Skip

Beizhing or Bei Jing?
August 13, 2012 9:42 AM   Subscribe

James Fallows, in a series of interesting blog posts, questions the typical English pronunciation of China's capital city arguing that "the "jing" in Beijing is pronounced basically like the "jing" in Jingle Bells. It's essentially the normal English j- sound. What it's not like is the Frenchified zh- sound you hear in "azure" or "leisure," or at the end of "sabotage."" One reader suggests, "My working theory about "Beijing/bay-zhing" is that at some deep, unconscious level, English speakers secretly believe that all foreign languages are French and should be pronounced as such in the absence of instructions to the contrary." Another reader argues, "Major cities and countries have historically had different names in different languages, and these names serve a good purpose by being easy to pronounce and identify in the languages where they are used. There is really no more reason to say "Beijing" in English than "München" or "Moskva.""

A hyperforeignism is a"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."

Examples include:

prix fixe - the final e in fixe is pronounced in the French
coup de grâce - the c in grace is pronounced in French
lingerie - apparently known as "queen of the hyperforeignisms", in French the ending is pronounced "ee" as opposed to "ay"
repartie - same as above, became repartee in English
bruschetta - pronounced as brusketta in Italian

see the wikipedia page for more examples
posted by beisny (301 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Rhyming imperatives aside, it was so like Sting to write "Firenze" instead of "Florence".
posted by Egg Shen at 9:44 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That makes no sense... correctly pronounced in Mandarin the "jing" in Beijing is not like the "jing" in Jingle Bells at all. The pinyin j consonant sound really has no direct English equivalent.

More confusing here is that the Pinyin "zh" is pretty much actually equivalent to an English "j" sound. I always tell people that to correctly pronounce Zhang, then should just say "John" and leave off the "n" at the end.
posted by kmz at 9:46 AM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


The obvious solution is to return to using "Peking".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:50 AM on August 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


coup de grâce - the c in grace is pronounced in French

Do people really silence the C? I've never heard that.

There's a schoolboy joke in English which depends on the C being pronounced.

Q: What's the French for 'mow the lawn'?
A: Coup de Grace
posted by unSane at 9:53 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had a Chinese Martial Arts Film class in college, and we read Water Margin, and there ended up being three pronunciations for every character name. The first was from the professor and Chinese students, who pronounced the names correctly. The second (which I fell in to) tried to use the pronunciation guide the professor gave us and only somewhat butchered the names. The remaining third didn't even bother with it because that would involve learning new sounds for letters that don't make those sounds, and also harsh and foreign syllables. I feel like "Bay-zhing" is the result of the latter; it sounds a lot smoother than the hard stop and start in "Bay-jing."

Also, can we talk about people who travel and then come back and, when relating travel stories, make sure to pronounce the name of the place they were as if they were fluent in the language? Because, and I speaking as a bilingual person here, they are silly people. In my mother tongue I don't think I've ever heard anyone switch to the English name for a place unless they were making a joke about how messed up English is w/r/t pronunciation.
posted by griphus at 9:54 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


The obvious solution is to return to using "Peking".

We sat at long tables instead of individual desks in my 9th grade World History class. Before every test, the teacher would remind us, "No peeking--this is not a China test." And of course, when the exam was, in fact, about China, he would remind us, "There is still no peeking; it's Beijing, now."
posted by uncleozzy at 9:55 AM on August 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


If this is hyperforeignism, what is it when my wife and I say to each other: "Je disagree" to express, well, disagreement?
posted by OmieWise at 9:56 AM on August 13, 2012


I've definitely heard "coup de grah" before.
posted by beisny at 9:56 AM on August 13, 2012


...at some deep, unconscious level, English speakers secretly believe that all foreign languages are French...

Sure, unless we adopt the French words. Then we pronounce them as English:
Detroit, Des Moines, New Orleans...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:57 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If hyperforeignism is a fault of English speakers, it's at least preferable to the other extreme that gives us Eye-ran and Eye-rack instead of Iran and Iraq and displays such ignorance, if not contempt, for foreign cultures.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:58 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeh angrezi bhasha ne naak main dum kar diya hai
posted by infini at 9:59 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why aren't all words originating from non-latin alphabets just spelled phonetically when translated to English?
posted by rocket88 at 10:00 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Because English isn't all-encompassing as far as syllables are concerned?
posted by griphus at 10:02 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think I've tried to explain this on Metafilter before, but I like to pretend that "zucchini" and "pepperoni" are latin words whose singular forms are "zucchinus" and "pepperonus." I also like to have it both ways, and pretend that the plurals are "zucchinuses" and "pepperonuses."

Try saying those and tell me they're not a little spot of joy in your day.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:04 AM on August 13, 2012 [50 favorites]


The obvious solution is to return to using "Peking".

Funny thing is that Peking is still used in the official English names for BeiDa (Peking University) and Peking Duck.

I also like to have it both ways, and pretend that the plurals are "zucchinuses" and "pepperonuses."

Ah, but you're forgetting the alternatives zucchinodes and pepperodes.
posted by kmz at 10:05 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: I speaking as a bilingual person here.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:06 AM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I also like to have it both ways, and pretend that the plurals are "zucchinuses" and "pepperonuses."


Totally hungry for some pepperonuses now. It also sounds vaguely dirty.
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:06 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, can we talk about people who travel and then come back and, when relating travel stories, make sure to pronounce the name of the place they were as if they were fluent in the language? Because, and I speaking as a bilingual person here, they are silly people.

Ugh, yes. It irritates the hell out of me when people (say, my sister) insist on talking about their trip to "Napoli" and "Firenze," and waxing poetic about the canals of "Venezia." So pretentious. Usually I don't say anything, but when I do ask such people why they don't use the perfectly acceptable English names for these cities, they usually tell me that they "want to be accurate." Ridiculous. Does anyone really not think that a non-French person who talks about "Paree" is a douche? Why would other languages and places be an exception, then?

I lived in Italy for nearly 20 years, but unless I'm speaking Italian, I'm sticking to English for place names. I have been told that this makes me a snob, which I find kind of hilarious, but also don't care. (Among other things, it's hard to switch your mouth shape back and forth between languages mid-sentence. Call me lazy; I'll cop to that.)
posted by Superplin at 10:07 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


"it's at least preferable to the other extreme that gives us Eye-ran and Eye-rack instead of Iran and Iraq and displays such ignorance, if not contempt, for foreign cultures." My inclination is to agree with you, but sometimes I catch myself and wonder why it is that we don't tend to attribute the same ignorance and contempt to, say, someone who speaks English with a very strong Arabic or German or French accent. Why is there something about the American accent which should connotes a unique ignorance when speaking a foreign language or pronouncing a foreign word. To some extent, I think that it is unfair.
posted by beisny at 10:07 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know it shouldn't but the bruschetta one drives me nuts, especially when we go to an Italian restaurant that claims to be authentic. WELL IF YOU'RE SO AUTHENTIC THEN FUCKING SAY IT CORRECTLY OK *flip table*
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:08 AM on August 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why aren't all words originating from non-latin alphabets just spelled phonetically when translated to English?

Which English? British? New England? Hoosier?
posted by Thorzdad at 10:10 AM on August 13, 2012


@rocket88: Part of the problem with that is that many languages have word and letter sounds that have no English equivalent. Take Arabic, for example: As explained in this blog post, Arabic has two sets of pronunciations (and two sets of letters) for several consonants that are only represented by one letter in English--not to mention one consonant "pronounced so far back in the throat that you must wait two hours after eating to safely attempt it. Naturally it's one of the most common sounds in the language." Trying to transliterate that, plus Arabic's lack of written vowels, is a real challenge.

@beisny: You may be right, but then I don't feel any obligation to tell German or Arabic or French speakers how to pronounce foreign (to them) words. Grammar policing is really an inside-the-family exercise.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:12 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


the bruschetta one drives me nuts, especially when we go to an Italian restaurant that claims to be authentic. WELL IF YOU'RE SO AUTHENTIC THEN FUCKING SAY IT CORRECTLY OK *flip table*

We gotta get dinner sometime, I want to see this.
posted by sweetkid at 10:16 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Usually I don't say anything, but when I do ask such people why they don't use the perfectly acceptable English names for these cities, they usually tell me that they "want to be accurate."

My favorite example of this was another American tourist we met while vacationing in Australia. She spoke a pretty standard r-ful North American English dialect, but nonetheless consistently pronounced "Melbourne" as "mell-bun".
posted by The Tensor at 10:20 AM on August 13, 2012


Because English isn't all-encompassing as far as syllables are concerned?

Its terribly limited. I used to have trouble pronouncing words in Finnish like street names and stuff until my cousin, who was visiting and has a better grasp of our native tongue, showed me how she would use the 'matra' (vowel marks) in devanagari to write out what she heard being said, a far more accurate version of the attempts I was making due to the English in the middle. Once I let go of the English, the Finnish pronounciations were much easier and more accurate.

Among other things, it's hard to switch your mouth shape back and forth between languages mid-sentence. Call me lazy; I'll cop to that

Probably not lazy if you're not bilingual and accustomed to switching back and forth within a sentence. See all the regional variations of Hinglish, Spanglish, Singlish et al

Beijing vs Peking

We had an Ethics professor in Business School in Pittsburgh who insisted on saying Peking even after numerous attempts by our Chinese classmates to correct him. One day he just told them that he didn't care if it was Beijing, he'd grown up learning it as Peking and that was what he was going to say.

I guess that's the other extreme of coming back refusing to call a city by its proper name.
posted by infini at 10:20 AM on August 13, 2012


Why aren't all words originating from non-latin alphabets just spelled phonetically when translated to English?

Of course, the two characters of the capital's name get pronounced quite differently in the various Chinese languages and dialects, which is part of why our earlier transliterations varied so much from the present standard Mandarin.
Anyway, I avoid any awkwardness by calling the place Cambaluc as the Great Khan intended.
posted by Abiezer at 10:22 AM on August 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm actually guilty of claiming that I was born in "Leningrad," but it was Leningrad when I was born and it was still Leningrad when I left.
posted by griphus at 10:22 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also Re: pronouncing English, what is the "proper" way to pronounce both t's in "tomato"? Are they the same, or...

We gotta get dinner sometime, I want to see this.

...well that's what would happen, but just as I'm about to open my mouth I glance over at my wife and she has this cold stare, this look that says "don't even think about it or you'll be on the couch for a month" and then I slump my shoulders in defeat and listlessly push around the romaine in my poorly constructed Caesar's until the main course arrives.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2012


... the other extreme that gives us Eye-ran and Eye-rack instead of Iran and Iraq and displays such ignorance, if not contempt, for foreign cultures.

I don't get why this particular localized pronunciation shows contempt. Any more than, say, the difference between American and French versions of the 'a' when pronouncing "France". There is an American prejudice linking Southern pronunciation with ignorance; maybe that's what you're reflecting.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:24 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


> prix fixe - the final e in fixe is pronounced in the French

What? It is not. Where did you get that?

> One day he just told them that he didn't care if it was Beijing, he'd grown up learning it as Peking and that was what he was going to say.

Good for him. He should have asked them if they said Meiguo for 'the United States' when speaking Chinese, and if so, why they didn't use our own name for it.

> I'm actually guilty of claiming that I was born in "Leningrad," but it was Leningrad when I was born and it was still Leningrad when I left.

Huh? Why are you "guilty" of making a true statement?
posted by languagehat at 10:24 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is Pinyin the objectively best romanization scheme out there or just the one that's been supported by the Chinese government? From my low-information standpoint, it seems like there are some weaknesses in Pinyin that lead to non-Chinese speakers butchering pronunciation, but I have no way to know if that's just inevitable given the difficulties of transliteration.
posted by Copronymus at 10:25 AM on August 13, 2012


> I don't get why this particular localized pronunciation shows contempt. Any more than, say, the difference between American and French versions of the 'a' when pronouncing "France". There is an American prejudice linking Southern pronunciation with ignorance; maybe that's what you're reflecting.

Hear, hear.
posted by languagehat at 10:25 AM on August 13, 2012


> Is Pinyin the objectively best romanization scheme out there or just the one that's been supported by the Chinese government?

The latter, not that "objectively best" means anything in this context.
posted by languagehat at 10:26 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm actually guilty of claiming that I was born in "Leningrad," but it was Leningrad when I was born and it was still Leningrad when I left.

