Avoiding spelling mistakes.


The adjective metropolitan is a useful English language term.  It refers to the noun metropolis, which usually means a big city, or the main urban area of a nation. Because the word metropolis is of Greek origin, it can also mean the founding city state of a colony, especially in the Ancient Greek world. In modern English, metropolitan means having to do with a large urban place, so all Thais are familiar with the term

The Bangkok Metropolitan Area

In Thai English, writers of theses or academic research papers sometimes forget these words, and are not sure how to say the urban area around Bangkok, as well as the city itself. They use different phrases to express this location, but the clearest term is

The Bangkok Metropolitan Area.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is a large center for that area’s art works. It is important to spell the word metropolitan correctly. Yet in Thai English, it is sometimes written wrongly as Mettropolitan or Metropoltan or Mertopolitan or Metopolitan. Getting the spelling right for this important word is essential. There are many books in the Thammasat University Libraries collection that include the word metropolitan in their titles. Among these are Metropolitan Governments; the United States Experience; 100 European Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Metropolitan Public Library Users; A Report of a Survey of Adult Library Use in the Maryland Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area; The Ecological Field and the Metropolitan Community: Manufacturing and Management; Metropolitan Communities; New Forms of Urban Sub-Communities; Rural-Urban Migrants and Metropolitan Development; Internal Migration into the Bangkok Metropolitan Area; Park and Recreation Administration in the Bangkok Metropolitan Area; Analysis of the Bangkok Metropolitan Area with Emphasis on Residential Land Use Using Thematic Mapper Data; A Transportation Planning Strategy for the Bangkok Metropolitan Area; and many others.

Remembering how to spell this common word may be easier if we look more closely at its roots. As an adjective meaning to belong to a chief or capital city, metropolitan has been in use in the English language since the 1550s. In the Greek language, metropolis derives from the words meter, meaning mother, and pólis, meaning city or town. So for the ancient Greeks, a metropolis was a mother city, one of the original urban areas founded in a colony. In today’s English, metropolis usually means a big gathering of urban areas where one is right next to the other. From this term, the word for underground city railways was chosen: Metro. Since 1867, underground rapid transit systems have often been called metros. Among these are the Shanghai Metro, Moscow Metro, Madrid Metro, Shenzhen Metro, Shijiazhuang Metro, Tianjin Metro, Guangzhou Metro, and many others. Some metro systems are called subways or undergrounds, but all refer to urban rapid transit underground.

If we keep in mind that the word metropolitan contains the word metro, then we will be less likely to spell it wrong as Mettropolitan or Mertopolitan or Metopolitan. These frequent mistakes are due to carelessness, in some cases. In the wrong spelling Mertopolitan, the letters t and r have been switched, so instead of the letters metro, we see the incorrect letters merto. Yet writers of Thai English also sometimes try to spell a word such as metropolitan the way they think it should be pronounced.

As we know, phonetics are not consistently taught in Thai schools, and many highly intelligent and educated Thai people have little experience listening in a sustained way to standard English pronunciation, as spoken by a native speaker of the language, from England or the United States of America. As a result, many Thai people are not sure about the pronunciation of some essential words in English.  When they say the word metro, it may sound like mettro or merto or meto.  The letter r also poses difficulties for some speakers of Thai English. It is on occasion not heard when pronounced, possibly because the speaker thinks it sounds more British if the letter r is not pronounced. Or the speaker of Thai English may think it sounds more refined not to say the letter r in a clear way. Whatever the reason might be, it is usually a good idea to pronounce the letter r when it occurs in words.

One of the four most frequent incorrect spellings of the word metropolitan does not involve a misunderstanding with the letter r. In the case of Metropoltan, there is another common error of not sounding out each syllable in a word. Thai speakers of English sometimes leave out a syllable or two from some words. Possibly they feel it is more polite or seems more educated to do so. In fact, this habit can cause a great deal of confusion. The best policy is to make sure to pronounce every syllable of a word. There are some words in English where this is not correct, but they are in the minority. As a general rule, it is better to include all syllables than to leave some out at random. So, the wrong spelling Metropoltan leaves out the important letter i, and changes a word with five syllables into a word with only four of them. It may sound more British to say metropolitan with only four syllables, but it is certainly not standard pronunciation in English. Also, the main challenge for learners of any foreign language should be whether the people they are speaking to understand what they are saying.

(All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)