!
    – AndyT
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 12:03

3 Answers 3


I don't believe there is a specific term that describes the act of unknowingly mispronouncing a word due to somebody's foreign accent.

There are hundreds of examples where words are mispronounced by native speakers because they are unaware of the word's pronunciation. Forte is perhaps one of the best known. It can be pronounced in three different ways: /ˈfɔː.teɪ/, /fɔːt/ and /ˈfɔːr-/. The first is so commonly heard that it has practically superseded the original French pronunciation (the third). When a mistake is heard, learnt and then repeated, ESL teachers call it a fossilized error or fossilization.

Sometimes a learner’s grammatical development appears to have stopped at a certain level and recurring errors of both grammar and pronunciation have become permanent features of a learner’s speech. This is referred to as fossilization. Fossilization refers to the persistence of errors in a learner’s speech despite progress in other areas of language development. [. . .] Since fossilized errors do not generally trigger misunderstanding and hence do not prompt a clarification request from the listener, the learner may simply never notice them or be aware that they are there.

Since mathematics is often referred to as a language, mistakes in its grammar and pronunciation can be internalised by the students, especially if it is learnt through the teacher.

  • fossilization sounds like the right term!
    – chiliNUT
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 3:05
  • What is /ˈfɔːr-/ supposed to represent? The standard French pronunciation of "fort" is /fɔʁ/, but that's a different form of the word than "forte." In French, "fort" is masculine and "forte" is feminine, but in English we seem to tend to only use the feminine form of French adjectives (for example, "naïve" and "brunette" are much more common than "naïf" and "brunet"). In any case, I've never heard of English "forte" being pronounced like "four," and I would think of it as a hyperforeignism if I heard it (like pronouncing coup de grace as "koo der grar").
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 8:03

You could say, an inherited mispronunciation. You see it in families all the time.


In OP's current example of mispronounsing, it was caused by the specifics of teacher's native language, as there is no "L" sound in Japanese, so it's usually replaced by "R".

I'd go for Hyperforeignism:

non-standard language form resulting from an unsuccessful attempt to apply the rules of a foreign language to a loan word (for example, the application of the rules of one language to a word borrowed from another) or, occasionally, a word believed to be a loan word. The result reflects "neither the... rules of English nor those of the language from which the word in question comes."

The whole case is a variation of Broken English, applied to native speakers of some East Asian languages.


a slang term for the misuse or corruption of the English language by native speakers of some East Asian languages. The term itself relates to Japanese speakers' tendency to inadvertently substitute the English phonemes "R" and "L" for one another, because the Japanese language has one alveolar consonant in place for both.

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    You're describing the professor's mispronunciation, the OP is asking about the students'. When a person hears the mispronunciation, learns it, and then reproduces the mistake.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 4:19

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