And I have no idea when they renamed Calcutta to Kolkata and Bombay to whatever they're calling it these days...

btw, must take train to old Leningrad next time I'm in that part of the world. Hear its beautiful.
posted by infini at 10:28 AM on August 13, 2012


My working theory is that most Americans wouldn't know proper French pronunciation if it came up an bit them on the face and so they make a half-assed guess and then run with it. That my theory only requires slight modification to describe the whole of the human condition is just a happy coincidence.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:29 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Many years ago I lived in East Anglia and there was a splendid local ale called Bombardier, pronounced by one and all in my local in the British manner "bombar-deer", except for one person who pronounced it in faux-French as "bombar-dee-ay". Never failed to cause a grin of amusement.
posted by epo at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


You mean the proper pronounciation of course...

stirs in the old u for old times sake
posted by infini at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That makes no sense... correctly pronounced in Mandarin the "jing" in Beijing is not like the "jing" in Jingle Bells at all. The pinyin j consonant sound really has no direct English equivalent.

Okay, so the "ji" in "Beijing" is an alveolo-palatal affricate.

The English "j"-sound isn't alveolo-palatal, but it is an affricate. So one point out of a possible two: right manner of articulation, wrong place of articulation. (And since we don't have any consonants in English that are pronounced at the right place of articulation, there's an argument to be made that "j" is the closest an English-speaker is gonna get without taking some language classes.)

The English "z"-as-in-"azure" sound isn't alveolo-palatal or an affricate. So zero points out of two: wrong manner or articulation and wrong place of articulation.

Not that we're required to mimick the Mandarin pronunciation, as everyone and his uncle has already pointed out. But I have heard people get corrected for pronouncing it with an affricate, and that's sort of silly, since the affricate pronunciation is common enough in English and definitely not "the correct Chinese pronunciation."
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


I've definitely heard "coup de grah" before.

I'm always unsure about pronunciations when I visit the south coast of the US. There are a lot of French roots there and it's easy to horribly, horribly wrong. I'm used to a Quebec or France way of interpreting sounds. The anglicized old acadian transmogrified into the US Southern dialect follows completely different rules, e.g., Brent Farve's last name (which would be something like fav-Ray in my expectation) .

It's not wrong by any means, but my français expectations aren't right either, certainly not in the Louisiana context. Which can be hilariously frustrating---I know how I'd pronounce Ganon in Québec, for example, but I have no idea how to ask for the number for Chuck Ganon if he lives in Houma.
posted by bonehead at 10:33 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Er, make that 'the "j" in "Beijing".' The "i" is still a vowel; Pinyin is hinky but it isn't that hinky. :)
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:33 AM on August 13, 2012


@infini: It was a British ale, not a French one,
posted by epo at 10:33 AM on August 13, 2012


What? It is not. Where did you get that?

Here it is.
posted by beisny at 10:34 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


And as for people who come back from a trip and talk about 'Firenze', they're right. If they went there and visited, everybody talked about Firenze, not Florence. That was their actual experience. Visiting a place is different from reading about a place. In particular, some things get different names.

I've got a perfect example. I lived most of my life in SoCal, and for me temperatures were numbers between 40 and 100 (Fahrenheit, obvs, but we didn't bother to say that). Then I visited a friend in Montreal in the winter. Temperatures were numbers between -5 and -45. These were Celsius, but when I came back and talked about the experience I had no idea what those temperatures would have been in Fahrenheit, and I had no frame of reference to guess. I had no idea what a 20° F day felt like (remember, California kid). So while I could do the translation to give some idea to the folks back home to help them understand, my experience was definitely in Celsius, and when we discussed how heavy a coat was needed that day it involved Celsius.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:36 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, back in the day I used to speak pretty decent French (and now that I'm visiting Canada on a more regular basis again, should probably resurrect that skill), including what native speakers told me was a pretty good imitation of how French should sound, which mostly came of a wonderful young woman named Marie who displayed infinite patience in teaching me how to pronounce her name correctly.

And... I pronounce things according to the language I'm speaking at the time. I don't bust out the nasals and silent consonants and back-of-the-throat sounds for French loan words in English, because I'm not speaking French. I learned a long time ago to accept that English is basically the pillaging Viking of European languages, raiding and mangling every bit of vocabulary it can get its hands on, and that the words we use now aren't the words they were when we stole them.

(with one exception, which is that I pronounce "Québec" with the hard "Q". Also, I tend to put accents on written things, and have a secret soft spot in my heart for people who pretentiously use a diaresis on a double vowel, or put the circumflex on "rôle")
posted by ubernostrum at 10:36 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


> I know how I'd pronounce Ganon in Québec, for example, but I have no idea how to ask for the number for Chuck Ganon if he lives in Houma.

My favorite is Melancon, which is məlãSÕ in France and məLAWsən in Houma.
posted by languagehat at 10:37 AM on August 13, 2012


@rocket88: Part of the problem with that is that many languages have word and letter sounds that have no English equivalent.

That doesn't seem to be the case with Beijing, or the vast majority of other place names that commonly get badly mispronounced by English speakers. It doesn't have to be a perfect phonetic match, just close enough to be understandable.
posted by rocket88 at 10:37 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


epo, sorry that was meant for Kid Charlemagne (ho ho ho how I do pronounce that handle in my head) since you and I posted at the exact same minute, even I can't type that fast!
posted by infini at 10:39 AM on August 13, 2012


but nonetheless consistently pronounced "Melbourne" as "mell-bun"

...and every local within earshot would've thanked her.
posted by pompomtom at 10:39 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


We have all of these French words in English, and it's a mark of education to attempt to pronounce them correctly in French. It's aspirational. French used to be a language that the upper class would learn in the course of their studies, along with Latin and ancient Greek. So why not default to French for pronouncing other foreign words? It's subconscious for people who have studied French and not Mandarin.

Personally, though, I think I'll switch to "Buy ying", opting to mangle my foreign words based on insights gained through three quarters of college German classes.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:39 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Here it is.

Dude, that's fixé. Yes, the -é in fixé is pronounced. The -e in fixe isn't.
posted by languagehat at 10:40 AM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Huh? Why are you "guilty" of making a true statement?

Because, and I'm not sure if this is only in the community of Russian-speaking people I hang out with, everyone speaks of where they're from in post-Soviet terms. My friends who were born in and emigrated from Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia do not say they are from Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia.
posted by griphus at 10:41 AM on August 13, 2012


(Although I guess that is different on a fundamental level. Either way, most of the time I mention I am from Leningrad to either a person from around there, or a person with a grasp on history, I get a queer look and then "oh, St. Petersburg."
posted by griphus at 10:42 AM on August 13, 2012


I pronounce "Québec" with the hard "Q".

There's significant (Anglo) variation on that even within Canada. Quebeckers tend to use a hard-K sound, as in the French. Westerners tend to use a "Qw" sound. It's one of the more reliable ways to distinguish someone from the Prairie provinces from an eastern Canadian.
posted by bonehead at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for how the "ji" sounds in Chinese - here are a couple of pronunciation guides:

From ChinesePod, pronouncing ji, qi, xi... related is the Sinosplice pronunciation guide which shows the difference between ji and zhi.

As for Fallows, btw, his writing is consistently the best American commentary on China that I read.
posted by mark7570 at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then, griphus, that means you are a humble young man who is down to earth and makes no pretensions of eating out only at Zagat rated restaurants, attending high brow plays and drinking only at wine bars (used to date a guy born in St Petersburg once)
posted by infini at 10:44 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that the accents are dropped when used in English makes it even harder to pronounce French properly.

And if this were on AskMe I'd nominate ubernostrum for giving the best answer. I remember when I came across Gros Ventre (river, campground, etc.) near the Grand Tetons. I knew to just shut up and ask the locals how to pronounce it. It's "gravant", and make those a's as flat as Kansas.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:45 AM on August 13, 2012


There is so much posturing around the pronunciation of foreign words! When earnest folks strain their vocal cords to pronounce Beijing or Nicaragua in a performance of their political correctness, I wonder how they pronounce Germany, or Rome, or Lake Chaubunagungamaug.

If you are speaking English, you use whatever the standard English adaptation of that particular place name has become. No need to be a poser.
posted by LarryC at 10:46 AM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


@benito.strauss It may be I have lingering resentment over the warmongers in Iraq that would make such self-assured statements about what Arabic culture is "really" like, but they couldn't even fucking pronounce the name of the country correctly.

And FWIW, I have a slight Appalachian lilt, so I know a bit about being mistaken for being ignorant (at least on that basis).
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:46 AM on August 13, 2012


but nonetheless consistently pronounced "Melbourne" as "mell-bun"

...and every local within earshot would've thanked her.


Why?
posted by The Tensor at 10:46 AM on August 13, 2012




The thing with hanyu pinyin is, IIRC, one of its primary aims was to aid the teaching of standard Mandarin pronunciation to Chinese children rather than work for speakers of other languages, so that's why it doesn't work so well for English speakers.
posted by Abiezer at 10:47 AM on August 13, 2012


Dude, that's fixé. Yes, the -é in fixé is pronounced. The -e in fixe isn't.

It comes from the french, prix fixé meaning fixed price. In english it became prix fixe (no accent on the final e). What is strange is that we kept the unconventional (by english standards) French pronunciation of prix while changing fixé to fixe. Why do you think the e is still there? It is the french past participle of fixer... I am not suggesting that we start pronouncing this the french way - at this point, it would probably be pretentious.
posted by beisny at 10:47 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, can we talk about people who travel and then come back and, when relating travel stories, make sure to pronounce the name of the place they were as if they were fluent in the language? Because, and I speaking as a bilingual person here, they are silly people.

Sure it's a little silly, but it's silly in a happy, good way. Why go travelling if you're not going to let new experiences and new places and new ways of thinking and living wash over you and sink in a bit and change you? And if part of that change is to soak up some new pronunciations, yes, it's just a little pretentious to use those pronunciations back home, but everyone likes to play with their shiny new toys and show them off to their friends. That's what the show and tell is for - you went somewhere different and experienced something different and now you get to share it with the folks back home who get to enjoy a little of it through you. Let people have their fun - better that than one of those insufferable too-good-for-it-all travelers for whom foreign places are just a collection of exotic nuisances.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:50 AM on August 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also, can we talk about people who travel and then come back and, when relating travel stories, make sure to pronounce the name of the place they were as if they were fluent in the language? Because, and I speaking as a bilingual person here, they are silly people.

I mostly agree but, having spent half a year in Mexico (not "Mayheeco" unless I'm speaking Spanish) and a year in Amsterdam (not "Omsterdom" unless I'm mangling the Dutch language), I feel the need to ask for two exceptions.

1. Despite having said "Gouda" quite happily before living in Holland, my mind now recoils at anything but "Howda."

2. I heard somebody pronounce Oaxaca as "Wazakka" once and fuck that.
posted by 256 at 10:55 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is so much posturing around the pronunciation of foreign words! When earnest folks strain their vocal cords to pronounce Beijing or Nicaragua....

Oh goodness yes. I go to Quaker meeting pretty regularly, and I love me some nice crunchy old Quaker dudes, but it seems like there's some sort of requirement that the ones above a certain age talk about the situation in WOT-tay-mollah every so often.

So right, yay linguistic descriptivism, this is a fascinating bit of sociolinguistic variation, old lefty dudes say [watemala] and young lefty dudes say [gwaɾəmalə] and they're both equally correct, let's just sit back and admire the situation. But man, from a purely descriptive point of view, I would describe its effect on me as "irksome as fuck."
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:55 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I live in Gdansk Danzig Gdansk Danzig Gdansk Danzig Gdansk Danzig Gdansk, but I grew up in Pekin (no g).
posted by pracowity at 10:55 AM on August 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Then, griphus, that means you are a humble young man who is down to earth and makes no pretensions of eating out only at Zagat rated restaurants, attending high brow plays and drinking only at wine bars...

I have a couple friends from Питер, and I have to say that most of us are basically the hipster version of what you describe. Instead of high-brow plays, I go to hard-listening experimental music shows. Instead of fine wine, my friend refuses to drink any but the craftiest of beers. And just the other day I was introduced to some of the best tacos in Brooklyn served in an otherwise ordinary bodega. It's not going to be in Zagat because IT'S A SECRET TO EVERYBODY. (Also they were temporarily closed down by the health department.)

Like a fart in a pool, the pretentiousness that comes with being from/being raised by people from St. Petersburg will eventually surface somewhere.
posted by griphus at 10:55 AM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Here in Southern Ontario you hear Quebec pronounced both ways, about 50:50 is my guess. But all anglos pronounce Montreal MONT-REE-AWL with no concession to a French accent at all.

re Bombardier, to most Canadians it refers to the engineering company who make subway trains and aeroplanes, and is pronounced Bom-bard-i-er. I got funny looks when I came to Canada and pronounced it like the beer/soldier.

