A correspondent who had better remain nameless tells me that while dining among mostly strangers at the birthday dinner of an old friend he encountered a young woman who had an accent that he absolutely could not place anywhere on the globe. It seemed almost British, and yet not really. Eventually he just asked. She was from Northern California, but had been born in the Midwest, and she acknowledged, "Everyone always assumes I'm British or something just because I'm more careful to pronounce words properly. It only sounds unusual because everyone simply ignores how words are spelled anymore." Everyone else at the table simply nodded as though that made all the sense in the world.
My correspondent did not reply; he was simply dumbstruck. But as he listened to her some more, it became clear that she was indeed pronouncing many words precisely as they were spelled, letter by letter. She even managed to pronounce each individual vowel in diphthongs (pro-u-no-u-nce, and so on). She seemed to have no schwa — no reduced vowels, as in the first syllable of potato. Potato would have a first syllable identical with Poe for her; photography would begin with foe, commodity would begin like communist. This isn't how most people speak. But she thought that was a serious failing on their part (though apparently she did at least accept that there were some final letters that were intended to be silent: once would have only one syllable).
Later in the evening the topic of her pronunciation came up again, and she explained that people had "grown lazy". She differed from them simply in that she took great pains to pronounce things "properly, as they are written". She apparently regarded the speech of all other Americans (and, one can only assume, all other speakers of human languages), to be "lazy".
Did this anecdote from my correspondent surprise me? Not enormously. I have known people who insisted they could hear the difference between meat and meet. (I thought I could show such a person the error of their ways by saying, "OK, which one is this? [mi:t]". But the joke was on me: the person just said "That was [mi:t]!", and I had no way to explain what had just happened; it would turn into something about me being deaf to the alleged difference.)
People do hold the most extraordinarily strange views about writing and speech, apparently thinking of the latter as a poor and thoroughly imperfect reflection of the former, as if letters had come first and primitive man had slowly learned to turn them into utterable sounds.
The young woman in the anecdote above had apparently gone some way in the direction of pronouncing every letter (I'd like to hear her for myself), pronouncing letters that most people omit. She might be one of the few people (there are a few) who pronounce the p of psychology. Yet somehow I am skeptical about the notion that she pronounced every pronounceable letter. The k of knife, for example? The l of would? The g of impugn? The g and h of light? I imagine that my correspondent may be exaggerating a little, just as (I suspect) the young woman herself is.
It is possible to convince people of the truth of certain empirical claims about their own pronunciation. It involves recording them and making them listen to the playback. The linguist David Crystal was doing a workshop for British teachers and found that one of them regarded intrusive [r] as an abomination. That is, she regarded it as utterly wrong and unacceptable and coarse to pronounce the idea of it as the idearof it, as millions of British speakers do. So he had her say a few phrases like the idea of Africa and Asia on the other hand, and played her back. There were some clear cases of intrusive [r], and when she listened she could hear them herself. For a moment there was silence, and then the woman simply burst into tears.
David Crystal tells that embarrassing story with no relish at all. It's a dangerous game, monkeying with someone's perception of something as precious to them as their native language and how they speak it. Be careful out there.