correct pronunciation of foreign names

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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by daverba » Sat Jul 15, 2006 12:27 am

Paul Wiggins mentioned "the correct pronunciation of names" in my topic on accent marks in English. (Good for him!)

Some names we change, such as Köln written and pronounced as "Cologne" and Michelangelo (we say "My-kill-EHN-jel-lo" instead of thbe Italian "Mee-kell-AHN-jel-lo"), other names we keep original, such as Leonardo da Vinci (we say "Lay-oh-NAR-doh" -- but sometimes "Lee-oh-NAR-doh"). I wish that I could think of other examples: Rome instead of Roma. Moscow instead of Moskva, etc.

Do only Americans slaughter foreign names (like the bunch of isolated spoiled illiterate brats that we are), or do all nations do it? And why isn't it consistent (ie, change 'em, or don't change 'em!)?

Everyone should respect everyone else's name. (Am I right Eric?)
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by Bobinwales » Sat Jul 15, 2006 7:12 am

Everyone does it, unless they are being pretentious. I went to Paris a while ago, not Par-ree. Mind you I do feel that on times it is quite insulting. I was once spent time with a crowd that included an Englishman who insisted on calling a German chap in our company Jer-gan, it made me think that he came from Krypton.
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Sat Jul 15, 2006 7:51 am

Huh. And to think I've been struggling with trying to remember Aberteifi for years, Bobyncymru.
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jul 15, 2006 7:55 am

To me, the general pattern appears to be that the following factors will increase the divergence of what you (Dave -- I hope I got that right) refer to as the 'slaughtered' version of a name from the original, native version:

-- Cultural or economic significance for the non-native culture or nation.
The more important the foreign place or person is to us, the more likely its name is to be transformed into a significantly different form (e.g. Moskva --> Moscow; Tiziano --> Titian; Firenze --> Florence). The size of a town or city is a related factor: the larger it is, the more likely it is to be significant beyond its local region.

Transformation seems to me to encompass more than mangling: here there is by now no significant attempt to reproduce the original sound of the name. Indeed, the new version becomes embedded as the standard form in the adopting culture, to the extent that most people belonging to that culture do not even realise how different their version of the name is from the original, because they never encounter it in their own culture.

Mere mangling, however, does at least involve some attempt to approximate the original pronunciation.

-- Duration of significance.
The longer we have some kind of connection with the foreign entity, the more likely it is that we will modify its pronunciation. This is because the modified version has a longer time to become embedded in our culture -- in other words, to become the mainstream pronunciation. The pronunciation of the name also has more time to be made to conform to the patterns of one's own language.

-- Linguistic congruence of our language with the language of the country of origin of the foreign entity.
The more dissimilar they are, the greater the degree of distortion or modification will be. This encompasses, among other things, the likelihood that some sounds in the foreign language will not occur at all in one's own, so that they will tend to be heard and/or reproduced incorrectly.

-- Degree of overall competence of the adopting culture in speaking the language of the place of origin of the entity in question.
I have noticed, for instance, that British people are not as clueless in regard to pronouncing French names as Americans are. This must be partly due to the fact that more British people than Americans have learned at least some French at school, and they are also more likely to have visited France at some point and are thus more likely to have been exposed to the native pronunciation. Conversely, I think it's fair to say that the knowledge of French among Americans is minimal, since it is not routinely taught in American schools; only 14% of Americans even have a valid passport.

It follows that for the native pronunciation of foreign names to be adopted at home, in most countries a tremendous amount of cultural baggage would have to be discarded, and there would have to be much more interest in learning foreign languages and learning about other cultures. Given both the amount of time and effort that would need to be devoted to such education (or self-education) to make a difference, as well as the inherently tribal quality of human society, this seems a pretty unrealistic proposition: by nature we are all parochial, and it takes an unusual degree of motivation to overcome this tendency.

Perhaps the most that can be hoped for by those who would like to hear more of the native pronunciations is that the mainstream broadcast media will make more of an effort to use them, but even this would be fraught with complications. There is little value in confusing an audience with 'Firenze' if the latter has no idea that the city in question is what it knows as Florence: I would argue that it is more important to know which city is being referred to in a news story than to hear its name being pronounced in the fashion of the natives.

Given all this, it is remarkable that 'Beijing' and 'Mumbai' have actually succeeded in replacing 'Peking' and 'Bombay' as the mainstream English pronunciations for these two cities in recent years -- at least, it is my impression that they have. But these are the main exceptions to an otherwise substantially fixed pattern.

Correction -- 2006-08-04

I was over-hasty in suggesting that it was principally Beijing and Mumbai whose names had recently undergone an official change of name that made it into mainstream English usage. See the BBC News article, City names mark changing times for other examples and readers' comments.
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by gdwdwrkr » Sat Jul 15, 2006 11:29 am

Mr. rba....If Americans are a 'bunch of isolated spoiled illiterate brats' maybe you are hanging out with the wrong people.
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by daverba » Sat Jul 15, 2006 2:28 pm

James,

I do apologize for generalizing about Americans.

What I meant was ...

Isloated: We have thousands of miles of ocean on both sides of us.
Spoiled brats: Politically, we act as a blundering giant (war-mongering, gas-guzzling, etc). (Shame on me, should we really talk politics here?).
Illiterate: We have kidnapped the English vowels and tortured them, as well as left my grown sons to spell words such as "makeing" (instead of "making"), and the dregs of society will not let us forget the horrific MF-word that sprang up out of the 1960's.

In the future, I will try to keep my introspective under control.

Dave
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by gdwdwrkr » Sat Jul 15, 2006 2:34 pm

Dave
I forgive you.
I am, as I suspect you are, less concerned with "should" and more concerned with "how best to".
We all have a lot to learn. This is a good place to do it.
Jim
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by russcable » Sat Jul 15, 2006 2:50 pm

For the other part of your question, London is Londres in French, Spanish and Portuguese, Londra in Italian, and Londen in Dutch.

About makeing vs. making, I've been reading a discussion on a BBC board about when the British started leaving the 'e' in words such as ageing and mileage. Some of them only remember it from the 1960's while others swear it was before 1940.
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by paulwiggins » Thu Jul 20, 2006 5:37 am

daverba wrote:


Do only Americans slaughter foreign names
No, which makes me glad my days as a broadcaster with no production back up as over. Place names predate present national and language boundaries, so using the anglicised version seems appropriate
*The indigenous people's exception: In New Zealand it is better to revert to the Maori pronunciation of Maori place names. In other places that might also apply.
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Thu Jul 20, 2006 9:01 am

Some people even call The Empire the "USA".
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by gdwdwrkr » Thu Jul 20, 2006 9:28 am

Mispronouncing it "umpire."
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Thu Jul 20, 2006 2:33 pm

And what some people call the "Tea-break", especially on the Fourth of July!
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by Slateman » Fri Jul 21, 2006 4:00 am

Spanish language TV networks in the US refer to New York as "Nuevo York". Can you imagine the outrage from Spanish speakers in the US if English language networks called Puerto Rico "Rich Port"?... lol
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jul 21, 2006 4:45 am

Can you imagine the outrage from English speakers in the US if they believed that George W Bush actually grasped what he was saying?
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correct pronunciation of foreign names

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Jul 21, 2006 11:20 am

Journalism of color portrays President Bush as literally a pain in the neck.
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