When I first came to Canada, Toronto was pronounced 'Tronna' but that seems to have dropped away now.
posted by unSane at 10:56 AM on August 13, 2012


Though I mean if it's between a 60-year-old dude who says [watemala] and was paying attention to that shit back in the day and a 60-year-old dude who says [gwaɾəmalə] and thinks the CIA is a messenger of peace and prosperity to all the peoples of the earth, I sure do know who I'd rather hang out with.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:57 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, my mind just about exploded when I was living in the US and heard Roquefort pronounced "Rockfurt."

So, I guess it's just cheeses.
posted by 256 at 10:57 AM on August 13, 2012


And what the fuck is it with North Americans and Wimble-Ton?

I mean, really?
posted by unSane at 10:58 AM on August 13, 2012


...and every local within earshot would've thanked her.

Why?


Because it is annoying to hear the name of your city mispronounced. Like hearing your own name mispronounced. The least you can do is try and pronounce it properly while you are there, like you would try and say hello in their language if applicable. I don't care how you pronounce it when telling vacation stories back home.
posted by jacalata at 10:59 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is cool stuff.

I study Korean these days, and I get tripped up by how the Korean words for many foreign countries are sort of closer to the "original" but kind of wierdly elongated and over-vowelified (technical term of my own invention).

So when I'm talking about, say, Switzerland, nobody understands me. "Suisse" also doesn't work (although in snob-terms that's the proper phrase), but the three syllable "su-i-su" does the trick.

Place names being entirely arbitrary in all cases and all.
posted by bardic at 10:59 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


UnSane: I say KAY-bec and MONT-ree-AWL. Also, I don't think that the Trawna pronunciation was ever really that common, but it did (and still does) exist, and the sheer strangeness of it really sticks in memory.

Tuh-RON-oh has seemed the prevalent pronunciation for my entire life.
posted by 256 at 11:01 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cash4Lead: Okay, it's the views you associate with that pronunciation. I hear you. But this more-standard English pronunciation isn't that much closer to a Persian pronunciation.

And I keep trying to not let myself get caught up in secondary features (which lord knows I certainly do). It leaves one open to the Buckley subterfuge, where one can be decieved by a person (e.g. William Buckley) who has elegant accent and phrasing, but is an utter bastard of a human being.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:03 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh and also, it's definitely bom-BAR-dee-ay, even in English.
posted by 256 at 11:03 AM on August 13, 2012


In the introduction to one of his travel books, Paul Theroux makes fun of that manner of ravel writing that includes sentences such as (and this is from memory) "'Hola," said the campesino who was eating an empanada at the roadside tienda." Imagine how much worse it would be having to listen to the above author talk about his trip.
posted by LarryC at 11:06 AM on August 13, 2012


"Oh, why is Toofer in the punishment corner?"

"I said, 'time to end the char-AHDE and adjust my SHED-ule to buy a new VAHSE.'"

"Oh, you stay there, you stay there until you die!"
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:10 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh and also, it's definitely bom-BAR-dee-ay, even in English.
I say it bombard-eer for the beer and the Royal Artillery rank, and have always heard it that way (English native too). Though now it comes up, certainly couldn't swear it was "correct".
posted by Abiezer at 11:12 AM on August 13, 2012


It's a me... MARIO!
posted by symbioid at 11:13 AM on August 13, 2012


I say it bombard-eer for the beer

That's certainly how they pronounce it when advertising.
posted by pompomtom at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2012


On the topic of 'lingerie', I usually hear the first vowel as a short 'o'. Would it not be a short 'i' in French pronunciation?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I lived in Italy for nearly 20 years, but unless I'm speaking Italian, I'm sticking to English for place names.

This reminds me of when the 2006 Winter Olympics were in Turin, in English media, the city was only referred to as Torino. I've always wondered why they did that. I mean, the 2004 Summer Olympics weren't referred to as being in Athína...
posted by zsazsa at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think I've tried to explain this on Metafilter before, but I like to pretend that "zucchini" and "pepperoni" are latin words whose singular forms are "zucchinus" and "pepperonus." I also like to have it both ways, and pretend that the plurals are "zucchinuses" and "pepperonuses."

Thanks, now I'm going to do that always and die alone.
posted by samofidelis at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


> they couldn't even fucking pronounce the name of the country correctly.

Oh, like you can? Unless you speak Arabic, I doubt it. And even if you can, it's ridiculous to expect every English-speaker to be able to.

> most of the time I mention I am from Leningrad to either a person from around there, or a person with a grasp on history, I get a queer look and then "oh, St. Petersburg."

Hasn't everybody always just called it Питер anyway? I mean, even when it was Leningrad? Seems like that would solve your problem.

> Because it is annoying to hear the name of your city mispronounced. Like hearing your own name mispronounced. The least you can do is try and pronounce it properly while you are there, like you would try and say hello in their language if applicable.

OK, so I trust if you visit, say, Fort Worth you'll pronounce both r's. Not to do so would be rude.

> It comes from the french, prix fixé meaning fixed price. In english it became prix fixe (no accent on the final e).

Wow, you're still digging. Here, let me quote the OED if you won't take my word for it: "Etymology: < French prix fixe fixed price (1690), fixed-price meal in a restaurant (1831 or earlier) < prix price n. + fixe fixed." Do you see an accent there? That's because there isn't one. This is the adjective fixe, not the past participle. You are wrong, wrong, wrongety-wrong.

> Oh and also, it's definitely bom-BAR-dee-ay, even in English.

What is it about language that makes people so confident about making shit up and stating it publicly as though they knew what they were talking about? You, too, are wrong, wrong, wrongety-wrong. The only pronunciation given in Merriam-Webster is /bäm-bə(r)-'dir/, i.e., bombar-DIER, last syllable stressed and sounding just like deer.
posted by languagehat at 11:19 AM on August 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


And FWIW, I have a slight Appalachian lilt, so I know a bit about being mistaken for being ignorant (at least on that basis).

When I lived in Alabama, I came to associate the Appalachian lilt with a more cultured open-minded person than the twangy standard 'bama accent signaled...

me and my prejudices.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:20 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Okay, so I don't pronounce my own name correctly. It's Indian, and has a dh-diphthong thingie in the middle that even my husband can't say correctly (and I've been with him for 20 years!) Every once in a while someone will ask me to say it correctly so they can try it. I've come to the conclusion that it's never going to happen.

On the plus side, I always know when I've reached a call center in India...
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 11:21 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm actually guilty of claiming that I was born in "Leningrad," but it was Leningrad when I was born and it was still Leningrad when I left.
posted by griphus at 1:22 PM on August 13 [+] [!]


Then you really were born in Leningrad - it's not just a place, but also a time. For (another) example, I have visited London, but I will never see Londinium unless I make a time machine (though I've seen great dioramas of the harbour).
posted by jb at 11:23 AM on August 13, 2012


It's a me... MARIO!

Bah, it's clearly pronounced "Mario", not "Mario".

For (another) example, I have visited London, but I will never see Londinium unless I make a time machine

The good thing is you can travel back or forward.

OK, so I trust if you visit, say, Fort Worth you'll pronounce both r's. Not to do so would be rude.

Woot, random Fort Worth shoutout from languagehat!
posted by kmz at 11:27 AM on August 13, 2012


HEY HEY ALSO is this an appropriate time for me to scream & wail about those people who pluralize 'octopus' as 'octopi' as though (1) it were from the Latin, not the Greek (2) they were total shits, which they are, so forget about point (2).
posted by samofidelis at 11:27 AM on August 13, 2012



OCTOPUSES, MOTHERFUCKER!
posted by samofidelis at 11:28 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh and also, it's definitely bom-BAR-dee-ay, even in English.

What is it about language that makes people so confident about making shit up and stating it publicly as though they knew what they were talking about? You, too, are wrong, wrong, wrongety-wrong. The only pronunciation given in Merriam-Webster is /bäm-bə(r)-'dir/, i.e., bombar-DIER, last syllable stressed and sounding just like deer.
posted by languagehat at 2:19 PM on August 13 [+] [!]


As far as I know, Bombardier the family/company is called "bom-BAR-dee-ay", while I have heard the military rank in English pronounced as as you note.

But that said, Merriam-Webster doesn't get to be the last name on pronunciation - no dictionary is (no, not even the OED, god/gods strike me dead as I admit it).
posted by jb at 11:29 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


REJOINDER: OCTOPODES!

(Both are acceptable, but come on, octopodes is so much more fun to say.)
posted by kmz at 11:29 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like biscotti. But "biscotti" is plural in Italian, and I know this! I can't order "a biscotti" because that's wrong in Italian, but I can't order "a biscotto" because it's pretentious as fuck. (Then again, I live in a city that's pretentious as fuck about its food, so maybe I could.) If biscotti were trademarked I could order "a BiscottiTM brand cookie", but they're not. Fortunately, most places that have biscotti have more than one kind, so I can point at the kind I want and say "one of those biscotti".
posted by madcaptenor at 11:29 AM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I first came to Canada, Toronto was pronounced 'Tronna' but that seems to have dropped away now.

No, most Toronto natives still elide the first syllable - but it's more usual to hear "Tronno" than "Tronna/Trawna". But if I hear "To-ron-to" (3 distinct syallables), it's almost always from a non-Trontonian.

madcaptenor: just order your biscotti in multiples, "I'd like three biscotti, please." Because biscotti are tasty.
posted by jb at 11:34 AM on August 13, 2012


Isn't 'octopodes' preferred when speaking of multiple species of octopuses? I prefer a grammar where you have one octopus, but when there is another one you have a δεκαέξιpus. And so on.

I don't know anything, by the way.
posted by samofidelis at 11:34 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


madcaptenor: just order your biscotti in multiples, "I'd like three biscotti, please." Because biscotti are tasty.

But I've already gained weight from eating too many burriti.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:36 AM on August 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


You are wrong, wrong, wrongety-wrong.

*gives a big kiss on the nose*
posted by infini at 11:38 AM on August 13, 2012


A bombardier (british soldier) is most definitely a BOMB-UH-DEER.
posted by unSane at 11:39 AM on August 13, 2012


Oh, like you can? Unless you speak Arabic, I doubt it. And even if you can, it's ridiculous to expect every English-speaker to be able to.

I'd say there's a difference between trying to get the pronunciation right and missing the mark (like Beijing and Beizhing) and getting it completely wrong and not caring.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:42 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It comes down from the Middle French 'bom' [from which, the modern 'bon'] + 'bardier,' from which we know that a British soldier must roll well for strength, charisma, wisdom, and dexterity, with moderate requirements for intelligence and constitution.
posted by samofidelis at 11:44 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bombardier the family/company is called "bom-BAR-dee-ay"

The company named after the French-Canadian is pronounced accordingly, the beer named after the English word likewise.

Discussing pronunciation on the Internet (ahn-TAIR-nay) is hard.
posted by howfar at 11:47 AM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also Re: pronouncing English, what is the "proper" way to pronounce both t's in "tomato"? Are they the same, or...

There is no proper English way of pronouncing anything.

That said, you'll probably find that Brits say a hard t for both (along with the more famous vowel-sound), while North Americans say a hard T for the first, and made the second more like a d (some linguistic person please remind me of the correct term for this - flapped t? flapped d?), just as we do in "butter" (said 'budder).

re Bombardier, to most Canadians it refers to the engineering company who make subway trains and aeroplanes, and is pronounced Bom-bard-i-er. I got funny looks when I came to Canada and pronounced it like the beer/soldier.

yes, I got to this later -- and it makes sense, since most Canadians will hear the name of the family/company (named after the family) 100 times more often than the military rank (which is pronounced in the British mode). They are a pretty famous company.

But I've already gained weight from eating too many burriti.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:36 PM on August 13


There is no such thing as "too many burriti". Damn, now I want one.
posted by jb at 11:47 AM on August 13, 2012


Why aren't all words originating from non-latin alphabets just spelled phonetically when translated to English?

Oh they are, just with a spelling system that assigns different sounds to a bunch of common letters [see Pinyin]. You know, because English spelling wasn't fucked up enough as it is.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:50 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, so I trust if you visit, say, Fort Worth you'll pronounce both r's. Not to do so would be rude.

Should I ever be so lost as to do so, I'd certainly try. Just like I try and remember that Des Moines, Washington is pronounced Day Moynz and Des Moines, Iowa is Dezz Moynz. Should it turn out that the american accent actually renders one incapable of pronouncing 'mell-bun', the way my accent appears to render me incapable of getting all those 'r's in*, I'll cut them some slack. If you read my original comment carefully for meaning instead of opportunities to snark, I said nothing about results, just effort.


