mispronunciation of French

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mispronunciation of French

Post by Archived Topic » Sat Dec 11, 2004 1:14 am


Americans frequently mispronounce French words and this is sometimes due to misconceptions about French, which is not a phonetic language.

1) Americans often think that final consonants or consonant sounds are usually not pronounced, even when a consonant is followed by an e, in which case the consonant is always pronounced.

Example: Coup de Grace becomes coup de Gra (no s sound)

Paradoxically, final consonants of many French words which end in consonants (without a mute e) are pronounced:


Aix (like in Aix les Bains) mispronunced AY

2) Faux pronunciation of French words with final “n” sound being pronounced as if they were nh, like (correctly)in the word Chanson

Example: Carcasonh for Carcasonne (last syllable is pronounced like “sun”, Bayonne.

Cawnh for Cannes (should rhyme with American can). Would be correct if the word was Caen(often pronounced Cayenne, like the pepper!)

3) Mispronunciation of words ending in eux as if they were the French aux (like Chevaux)(all sound O:).

Example: Montreux becomes Mont-TRO, Bayeux becomes Bay or Buy “O”

Acceptable (American) Anglicizations:

Mispronunciations which are now so common as to be considered normative:

Fleur de Lys–pronounced Fleur de Lee(should be Fleur de Lees (like in the word lease)

Chaise Lounge–the original Chaise Longue has now become an affectation in American English

Many of these are uttered by "Experts" like Rick Steves, who actually has phrase books on how to speak French--what a joke!

British speakers of English have their own style which is culturally normative, as for example the almost invariant accenting of French words on the penult (this goes back to original Anglo-Saxon words which were so accented) Examples are:

Accent on penult: Cafe, Calais,

Other rather stupid corruoptions such as Restauranteur, Vinegar-ette, Cache pronounced Cashay, instead of Caash (common with military people).

Going a little further afield with respect to mispronunciations of American words, here are some of my favorite (pet-peeves)

Forte, pronounced Fortay:

“This word is often mispronounced "FOR-tay" because it is confused with the Italian word forte (pronounced "FOR-tay"). The words are spelled the same but have different pronunciations and meanings. If you play a musical instrument, you will probably recognize the Italian word as a term meaning "loud." When referring to ability, the correct pronunciation is "fort," but in music, it is always "FOR-tay” (like Pianoforte)
Submitted by Jack Peverill, PHD (Sarasota, Florida - U.S.A.)
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mispronunciation of French

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 1:27 am

Thanks, Jack, for an excellent summary of this topic.
Reply from Erik Kowal ( - England)
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mispronunciation of French

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 1:41 am

Jack, I agree with you in most of your points. However, there are some that need a bit of elaboration or correction:
A 1) Aix is a very, very rare exception from the general rule, but of course you're right.
A 2) Cannes: Using the American 'can' as a rhyme can be misleading. As a noun and occasionally also as a verb it often is pronounced with an 'a' that sounds diphthongal in many American regions, which is never the case in French. And as an auxiliary verb it can (!) be pronounced even in yet another way that is even farther away from the French Cannes. Cannes should rhyme with American 'run' - that's about the closest approximation.
B Lys in 'fleur-de-lys' (or 'fleur-de-lis') is pronounced like 'liss,' not 'lease.' The 'i' is pretty short and the 's' is totally unvoiced. I know, many English dictionaries have it wrong too.
By the way, what do you mean by "French, which is not a phonetic language"? French is more phonetic than English by orders of magnitude.
Ok, I'm getting off my soap box now. Never mind ;-)
Reply from Hans Joerg Rothenberger (Walenstadt - Switzerland)
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mispronunciation of French

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 1:54 am

The ones I find particularly amusing are "ma-ZOOSE" for "masseuse" and "shan-TOO-zee" for "chanteuse", both of which sound pig-ignorant and neither of which is ever heard in British English.

Occasionally, Americans use the word "WOL-luh". For years I was mystified by this, especially when it was explained to me (as a French speaker) that "French people say 'wolla'". Of course, it's actually the way Americans hear "voilà"; "here you are" or "behold". I had visions of a crowd of French people hysterically screaming "WOLLA! WOLLA! WOLLA!"
Reply from Simon Beck (London - England)
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mispronunciation of French

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 2:07 am

Speaking as a citizen of the USA, I would like to say that ANYONE I heard saying "WOLLA" instead of "vwa-LAH" would be instantly trouted (smacked upside the head with a fish). Similarly, a fishy correction to "shan-TOOZ" and "muh-SOOZ" woul be in order.

In short, NOT ALL OF US ARE WILLFULLY INGORANT AND PROUD OF IT. Just most of us. I have an advantage, being a master's graduate in choral conducting. Learning to pronounce French correctly in both spoken and sung forms (they are different -- most of the unpronounced Es get notes in French choral music) has afforded me the ability to be annoyed to no end by mispronouncers across my faded republic. If it really peeves you, I recommend avoiding Texas and the rest of the US red states completely.

NdL 11Dec2004
Reply from Nathan Lansing (Seattle - U.S.A.)
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