*Ask me about trying to get the 545 bus driver to stop at Marymoor Park.
posted by jacalata at 11:54 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Funny thing is that Peking is still used in the official English names for BeiDa (Peking University) and Peking Duck.

I've always heard Beijing University named as Beijing University or as BeiDa, when referred to by historians or other academics. But does using the latter make non-Chinese speakers pretentious?

As for pinyin - it uses central/eastern European values for many of the latin letters, and also, Chinese has so many sounds that are simply impossible to render in English orthography because we don't say them. Like the "x" sound or, indeed, the "j" sound.
posted by jb at 11:54 AM on August 13, 2012


How accurately do people in China and other countries pronounce the names of, for example, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Sydney? Do you really care if they don't pronounce them the way the natives of those cities pronounce them?
posted by pracowity at 11:55 AM on August 13, 2012


I can't order "a biscotti" because that's wrong in Italian, but I can't order "a biscotto" because it's pretentious

So order a biscottus. (I myself am guilty of calling an individual pasta pillow with stuff inside a raviolus. It just sounds right.)
posted by wanderingmind at 11:56 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't order "a biscotti" because that's wrong in Italian, but I can't order "a biscotto" because it's pretentious

Or you could have some fun and say "hey, how about one of those coffee biscuits or whatever"
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:57 AM on August 13, 2012


I like biscotti. But "biscotti" is plural in Italian, and I know this! I can't order "a biscotti" because that's wrong in Italian, but I can't order "a biscotto" because it's pretentious as fuck. (Then again, I live in a city that's pretentious as fuck about its food, so maybe I could.) If biscotti were trademarked I could order "a BiscottiTM brand cookie", but they're not. Fortunately, most places that have biscotti have more than one kind, so I can point at the kind I want and say "one of those biscotti".

Solution: Pretend you are from Naples like my grandma and say "bisgot." I don't speak Italian, but it seems like with this dialectical variation, you can't tell just from the word whether it is singular or plural.
posted by Falconetti at 11:57 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


> As far as I know, Bombardier the family/company is called "bom-BAR-dee-ay", while I have heard the military rank in English pronounced as as you note.

But that said, Merriam-Webster doesn't get to be the last name on pronunciation - no dictionary is (no, not even the OED, god/gods strike me dead as I admit it).


OK, I was letting the GRAR get the better of me—I lost track of the fact we were talking about the family/company rather than the common noun. Sorry! (But the Shorter Oxford also has only the bombar-DEER pronunciation, so it's not just a Yank thing.)

> HEY HEY ALSO is this an appropriate time for me to scream & wail about those people who pluralize 'octopus' as 'octopi' as though (1) it were from the Latin, not the Greek

As I always say, you don't have to know any foreign languages, not even Latin or Greek, to speak English correctly. If enough people say octopi, that is an English plural, whether the ancient Greeks would approve or not. And the ancient Greek situation is not clear either; as I wrote in this LH thread in response to Justin, who had actually looked into the ancient evidence: "It does sound like your average Greek-in-the-street might not have connected polypous (and by extension oktapous) very closely with pous, podos and might have used oktapoi as a plural (and been slapped down by the Safires of the day). I'll have to revise my whole pattern of thinking about this."
posted by languagehat at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Des Moines, Iowa is Dezz Moynz

bzzt! "Damoin"
posted by thedaniel at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Because it is annoying to hear the name of your city mispronounced.

So if I (who speak an r-full dialect) say "MELL-burn" you're offended? If I visit Manchester in England, am I also required to drop the final "r"? (But to pronounce it when the following word begins with a vowel?)

Like hearing your own name mispronounced.

When I studied Japanese for years, every conversation partner I had mispronounced my name—not just adding epenthetic vowels to adapt it to Japanese syllable structure, but choosing the wrong vowel and doubling a consonant (because there's a standard Japanese transliteration for many foreign names and it's the usual practice to follow the spelling when pronouncing them). Were they insulting me? They seemed like nice kids.

The least you can do is try and pronounce it properly while you are there, like you would try and say hello in their language if applicable.

What if I'm speaking American English with another American English speaker (which I was)? Do I have your permission to use my native dialect?

Wait, are you really arguing that I should use my Bruces-sketch-meets-Crocodile-Dundee Australian accent when I'm talking to Australians to avoid offending their delicate ears? Because I can TOTALLY DO THAT.

I don't care how you pronounce it when telling vacation stories back home.

That's good because I'm pronouncing it "murl-BORN" from now on.
posted by The Tensor at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


> If you read my original comment carefully for meaning instead of opportunities to snark, I said nothing about results, just effort.

But I think it's ridiculous to expect people to make an effort to use a different accent (r-less versus rhotic) in order to fit in with the locals. Hence my snark.

> How accurately do people in China and other countries pronounce the names of, for example, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Sydney? Do you really care if they don't pronounce them the way the natives of those cities pronounce them?

DINGDINGDINGDING! Folks, we have a winner. If only people would think about this simple but universally neglected point, we could all stop arguing about this nonsense and save the world instead. Or at least have delicious burriti.
posted by languagehat at 12:01 PM on August 13, 2012


How accurately do people in China and other countries pronounce the names of, for example, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Sydney? Do you really care if they don't pronounce them the way the natives of those cities pronounce them?
Not much like the originals at all, and San Franscisco is generally known by another name altogether, 旧金山 jiùjīnshān, from a nickname it acquired among early Chinese immigrants.
posted by Abiezer at 12:03 PM on August 13, 2012


This reminds me of when the 2006 Winter Olympics were in Turin, in English media, the city was only referred to as Torino. I've always wondered why they did that. I mean, the 2004 Summer Olympics weren't referred to as being in Athína...

I always found this curious as well. I assumed it was because all of the signage said "Torino" and they didn't want English-speaking audiences getting confused.
posted by 7segment at 12:05 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just like I try and remember that Des Moines, Washington is pronounced Day Moynz and Des Moines, Iowa is Dezz Moynz.

Actually, the alternation is supposed to be between "duh moyn" Iowa and "duh moynz" Washington (though apparently the Des Moines, WA city council officially approved the former pronunciation in the 70s).
posted by The Tensor at 12:14 PM on August 13, 2012


Torino just sounds nicer than staid stuffy and upright Turin.
posted by infini at 12:14 PM on August 13, 2012


Jesus, defensive much? I didn't say 'insulting' or 'offensive', and I didn't see anyone else say it either. People mispronounce my name every time they see it written down in America (relevantly enough, because they think it's spanish) and I don't think they are insulting me, but it does get irritating. If it never bothered you, congrats on your zen attitude.

Can I safely assume from your attitude here that you would also walk into cafes in France, China and anywhere else saying 'A table for one please, coffee and two muffins. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM DON'T YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?' or do you make an effort to use any of the local language when travelling? If so, why is it more ridiculous to attempt to use a different accent? Does it really upset you so much to hear that other people are more pleased when you try and fit in with them than not?

(and like I said, I try and remember. At this stage almost all I can consistently remember is that neither of them is pronounced the way I expect.)
posted by jacalata at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2012


I've always heard Beijing University named as Beijing University or as BeiDa, when referred to by historians or other academics.

Well, I'm just going by their website. (The Chinese version agrees.)

(A random aside to all this hand-wringing on how to pronounce "Beijing": while Putonghua (Standard Mandarin) is heavily based on Beijing pronunciations, native Beijingers have a very distinct lilt to their speech. A lot of words get a bit of an "er" sound added to the end, among other less well known differences. Though this also leads to people incorrectly trying to imitate Beijingers by adding an "er" sound to every character.)
posted by kmz at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2012


languagehat: I welcome to come to TOE-ron-TOE, ride the underground and ask a local if this is one of those new BombarDEER trains. You might as well go into Tim Horton's and order a kroysant while you're at it.

I'm no language prescriptivist, but there certainly are wrong ways to pronounce things, where wrong is taken to mean you will sound like a frigging idiot.
posted by 256 at 12:22 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite example of this was another American tourist we met while vacationing in Australia. She spoke a pretty standard r-ful North American English dialect, but nonetheless consistently pronounced "Melbourne" as "mell-bun".

I'm a very r-ful Canadian English speaker(rrrr), and when I lived in Australia, people continually tried to teach me to say "Mell-bun" and also "Caaaans" for "Cairns." I refused to do it... nor did I expect Aussies to say "New Yorrrrk" or "Vancouverrrr" or whatever. We've all got regional accents, and I see no reason to try to pretend otherwise just when it comes to place names.

On the other hand, when speaking Japanese I will certainly say "Wien" instead of "Vienna," because that's the name of that city in that language.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:25 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, most Toronto natives still elide the first syllable - but it's more usual to hear "Tronno" than "Tronna/Trawna". But if I hear "To-ron-to" (3 distinct syallables), it's almost always from a non-Trontonian.

Yup, the second T is the giveaway - never enunciated by long-time residents. That Trawna thing is odd - I've only ever heard it said by non-Torontonians believing they were imitating locals. In my 8 years living there and multiple yearly visits, I've only ever heard Tronno.

And for the record, pronouncing Calgary as Cal-GARY (like the male name) is a dead giveaway you're not from here. It's CAL-gree or CAL-guh-ree. And nearly every placename in Nova Scotia is booby-trapped to trip up CFAs (Come From Away). Mabou = MAH-boo. Antigonish = Ann-uh-guh-NISH. Guysborough = GIYZ-bro (as in "Guys and Dolls," not Guy Lafleur).
posted by gompa at 12:27 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


My first time in the US, I stopped into a lunch place in Cambridge, MA and ordered a BLT.

The harpy at the counter listened to my order and then in a foghorn voice that the entire place could here yelled 'THERE'S A GUY HERE WANTS A BACON, LETTUCE AND TOM-AH-TO SANDWICH", to guffaws from the entire kitchen staff.
posted by unSane at 12:28 PM on August 13, 2012


> Can I safely assume from your attitude here that you would also walk into cafes in France, China and anywhere else saying 'A table for one please, coffee and two muffins. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM DON'T YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?' or do you make an effort to use any of the local language when travelling?

No, you can't.

> If so, why is it more ridiculous to attempt to use a different accent?

Because it's completely different. Can you really not see the difference?

> languagehat: I welcome to come to TOE-ron-TOE, ride the underground and ask a local if this is one of those new BombarDEER trains. You might as well go into Tim Horton's and order a kroysant while you're at it.

Yeah, sorry, I was off base there and already apologized somewhere upthread.
posted by languagehat at 12:30 PM on August 13, 2012


Ah, spotted it. Let me offer you a kroysant of reconciliation.
posted by 256 at 12:32 PM on August 13, 2012


Burriti are good, but you really must try the chimichangae.
posted by horsewithnoname at 12:32 PM on August 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


And of course the traditional fool-em former Roman camps in the UK -- Leicester ('Lester'), Worcester ('Wuster'), Towcester ('Toe-ster'), Cirencester ('Siren-cester'), Chichester (just like it sounds - PSYCH!). Not to mention Slough (rhymes with 'now'), Edinburgh ('Edin-bruh'), all the shires that are pronounced 'shear'. Even simple places like Birmingham ('Birming-um') with North American equivalents.
posted by unSane at 12:35 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Can I safely assume from your attitude here that you would also walk into cafes in France, China and anywhere else saying 'A table for one please, coffee and two muffins. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM DON'T YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?' or do you make an effort to use any of the local language when travelling?

Hey, have you heard the old saying about the word "assume"?

If so, why is it more ridiculous to attempt to use a different accent?

Allow me to illustrate:

My way: "Hello, I'd like a table for two please."
Your way: "G'DIE, MITE! TOYBLE FEH TEW PLAYZE!"

Does it really upset you so much to hear that other people are more pleased when you try and fit in with them than not?

Maybe it will make you feel more comfortable if I express my reaction to this in your local idiom.
posted by The Tensor at 12:35 PM on August 13, 2012


Another one that gets me is panini, for a singular sandwich, though I do very much like the sound of paninus instead.
posted by fancyoats at 12:36 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Burriti are good, but you really must try the chimichangae.

And in Canada, the Timbitti.
posted by unSane at 12:36 PM on August 13, 2012


when I lived in Australia, people continually tried to teach me to say "Mell-bun"

When I was there for a couple of months, I got in the habit of saying MELL-bin, but when I talk about it in front of a Canadian audience I say MELL-birn. I never in any case say Mel-BORN. Because it's wrong.

The one thing I can't manage to shake that I'm sure sounds pretentious to some ears is Pakistan. Once you've heard it said Pah-kih-STAHN a thousand times, saying PAK-ee-stan sounds almost vulgar - maybe because it contains the full and common pronunciation of a racial slur. Same thing with Ihr-RAHK instead of EYE-rack.
posted by gompa at 12:38 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember hanging out with British friends in London and saying Norwitch, upon which one of my friends helpfully corrected me "Norrich, like Harrich. You never say the W in placenames here."

"Oh yeah?" I said. "What about Wuster?"

"Well, yeah, you say it there. Because otherwise there'd be nothing left to say."
posted by 256 at 12:38 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am a native speaker of American English.

I moved from Ohio where we have Lima (lie-ma) and of course south of us is Versailles (ver-sales), Kentucky. I didn't insist on lee-ma or ver-sai. When I moved to Boston I encountered Needham (need-um) and Framingham (framing-ham) and Worcester (wuh-stah) and Gloucseter (glaw-stah). Again, I said it as they said locally, not how it's spelled and how I might otherwise assume.

I now live in the UK just over the Devon/Cornwall (corn-wul not corn-wall, also soft R's). My fiance was born in Gloucestershire (glostersher, soft R's). In a couple years we'll be moving to Cairns (cans) Australia, though I'd be happy in Melbourne (mel-bun).

Some of these pronunciations aren't even just accents, it's just... the way they're said. I'm happy to try to pronounce them as they're supposed to be pronounced locally. I don't see why I should do any differently or insist that I insert hard American R sounds where they aren't supposed to be. I've also picked up "to-mah-to", etc here in the UK and Australia occasionally because if I ask for "to-may-to" sauce I usually get a confused "what???" I have no desire (or ability) to fake a British accent, but when it's a matter of being understood, I'm happy to use the local lingo (lift, car park, etc) or pronunciations (tomahto, GARage, etc) if it will help.

That said I have trouble in places like Barcelona. I speak Spanish, but I learned and speak Mexican Spanish. So do I try to say "Barthelona"? Or do I say "Barcelona"? These are the things that confuse me.
posted by olinerd at 12:40 PM on August 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Something I've noticed in many places in the U.S. is local pronunciations of non-English place names that deliberately don't conform to the "correct" pronunciation. Like in L.A., pronouncing San Pedro "San PEE-dro," or in Albuquerque, saying Candelaria "CAN-da-LAY-ria." It's always struck me as kind of passive-aggressively hostile.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:41 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wanna be your kingpin, pracowity.

The thing with Wimpledon is the same as the thing with Stonehedge, I think.
posted by Occula at 12:42 PM on August 13, 2012


If you come to the UK with the attitude that you have to pronounce local names true to your particular accent, you'll end up confusing a lot of people.

You don't have to pronounce names exactly as the locals do, but very often the way they are written and the way they are pronounced vary significantly. Just because you pride yourself on your pronunciation of Rs doesn't make the fact that "Melbourne" essentially has a silent R go away.

Pronouncing place names here differently because of some belief that you have to be true to your accent makes you look like an idiot. People will laugh at you.
posted by leo_r at 12:45 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yup, the second T is the giveaway - never enunciated by long-time residents.

Non. I was born there and lived there for more than thirty*coughcoughcough* years and am back there every few weeks. I sometimes say "Tor-onno/T'ronno" but also say "Toronto". Loads of people who are long-time residents pronounce the second t. Sorry.

(also, I am not plural, but I am glad that people like me)
posted by biscotti at 12:45 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a former resident of Melbn, I would have viewed MELL-burn as a valid rhotic-speaking equivalent. A stronger MELL-BOORN sounds a bit more grating when you hear it in the Australian context, though not, I'm sure, in a US context. If I ever visit Melbourne, Florida, I'll do my best to pronounce my r's there, or at least to get the stresses right. Same as I tried to go with the flow in Nawlins or at the very least Noo Awlins, which now that I'm a long way away I once again call Nyoo Aw-LEENZ.

The second city in my home state was called Launceston, LON-sess-tun. If you used the Cornish pronunciation of LAWNCE-tun there, nobody would know what you meant. Vice versa in the Cornish town it was named after, I expect.
posted by rory at 12:45 PM on August 13, 2012


I have no desire (or ability) to fake a British accent, but when it's a matter of being understood, I'm happy to use the local lingo (lift, car park, etc) or pronunciations (tomahto, GARage, etc) if it will help.


Yes. I find myself digging up my old American English intonations on phonecalls with native speakers because it just makes for a clearer conversation with less digressions about "what did you say" over the crackly Skype
posted by infini at 12:46 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tomato, Nevada. What the world needs, to end this scorge on civilization, is WikiPronuncia.

Getting the proper pronunciation of -most- uncommon words and names has long been a problem. Even for people with big dictionaries who've struggled to learn to use phonemes. The "NBC Pronunciation Guide" (born in the 30s) is the -only- halfways authoritative source I know, and it doesn't exist.

How in the hell can anyone be a pronounciation Nazi without it? I once pronounced the world "MAH-dem" and the fool selling them said "it's MOE-dem". He was wrong, going by the speech I'd heard computer engineers use. But how can you install nipple clamps on these poltroons without authority?

It's beyond dumb that this problem wasn't addressed long ago. And all the excuses for that are now null and void. Oh, by the way, the pronunciations at dictionary.com aren't half-bad ... IF they know the term/name you're looking for. Good luck with those 27-syllable African names, bucko.
posted by Twang at 12:47 PM on August 13, 2012


I learned and speak Mexican Spanish. So do I try to say "Barthelona"? Or do I say "Barcelona"? These are the things that confuse me.

I've got a feeling that 'Barthelona' is itself a hyperforeignism. At least one person in Barcelona certainly told me that it should be 'Bar-ce-lona' (I think because the correct local pronunciation is Catalan, not Spanish).
posted by howfar at 12:48 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I moved from Ohio where we have Lima (lie-ma) and of course south of us is Versailles (ver-sales), Kentucky. I didn't insist on lee-ma or ver-sai. When I moved to Boston I encountered Needham (need-um) and Framingham (framing-ham) and Worcester (wuh-stah) and Gloucseter (glaw-stah).

Of course, Ohio is also home to Wooster, which has the advantage of cutting through some of the potential pitfalls at the expense of looking kind of dumb.
posted by Copronymus at 12:49 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Devon/Cornwall

The Chicagoan pronunciation of Devon Street drove me up the wall.

Like in L.A., pronouncing San Pedro "San PEE-dro," or in Albuquerque, saying Candelaria "CAN-da-LAY-ria." It's always struck me as kind of passive-aggressively hostile.

There's plenty of that everywhere (we've had multiple threads on this before), but the one I find most glaring has always been Austinites pronouncing Manchaca as "Man-Shack". Like, I get the Anglicized pronunciations of Guadelupe or Rio Grande, but Man-Shack??
posted by kmz at 12:50 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Loads of people who are long-time residents pronounce the second t. Sorry.

I will defer to your depth of experience and listen carefully when I land there later this week, but I have to say I can't remember hearing that second T very much. In any case, I hope we can agree that the way Dick pronounces it in High Fidelity when he's arguing with Barry about an obscure song lyric ("It's a reference to a Chinese meal in TOE-rawn-toe") is a great example of a level of enunciation you never actually hear in Toronto.
posted by gompa at 12:57 PM on August 13, 2012


I'm so sorry, I didn't realise that when I said 'attempt to use local pronunciation' you heard 'be forced to lose my identity and in retaliation use the worst kind of stereotyping I possibly can'. Another example of being separated by a common language, I guess.
posted by jacalata at 12:57 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Twang: What the world needs, to end this scourge on civilization, is WikiPronuncia.

Well, here's what you asked for, but it won't make you happy.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:59 PM on August 13, 2012


Actually, I think he's looking for Wiktionary.
posted by jacalata at 1:01 PM on August 13, 2012


And for the record, pronouncing Calgary as Cal-GARY (like the male name) is a dead giveaway you're not from here. It's CAL-gree or CAL-guh-ree

Man, now you tell me. So by 'not from here', you mean, like, Edmonton? Because it was my Edmontonian in-laws who made me think it was Cal-Gary and not the CAL-guh-ree of my own accent. (Not that locals are short of dead giveaways that I'm not from there. Like the conversation about whether we have curling in Australia, and I thought they'd said carolling.)
posted by rory at 1:02 PM on August 13, 2012


Versions locals use: Tuhronto, Tuhrontuh, Tuhronno, Tuhronnuh, Tronno, Tronnuh, a few other slight variations

Versions locals never use: Anything involving actually producing the first syllable as TOE, the drawled out Traaaawna that nonlocals use when making fun of local pronunciation.
posted by 256 at 1:05 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm so sorry, I didn't realise that when I said 'attempt to use local pronunciation' you heard 'be forced to lose my identity and in retaliation use the worst kind of stereotyping I possibly can'.

You've made an absurd proposal, and I'm using humor to point that out. Do you really not recognize that your position amounts to "foreigners don't talk right and should speak like Australians when they're in Australia"? I grew up in Los Angeles; if I were to insist that visitors from the UK shouldn't refer to it as "Los AN-gell-eez", wouldn't that strike you as vaguely xenophobic?

Here's an exercise: please transcribe for me in local pronunciation, as precisely as possible, how you think I should say, "Hello, I'd like a table for two please," when I'm speaking to an Australian.
posted by The Tensor at 1:11 PM on August 13, 2012


> Something I've noticed in many places in the U.S. is local pronunciations of non-English place names that deliberately don't conform to the "correct" pronunciation. Like in L.A., pronouncing San Pedro "San PEE-dro," or in Albuquerque, saying Candelaria "CAN-da-LAY-ria." It's always struck me as kind of passive-aggressively hostile.

WTF? It's the way those names are pronounced. There's nothing "hostile" about it—talk about projection! It's as wrong to call San Pedro in California "San PAY-dro" as it would be to call a San Pedro in Spain "San PEE-dro." You remind me of someone in an earlier thread who insisted everybody in some city was pronouncing their own street name wrong. (Hey, maybe that was you!)

> I'm so sorry, I didn't realise that when I said 'attempt to use local pronunciation' you heard 'be forced to lose my identity and in retaliation use the worst kind of stereotyping I possibly can'. Another example of being separated by a common language, I guess.

Wow, you're aggressively refusing to accept that you're wrong. Is that an Aussie thing?
posted by languagehat at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2012


That said I have trouble in places like Barcelona. I speak Spanish, but I learned and speak Mexican Spanish. So do I try to say "Barthelona"? Or do I say "Barcelona"? These are the things that confuse me.

If you're speaking English, then you should say "Barcelona". When speaking English, you don't call Spain España, do you?
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:20 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


San Francisco does the mispronounced-Spanish thing, too. I live in Bernal Heights, right off Cesar Chavez Avenue. "Bernal" rhymes with "vernal"; Cesar is pronounced "SEE-zer".
posted by madcaptenor at 1:23 PM on August 13, 2012


Sorry, it's Cesar Chavez Street. Whatever.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:25 PM on August 13, 2012


You remind me of someone in an earlier thread who insisted everybody in some city was pronouncing their own street name wrong.

HOW-ston
posted by griphus at 1:29 PM on August 13, 2012


HOW-ston

Heavens to Murgatroyd. Was someone really saying that Houston Street in NYC should be pronounced like the city in Texas? Dohohohohohohohopffffrrrt
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:31 PM on August 13, 2012


Murgatroyd

Pronounced "Bamfar Zingenplotz", of course.
posted by kmz at 1:40 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're speaking English, then you should say "Barcelona". When speaking English, you don't call Spain España, do you?


No. I said the problem is when I'm *in Barcelona.* And I want to refer to Barcelona, while there, while speaking Spanish. And yes, I do call it "España" while I'm there too.
posted by olinerd at 1:43 PM on August 13, 2012


"Hello, I'd like a table for two please" would be fine.

However, "I'd like biscuits and gravy for breakfast" would not be. Any disagreement there? Your position appears to amount to 'the way I talk is RIGHT and I'm not going to modify it when you say you speak the same language and so should be ok with anything I say'. Doesn't that strike you as xenophobic, or more likely, just dumb?

An exercise for you: please write out as precisely as possible how you would ask for a train ticket to Salisbury from a London station.

Wow, you're aggressively refusing to accept that you're wrong. Is that an Aussie thing?

Wow, you're aggressively refusing to accept that people from other countries are annoyed by something you do. Is that a US thing? (Clearly not, as there are several Americans in here agreeing with exactly what I'm saying.) Are you really proposing that people do not get annoyed by hearing the name of their city or country mispronounced? I can safely say you're wrong, because it has annoyed me and others appear to have said it annoys them as well. So that must mean that you're arguing that it is 'wrong' of us to be annoyed. How dare you imperialist Americans tell me how to think!

Here, as a concession, I'll change "the least you can do" to "people will appreciate it if you", and we'll agree to disagree on minimum expectations of behaviour. Happy now?
posted by jacalata at 1:44 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I remember hanging out with British friends in London and saying Norwitch, upon which one of my friends helpfully corrected me "Norrich, like Harrich. You never say the W in placenames here."

"Oh yeah?" I said. "What about Wuster?"

"Well, yeah, you say it there. Because otherwise there'd be nothing left to say."


Whereas, possibly confusingly, nearby Ipswich does pronounce the wich in it's name like witch, possibly out of spite.
posted by dng at 1:48 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, is it International Tight Panty Day today or what?

In England, hearing the typical North American mispronunciation of cities like Leicester or Salisbury does tend to make think the speaker is a bit of a doofus, even though a moment's thought would make you realize it's an entirely innocent and reasonable mistake.

There are other examples (like the teeth-grinding WimbleTon, which I mentioned upthread) which I just don't understand. And you can't even correct people without coming off as a tremendous ass.

The most egregious example of this was my pa-in-law, who took a trip to Tibet and China, and before, during and afterwards referred to 'maoists' as mayo-ists. We tried to correct him a couple of times but it went in one ear and out the other. Worse, it started to contaminate the rest of the family too, even my wife, who knows damn well that Chairman Mao was not a Hellman's product.
posted by unSane at 1:51 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a solution, I propose the New Zealand way:

Mock Americans for pronouncing it "Nooo Zeeeeland".
Mock New Zealanders for pronouncing it "New Zild".
(Basically, no-one says it correctly).
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:51 PM on August 13, 2012


Datapoint: Mrs. H (born in Cincinnati, FWIW) has no [zh] in her pronunciation.

Beige is [bage] to rhyme with cage, guage, page, wage . . .

Azure does not arise, as she already has several hundred names for shades of blue at her disposal.

So any discussion of [Bay-jing] vs [Bay-zhing] would end up as a "Not 'craw' -- Craw!" conversation and I'd be reduced to, like, poison the room* with the pill in my shoe.


*maximum 10 x 15 ft.
posted by Herodios at 1:51 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your position appears to amount to 'the way I talk is RIGHT and I'm not going to modify it when you say you speak the same language and so should be ok with anything I say'.

Nope, that's not my position at all. It's more like, "The way I speak is OK and there's no reason to modify it when talking to somebody who speaks a mutually intelligible dialect."

An exercise for you: please write out as precisely as possible how you would ask for a train ticket to Salisbury from a London station.

<americanaccent>Hi, I need to buy a ticket to Salisbury but I'm not sure how to go about doing that. Can you help me?</americanaccent>

In other words, I'd speak in my natural accent and dialect and assume the goodwill of my interlocutor.
posted by The Tensor at 2:04 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, is it International Tight Panty Day today or what?

No, it's Left Handed Day.
posted by sweetkid at 2:04 PM on August 13, 2012


No. I said the problem is when I'm *in Barcelona.* And I want to refer to Barcelona, while there, while speaking Spanish. And yes, I do call it "España" while I'm there too.

Oh, I get it now. You were talking about the different dialects of Spanish. Durf.

Yeah, that seems fairly comparable to the Melbourne problem. My layman's gut tells me that both would be fine.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:08 PM on August 13, 2012


Transliterating English place names into Mandarin is just as fraught as the other way around. Mandarin is a dialect that lacks most kinds of syllable-ending consonants, so it's even more fraught than Cantonese.

Nobody seems to be concerned the Chinese pronounce "Washington" as "hua sheng dun"*, which isn't any closer as "Beijing" is to the original.

Just pronounce it as you would normally! You're trying to identify a city to a speaker of your language, not theirs.

*(Though the Cantonese reading "wah sing dun" comes a bit closer, I think)
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 2:08 PM on August 13, 2012


If the only correct way to pronounce "Melbourne" is ˈmælbən, then wouldn't the only correct way to pronounce "Australia" be əˈstɹæɪljə?

(Sidenote: I pronounce it ˈmælbən anyway.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:21 PM on August 13, 2012


I blame Dan Rather for the whole "bay-zhing" thing. Seriously. It seems like Westerners finally had to start dealing with Pinyin around the time of the Tian'anmen Square protests in 1989. Previously, mainland had still been too closed off for most Westerners to even be aware that Pinyin existed, so it was still "Peking" for the vast majority of Westerners. Suddenly, in 1989, we had reporters in the PRC saying the name of the capital city of the PRC on a near-constant basis. Many of them said it pretty close to the Mandarin pronunciation, others still held onto "Peking", and others -- most prominently, I think, Dan Rather -- made things like "bay-zhing" up. For a lot of Americans, that was their first exposure to a (mis)corrected pronunciation of 北京, and since it was a prominent, trusted newsperson saying it, and saying it a lot, "bay-zhing" stuck.
posted by jiawen at 2:23 PM on August 13, 2012


Question for Australians: would the hypothetical word "Melboune" (or maybe "Melbone") be pronounced exactly the same as "Melbourne"?
posted by The Tensor at 2:25 PM on August 13, 2012


knows damn well that Chairman Mao was not a Hellman's product
He was in fact quite emphatic that revolution is not a sandwich-fest, or something.
posted by Abiezer at 2:32 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


In other words, I'd speak in my natural accent and dialect and assume the goodwill of my interlocutor.

Yea. And in my experience, that doesn't work. It went like this:
me: I'd like a return ticket to Salisbury
ticket seller: 'To where?'
me: (accustomed to being too quiet for shopkeepers, speaks up) to Salisbury
t: what?
me: (guessed that I'm saying it wrong, attempt to adjust pronunciation, don't know what it should be) sawlisbury, near stonehenge?
t: what?
me: /writes it down
t: ohhhhh, SAAWWWWWLS-bri! What were you saying? /annoyed

Both of us were frustrated because I didn't bother to find out the local pronunciation first. It seems, in hindsight, lazy and self centred to rely on her making the effort to understand me and an unlimited other number of possible pronunciations when I know in advance that I'm going to be dealing with people who are used to something different - that's making everyone else do a little extra work to save myself from it. And it's difficult to guess which parts of my 'foreign' pronunciation of a place name will make it incomprehensible to a local, so I should not assume that oh, that misplaced stress won't confuse anyone - especially as place names are often used without much context. ('oh, I was just in gddfsdgsd, it was great, have you been there?'). So I do see a practical side to the whole debate.

However for the comprehensible but annoying aspect, I think that personal names are a good analogy. People spell and pronounce their name in all kinds of weird ways, but I know of nobody who thinks it is unnecessary to attempt to say it the way the individual likes it. Sure, sometimes you don't achieve that, as in your example of Japanese speakers. If you met someone who pronounced their common name in an unusual way, would you say 'sorry, I've always pronounced that as 'Sam', and I'm not going to change just for you' ? How about if you were in another country where there was a common name which looked the same as a common name in your country, but was pronounced differently? Is that just 'an accent', and you shouldn't try and use their version?
posted by jacalata at 2:35 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


But I think it's ridiculous to expect people to make an effort to use a different accent (r-less versus rhotic) in order to fit in with the locals. Hence my snark.

More or less ridiculous than The Tensor mocking their 'friend' for making an effort to fit in with the locals?
posted by pompomtom at 2:36 PM on August 13, 2012


The Tensor: while there, did you hear any Aussies pronounce "Brisbane"? I grew up saying "Briz-bain" but turns out it's "Briz-bun". I think it's less "the accent" in terms of how letters are pronounced and more "the accent" in the way emphasis lays on different syllables. Whether it's Melbourne or Brisbane, all the effort goes to the first syllable, and the rest is kind of secondary and not as pronounced.
posted by olinerd at 2:41 PM on August 13, 2012


See also: Canberra. It's only a two-syllable word!
posted by olinerd at 2:42 PM on August 13, 2012


Place names are dissimilar from personal names. Place names are more like official titles, which are indeed translated across different languages, or the pontifical names of Pope, which are also translated across different languages.

Melbourne is a gray area for English speakers, because the city's name could just be ˈmælbən, irrespective of anyone's individual accent, or it could be the word spelled M-e-l-b-o-u-r-n-e, which in an Australian accent is pronounced ˈmælbən. Compare with how New York is typically pronounced with the speaker's native accent, whereas Houston Street in New York will never, ever, ever be pronounced like the city in Texas.

I pronounce Melbourne (and Brisbane) more or less as Australians do, so the issue is moot for me personally, but it's complicated to say that the only correct way to say it is the Australian way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:45 PM on August 13, 2012


Of course, Ohio is also home to Wooster, which has the advantage of cutting through some of the potential pitfalls at the expense of looking kind of dumb.

Elimination of pratfalls by some means that leaves one looking kind of dumb is Midwestern modus vivendi. I finally feel like I belong.
posted by samofidelis at 2:49 PM on August 13, 2012


olinerd, allow me to demonstrate:

Brisbn
Melbn
Canbra

Not so hard, but certainly not quite the way they're spelled. (Melbourne, and the American position thereon, amuses me presently because I'm from there, and I've just recently been in Birmingham - which suffers the same issue).

As for 'Cairns' - I have no idea. It's exactly like the word meaning 'more than one cairn'. I presume I have no idea how an American would refer to a cairn.
posted by pompomtom at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2012


I do find I pronounce Bath as in the West Country English spa town wrong even though I ended up living not too far north of there and know damn well it's a long vowel regardless of your accent (mine having a shorter 'a' there). Maybe it's because it's an everyday word too I fail to adjust often unless I have time to think. On the other hand, no-one else bar me seems bothered by my error.
posted by Abiezer at 2:53 PM on August 13, 2012


More or less ridiculous than The Tensor mocking their 'friend' for making an effort to fit in with the locals?

Much more. Also:
  1. Not my "friend", just another American I ran into on vacation.
  2. Never mocked to their face; only here, years later, in the quiet privacy of the Internet.
  3. For "making an effort to fit in with the locals", say rather "bending over backwards trying to appear worldly by adopting the local pronunciation of a single word". Or maybe that's uncharitable, maybe it was simply, "had never seen the word 'Melbourne' in print"?
You know, I never expected I was going to start such a fuss on MetaFilter of all places by telling a funny story about Americans traveling abroad and trying too hard to soak up the authentic localness. OH HOLY SHIT, I literally just remembered: this was also the couple who couldn't stop showing off the rainstick they'd bought. They were SO PROUD of themselves.
posted by The Tensor at 2:54 PM on August 13, 2012


jacalata: " Des Moines, Iowa is Dezz Moynz."

Like fuck it is. It's duh moyn.

Although Des Plaines, Illinois can screw people up pretty badly. (dez plainz, Ill-in-oy)
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:55 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


pompomtom -- most of us don't have a lot of opportunity since they are typically seen on mountain hiking trails and, well, you know the American reputation for exercise and outdoor activity. But we would of course overpronounce the R to make it "kayRns". When saying the city name I've found it is best to pretend I'm saying it in a Boston accent, it comes a bit closer to "cans" then.
posted by olinerd at 3:00 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


yea, I was corrected upthread.

So am I to understand that people wouldn't blink an eye if I walked around Iowa saying I was going to 'dez moynz'? Nobody would correct me? Nobody would laugh, or secretly think I sounded like an idiot? I find that pretty hard to believe, given I have already been told I was saying it wrong without leaving Seattle. (Not meaning this thread).
posted by jacalata at 3:02 PM on August 13, 2012


As for 'Cairns' - I have no idea. It's exactly like the word meaning 'more than one cairn'. I presume I have no idea how an American would refer to a cairn.

Ah, "Cairns" (which we also visited) is a good data point. We said /kɛɹnz/. So Australians pronounce it without the R because that's how their dialect's phonology works; we pronounced it with the R because that's how our dialect's phonology works. Same deal with "Melbourne".
posted by The Tensor at 3:02 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do find I pronounce Bath as in the West Country English spa town wrong even though I ended up living not too far north of there and know damn well it's a long vowel regardless of your accent (mine having a shorter 'a' there).

I have the short 'a' too and I can't say Bah-th for the life of me. I always imagine myself as Margo from The Good Life when I try.

in fact even though I lived longer in the south of England than the north, I still have no feel at all for when a long 'a' is used in other accents.
posted by unSane at 3:03 PM on August 13, 2012


So am I to understand that people wouldn't blink an eye if I walked around Iowa saying I was going to 'dez moynz'?

The problem is that that's not comparable to pronouncing Melbourne with a non-Australian accent.

Here's another way to think about it: my last name is Sticher, pronounced like Stitcher. If you pronounce it like Sticker, then you're wrong. But! If you pronounce my last name as an Australian would say the word Stitcher, then even though you would be saying it different than I would, you wouldn't be wrong - you would just be saying the name with an Australian accent.

Put another way, is someone who says the word "Australia" in a non-Australian accent saying it wrong? Is /əˈstɹæɪljə/ the only correct way to say "Australia"?
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:09 PM on August 13, 2012


So am I to understand that people wouldn't blink an eye if I walked around Iowa saying I was going to 'dez moynz'?

Does your dialect not distinguish between the presence or absence of a final /z/?

Nobody would correct me? Nobody would laugh, or secretly think I sounded like an idiot? I find that pretty hard to believe, given I have already been told I was saying it wrong without leaving Seattle. (Not meaning this thread).

Do you really want to align yourself with the "mock the foreigner" reaction? I mean, I won't stop you, but that seems kind of wrongheaded.

BTW, somebody who speaks an non-rhotic dialect telling me there's no R in "Melbourne" makes about as much sense as me lecturing somebody who speaks a non-rhotic dialect about where the intrusive R should appear. I already reduce the vowel in the second syllable of Melbourne like I'm supposed to; you let me worry about whether there's an R there. You can't tell.
posted by The Tensor at 3:18 PM on August 13, 2012


Sticherbeast -- so I actually don't understand how to read the phonetic symbol pronunciation thingies, all I know is Australians (at least the ones I've met) don't pronounce Australia the way Americans do. More "uh-stray-ya" than "aw-stray-lee-ya". Much like Melbourne et al, less to do with how vowels and letters are pronounced and more to do with just flat out ignoring a number of sounds and syllables. And now, having heard that so much from my future family-in-law and friends-in-law (that should be a thing), I always feel like the American pronunciation is "overpronouncing" it. So I wouldn't say it's "wrong" as in "not acceptable or comprehensible", but "wrong" the same way "dez moines" is wrong in Iowa.

Australian Mefites, I'm not trying to speak for you guys. I'm just fascinated by language and accents and I've spent a fair number of brain cycles trying to notice the subtle differences in my and my fiance's English. So correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by olinerd at 3:18 PM on August 13, 2012


Sticherbeast -- so I actually don't understand how to read the phonetic symbol pronunciation thingies, all I know is Australians (at least the ones I've met) don't pronounce Australia the way Americans do.

Of course they pronounce it differently. They have Australian accents, with Australian phonology.

I always feel like the American pronunciation is "overpronouncing" it. So I wouldn't say it's "wrong" as in "not acceptable or comprehensible", but "wrong" the same way "dez moines" is wrong in Iowa.

According to this logic, an Australian who says "United States of America" in their own accent is as "wrong" as someone who says "dez moines" in Iowa. Seriously?
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:28 PM on August 13, 2012


Of course they pronounce it differently. They have Australian accents, with Australian phonology.

But is that the case with the pronunciation of "Australia"? I mean if I give an Aussie the word, well, "Aussie", they'll say "Aussie" the same way we do. Well, maybe more Ozzie than Ossie, but the "Au" sound will be expressed the same way. Same with "Austin" or "Austria". Yet "Australia", pronounced by the Australians, is more of an "Us" than an "Os". So it doesn't seem to me that their pronunciation of Australia is a product of their accent, it's just ... how the country name is said. Kind of slurring the sounds and syllables in a very informal-sounding way. Just like Melbourne and Brisbane and Cairns. (Which if it were merely a rhotic-accent-or-not issue would be "Canes" instead of "Cans", no?)
posted by olinerd at 3:39 PM on August 13, 2012


But is that the case with the pronunciation of "Australia"?

Yes. For Americans and Australians, the word "Australia" is pronounced consistently within the rules of each speaker's dialect.

Again I pose the question to you: if an Australian says the phrase "United States of America" in her own accent, is she as "wrong" as someone who says "dez moines" in Iowa?
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:43 PM on August 13, 2012


Well, maybe more Ozzie than Ossie, but the "Au" sound will be expressed the same way. Same with "Austin" or "Austria".

The "Au" sound is not expressed the same way as in American English. Listen to this .ogg clip of an Australian man saying "Australia." The "Au" does not sound the same as in "Austria," as heard in this .ogg clip."
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:54 PM on August 13, 2012


Yes. For Americans and Australians, the word "Australia" is pronounced consistently within the rules of each speaker's dialect.

Again I pose the question to you: if an Australian says the phrase "United States of America" in her own accent, is she as "wrong" as someone who says "dez moines" in Iowa?


See I'm arguing accent, not dialect, and you've conflated the two in your response. If an Aussie says "United States of America" in their own accent, then that's an accent issue and is not "wrong". But I don't think the pronunciation of "Australia" is an accent issue; maybe it's a dialect issue. But isn't the issue of the original FPP to determine whether or not the pronunciation of place names should be independent of dialect and/or language? I think we agreed maybe not of language -- like an American referring to "pah-ree" in an English language conversation is ridiculous -- but now the question is, are they (or should they be) independent of dialects within a single language?

I mean let's look at another American example. Worcester, Mass. It's "wustah." Maybe "wuhster" if you're feeling rhotic. But it is never "war-ses-ter" or "war-ches-ter" or even "war-ster". Pronouncing that way, even if the part of the US you come from does pronounce all the R's in words, is simply wrong. Wustah/wuhster you can write off to an accent, but anything else is the wrong name of the place.

Or Peabody, Mass. It's "PEE-b'dy", as much as you can make it into two syllables. I can tell you from experience that if you ask a Massachusettsian where "Pee-bah-dee" is you will get an absolutely blank look. It is not called "Pee-bah-dee." It is called "PEE-b'dy". It doesn't matter how you pronounce Peabody where you're from; the name of the town is "PEE-b'dy."

It's kind of why I brought up the Barcelona thing. In English, and in Mexican/Latin-American Spanish, we say "Barselona". In Castilian Spanish they say "Barthelona". (it sounds like Catalan may be something else.) So how would a Mexican in Spain say "Barcelona"? The Mexican Spanish way (knowing that lots of other Mexican speech patterns, grammar, and pronunciations will be coming through anyway) or the Castilian Spanish way because that's how Barcelona is pronounced?

Same sort of question could go for Quebecois French and French French (I'm less familiar with the differences between those two).
posted by olinerd at 3:55 PM on August 13, 2012


Listen to this .ogg clip of an Australian man saying "Australia." The "Au" does not sound the same as in "Austria," as heard in this .ogg clip."

But that's kind of my point, than an Australian pronounces the "Au" sound differently in "Australia" than in other Au-words. Do you have a clip of an Australian saying "Austria"?
posted by olinerd at 3:57 PM on August 13, 2012


But that's kind of my point, than an Australian pronounces the "Au" sound differently in "Australia" than in other Au-words. Do you have a clip of an Australian saying "Austria"?

"Austria" isn't a good example for comparison because the stress is on the first syllable. Maybe try "austerity", "Australasian", "austroalopithecine", "Austroasiatic", or "Austronesian".
posted by The Tensor at 4:10 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the Lake District (not far from Am-bless-i-dee), then Stratford-upon-Avon (not far from Warr-wick) and then went to uni in York (which, well, I'm not going to start on the street names there, because we could be here all night, but I did once get asked if I could turn the heating up in the Minster).

That is to say, I've heard it all.

But I got my own back when I walked into my first coffee shop in the US and asked for a bottle of water. I might as well have been speaking in Martian.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:15 PM on August 13, 2012


See I'm arguing accent, not dialect, and you've conflated the two in your response.

You are talking about place names as existing independent of dialectal differences or accents - the idea that there is one way "Melbourne" ought to be pronounced, across the English language.

I mean let's look at another American example. Worcester, Mass. It's "wustah." Maybe "wuhster" if you're feeling rhotic. But it is never "war-ses-ter" or "war-ches-ter" or even "war-ster". Pronouncing that way, even if the part of the US you come from does pronounce all the R's in words, is simply wrong. Wustah/wuhster you can write off to an accent, but anything else is the wrong name of the place.

You are missing the point about dialects having different phonologies, as opposed to words just having completely different pronunciation.

Worcester is not pronounced the way it is pronounced due to a dialectal difference. As a name unto itself, it is pronounced as if it had been spelled "wooster." Someone from Boston would pronounce it "woostah," but even someone with a different accent would still wind up in the same ball park. Think of the "actual" pronunciation as being like sheet music that can be played in different ways on different instruments - you can play the same song in many different ways, all still correct, so long as you follow the underlying rules, just as there would also be ways to play that song incorrectly. You could play "Greensleeves" in a wide variety of ways, but never in a way where it would suddenly become "Under Pressure."

You cannot switch into another dialect of English where it is suddenly pronounced as "worchester," any more than you can switch into another dialect of English where my last name is suddenly pronounced "Sticker." Again, this is not about dialectal differences or accents.

So, if you and an Australian friend and a Jamaican friend and an Indian friend and so on and so forth all went to Worcester and were each pronouncing it correctly, you would still all pronounce it slightly differently, even though you were all right. There is no perfect way to pronounce Worcester, just as there is no perfect way to pronounce Australia or United States of America.

Contrast this with how one pronounces, say, Cardiff. In English, it's pronounced as it looks - kar-dif. Some accents won't pronounce the "r" at all, and other accents pronounce the "r" very strongly indeed. They're all still right.

The question remains, is Melbourne more like Worcester or Cardiff?

Or, getting back to Australia: do you think that the only correct way to pronounce "Australia" is as an Australian would? If that is true, then why wouldn't it hold true in the reverse: that the only way to pronounce "United States of America" is as an America would?

It's kind of why I brought up the Barcelona thing.

And it's an apt comparison, but it just highlights how confusing and complicated this all is. There isn't necessarily an absolute right or wrong answer as to how to pronounce Barcelona.

"austerity", "Australasian", "austroalopithecine", "Austroasiatic", or "Austronesian".

I would love to get a clip of an Australian saying any of those words, but I don't have any Australians near me right now.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:19 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I already reduce the vowel in the second syllable of Melbourne like I'm supposed to; you let me worry about whether there's an R there. You can't tell.

Wait, you're already making that effort I mentioned? What are we arguing about then?
posted by jacalata at 4:21 PM on August 13, 2012


The question remains, is Melbourne more like Worcester or Cardiff?

I would argue that there are also incorrect ways to say Cardiff. For instance with a soft C, like Ceylon. Would you correct someone who pronounced it that way? Why?
posted by jacalata at 4:27 PM on August 13, 2012


The question remains, is Melbourne more like Worcester or Cardiff?

Or, getting back to Australia: do you think that the only correct way to pronounce "Australia" is as an Australian would? If that is true, then why wouldn't it hold true in the reverse: that the only way to pronounce "United States of America" is as an America would?


I'd argue Melbourne is more like Worcester, and so is Australia. Because to me, the unique, maybe non-obvious ways they are pronounced are not, to me, the obvious product of the accents or dialects or phonologies as I regularly hear them. But I am not a linguist.

If someone wanted to say "The United States of Amurka" (that sort of thing everyone loves to make fun of gun-slinging Muslim-hating hicks for) I'd say that was wrong. Sort of the opposite of the Australia example -- the country is named America, with all those syllables and letters pronounced, and not doing so is incorrect. The precise pronunciation of the E, or of the T in United, is independent of this. So by that definition I'd say that yes, the American pronunciation of "Australia" is a bit "wrong", especially since we (the Americans) have informally agreed on our pronunciation because we read it and sound it out letter by letter, rather than listen to how the people that live there say it, and they don't fully pronounce everything. Just like if you had to sound out Worcester having never seen or heard it before, you'd probably say it wrong.

That said I'm not going to go around correcting anyone on the pronunciation of places I don't or haven't lived, because I'm not a dick and I'll only claim superior knowledge on places I'm very familiar with (like towns in Massachusetts or Ohio). But the Aussies I worked with were always quick to correct my pronunciations of Canberra, Cairns, Melbourne, etc, because there seemed to be a feeling that while I could speak American for everything else, place names deserved "correct" pronunciation.
posted by olinerd at 4:43 PM on August 13, 2012


I don't see "Melb'n" as strictly an accent thing. After all, a Melburnian would watch "The Bourne Identity", not the "B'n Identity". We could definitely pronounce it "Melborn" with a local accent.

I see Melb'n as similar to Howston st in New York.
posted by Greener Backyards at 5:19 PM on August 13, 2012


Here's the thing with Melbourne and Cairns: it's all intelligible either way. Whether I say MELL-birn or MELL-bun, it's completely understandable by any Australian listener. It's not really the same as something where people literally cannot understand you. (I understand this happens in the UK, but I have never been there and do not know.)

The reason I chose not to say MELL-bun and Caaans while living in Australia isn't that I'm terribly attached to my Rs, exactly. It's that I'm not capable of pronouncing them the way a real Australian would, and given the choice between MELL-birn with the R, which I can say, and some kind of weirdo mangling of MELL-bun without the R that just sounds silly and pretentious, well, I'll take the one with the R. I'm not super-proud about the Rs, but I don't see why I should be ashamed of them and try to hide them, either.

I actually did start saying to-mah-to after a couple of years in Sydney, and I picked up a lot of local slang, but it came about naturally, not because I faked it. I guess if I'd lived there longer, I might've eventually picked up MELL-bun and Caaaans, I certainly wouldn't have clung to the Rs unnaturally; but especially for folks who are just travelling for a few days, what's the point of mangling local pronunciation when your meaning is perfectly clear in your own accent?
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:20 PM on August 13, 2012


> So am I to understand that people wouldn't blink an eye if I walked around Iowa saying I was going to 'dez moynz'? Nobody would correct me? Nobody would laugh, or secretly think I sounded like an idiot?

You are aggressively refusing to understand anyone else's point. If you've read everything Sticherbeast wrote and still don't get it, I guess there's no further point talking to you about it. Have a good day!
posted by languagehat at 5:28 PM on August 13, 2012


but especially for folks who are just travelling for a few days, what's the point of mangling local pronunciation when your meaning is perfectly clear in your own accent?

Saying Melb'n isn't very hard and will help endear you to the locals. I would encourage visitors to try it. Not a huge deal if you don't, but it's a nice gesture.
posted by Greener Backyards at 5:50 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are aggressively refusing to understand anyone else's point.

That's a petty way to say 'disagreeing', but I hope you have a nice day too.
posted by jacalata at 5:53 PM on August 13, 2012


Beijing is where I learned that Boise isn't pronounced with a z.
posted by Serf at 6:05 PM on August 13, 2012


I would argue that there are also incorrect ways to say Cardiff. For instance with a soft C, like Ceylon. Would you correct someone who pronounced it that way? Why?

There is no dialect of English where hard k's are replaced with s's, so this is entirely moot. You are asking the linguistic equivalent of "well, if evolution is true, then why doesn't a dog ever turn into a cat?"
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:17 PM on August 13, 2012


I try to explain to my Japanese students that using the Japanese reading of Chinese place names is something that very, very few Chinese people will think is okay. There's a lot of political feeling tied up in the Beijing/Peiking thing, just like in Bombay/Mumbai. It's having your place names rewritten for you by an idiot with a tin ear, vs. the places you know and have grown up in.

In Japanese, though it is a very limited phonetic language, there are some sounds that we just don't have in English, but the r/l thing is hell. It's so close to r, and so close to l, but it's neither of them. As I get better at the language, my pronunciation has improved, but the r/l is still a pain. Many foreigners, when they get here, essentially choose one or the other, and stick with that. It can be pretty painful, though. The r/l sound is indeed a lot closer to l, but seriously, it's not lamen.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:40 PM on August 13, 2012


I clearly am missing your point, because I do not see how you can justify the phonetic Worcester as 'incorrect in any accent' and others as 'acceptable variation in accent'. It looks like you're marking imaginary bright lines between names that are 'names unto themselves', and names that are 'just words'.

I'm arguing that all names are 'names unto themselves', and that I can say Des Moines in a way that would be, by consensus, 'incorrect' for one city and 'correct' for another, and I am disagreeing with your apparent argument that as long as I can justify reading that set of letters in that pronunciation according to the general rules of speech in whatever area I come from, it is 'correct' for all instances of the name.

So, can you tell me where you're getting your differentiation between 'names' and 'names unto themselves'? How does Leominster (England/Massachusetts) fit into that? How do Boise and Boise City fit in? If those homographs are orthogonal to your argument, then no, I really don't get it.
posted by jacalata at 7:18 PM on August 13, 2012


But Greener Backyards, would you say Vancouver with the R if you were in Canada? I've never met an Australian in Canada who did that. There's a big deal about Mell-bun and Caaans, but I've just never encountered the equivalent Aussie adjustment in North America. Why is that?

I'm not saying I care--I think it's just fine for Australians to pronounce North American placenames in their own accents. But why the double standard?
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:36 PM on August 13, 2012


Wait, you're already making that effort I mentioned?

I say [ˈmɛl.bɚn] (with an /r/ sound in the second syllable). She said [ˈmɛl.bən] (with no /r/ sound). In fact, her pronunciation was odder than that—it sounded like she had two full vowels, and almost like she was pronouncing two separately stressed words: [ˈmɛl.bʌn] or [ˈmɛl.ˈbʌn]. (She was trying really hard.)

What are we arguing about then?

Well, you seem to be defending the position that place names are super-special words whose pronunciations don't vary across dialects and accents. Good luck with that.
posted by The Tensor at 9:23 PM on August 13, 2012


But Greener Backyards, would you say Vancouver with the R if you were in Canada? I've never met an Australian in Canada who did that. There's a big deal about Mell-bun and Caaans, but I've just never encountered the equivalent Aussie adjustment in North America. Why is that?

I don't think Melbn is just Melbourne with an Australian accent. That would be more like "Melbawn". It would rhyme with the way we say Hellborn.

In your analogy, the Aussie going to Vancouver would be calling it something like Vancowver
posted by Greener Backyards at 9:53 PM on August 13, 2012


Even worse is growing up in a Hindi speaking household but attending British and American schools - tirty tousand walenteers made everyone laugh and ended up in my yearbook. No, I still can't differentiate between the V and the W sounds unless I concentrate and remember what I've been taught about where to place my tongue when saying the word.
posted by infini at 11:17 PM on August 13, 2012


jacalata, I can't tell who you're responding to but since you mentioned my Worcester example, I'll bite.

I clearly am missing your point, because I do not see how you can justify the phonetic Worcester as 'incorrect in any accent' and others as 'acceptable variation in accent'. It looks like you're marking imaginary bright lines between names that are 'names unto themselves', and names that are 'just words'.

Not between the names, but between the variations. An entirely phonetic reading of "Worcester" is incorrect for the city in Massachusetts. Pronouncing the R at the end or not is a regional accent variation that is not more or less correct. (Or this is my argument, anyway)


I'm arguing that all names are 'names unto themselves', and that I can say Des Moines in a way that would be, by consensus, 'incorrect' for one city and 'correct' for another, and I am disagreeing with your apparent argument that as long as I can justify reading that set of letters in that pronunciation according to the general rules of speech in whatever area I come from, it is 'correct' for all instances of the name.


Right. My argument is not what you say my apparent argument is. I agree with you here, that names are names unto themselves, and the high level "How do you pronounce this correctly" is often independent of "What do your regional variations in accent say is the right way to pronounce this."

So, can you tell me where you're getting your differentiation between 'names' and 'names unto themselves'? How does Leominster (England/Massachusetts) fit into that? How do Boise and Boise City fit in? If those homographs are orthogonal to your argument, then no, I really don't get it.

Leominster I'd say is just like Worcester. Trying to phonetically sound it all out is incorrect in both countries, and the high-level correct pronunciation ("Lemonster") is the same even if your average American will say "Lemonster" and your average Brit will say "Lemonstah", and a Brit saying "Lemonstah" in the US is not incorrect but rather a regional variation, and an American saying "Lemonster" in the UK is not incorrect but again a regional variation. But in either case, someone saying "Lee-oh-min-ster" is wrong. And that's my argument with Melbourne: the issue is not that it's pronounced as "Mel-born" with either a rhotic or non-rhotic accent. It's that it's Melb'n. And trying to say "Mel-born" is technically incorrect.
posted by olinerd at 12:06 AM on August 14, 2012


Reminds me of the time when I was about to land in BOM (yes, IATA for Mumbai; wonder how they came up with that) and the Korean Air air-hostess spent some ten-odd minutes trying to pronounce the international airport's full name, before finally giving up. I actually felt sorry for her.

Also, you can tell how much western-educated folks are out here in Singapore depending on how they pronounce the city's name. In my experience, public-school-educated / foreign-university-returned Anglophones (in general) pronounce it non-rhotically as 'SIN-guh-poh', while Sinophones (Hokkien speakers, mainly, who form the majority here) generally pronounce a close approximation of its dialectal lequivalent, 'sin-ka-PO'. (I do believe the Cantonese pronounce it as 'sengapo'). South Indian-accented folks pronounce it 'siMgappuurrr', while north-Indians pronounce it as 'Seenh-gaa-puurr'; heavily rhotic and Indian for both. The Malays and Indonesians call it Singapura.

The (Vedic) Sanskrit equivalent they use in Hindu temples is 'Simhapuri', which is a rather nice form to incorporate into your chanting.
posted by the cydonian at 12:35 AM on August 14, 2012


And Manchaca is not pronounced as Man Shack; it's Man Chack.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:56 AM on August 14, 2012


This thread has gone from Baden-Baden to Worcester by way of Little Egypt.
posted by pracowity at 1:34 AM on August 14, 2012


Don't forget the layover in Hong Kong...
posted by infini at 2:23 AM on August 14, 2012


I'm looking at you, SBS newsreaders. The ones who pronounce some foreign cities in what you think is the local accent in the city...where th..in the country where the ci

YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN STOP DOING IT
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:09 AM on August 14, 2012


Hop on the subway headed for 东四十条 and you'll soon learn the Beijingers have long since internalized this mispronunciation in their announcer English sociolect: "Passengers for Bezhing Worker's Stadium and Bezhing Worker's Gymnasium, please get ready to get off." The horror!
posted by klue at 3:12 AM on August 14, 2012


I like to think of myself as utilitarian in my pronunciation of words. I have an Australian accent (Not strong at all according to the many Australians who have asked me which country I am from) and during the ~20 hours I was in Los Angeles, I was misunderstood so many times that I had to actively study the way people spoke so that I could imitate their accent and have a fluent conversation!

Personally, I don't care how people pronounce the names of Australian cities and think it's a bit wankerish to tell people to pronounce Melbourne 'the proper way' even though you know exactly what they mean when they pronounce it with a non-Australian accent. The question of whether or not to pronounce words in the local accent seems to me to depend on whether you want to stand out as a tourist as much and be understood more clearly. I would be interested to hear what a Scottish person has to say on this matter as from what I can tell, most people have trouble understanding a thick Scottish brogue in places outside of Scotland.

With regard to Barcelona, it is definitely pronounced like Barselona in Catalonia and most of the Spanish speaking world outside of Spain. In some parts of Spain most cs and zs are pronounced as th though in those parts it is pronounced Barthelona.

Does anyone here live in Spain and can tell us how 'seseros' (the people who pronounce c's as s's) adapt if at all to areas where everyone speaks using 'el ceceo'?
posted by kiskar at 4:18 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Relevant joke:
Australian tourist in England is lost; "Can you tell me the way to Loogabarooga?" she asks a local. Local is perplexed, "Can you write it down?"
A moment later; "Ah, you mean Luffboruh!" (Loughborough)

I suppose you have to be pragmatic; ultimately it's about communication. I'd correct someone who asked me whether I live in Eydinborrow, but I'll quite happily say that I have a friend who lives near Munich.

Bringing up kids is a whole new problem: "Dont say wa'a, it's woter." Am I wrong?!
posted by BadMiker at 5:12 AM on August 14, 2012


Leominster is another fun one because the Massachussetts pronunciation ('Lemonster') and the UK pronunciation ('Lemster') are different and neither match the spelling.
posted by unSane at 5:42 AM on August 14, 2012


Like the old joke about the Fanshawes spelling their name Featherstonehaugh?
posted by infini at 5:47 AM on August 14, 2012


I don't think that's a joke. Marjoribanks is another one, pronounced 'Marshbanks'.
posted by unSane at 6:09 AM on August 14, 2012


On "Melbourne": it seems to me that this whole discussion has been somewhat derailed by implications of rudeness or chippiness or whatever. From my (Australian) point of view, it isn't about any of that. It's just that how you say a place name tells the local listener something about you. Whether that feeds into prejudices they have about tourists or foreigners or whatever is between them and their prejudices, but it's unavoidable that it will say something about your relationship to the place.

I've known a good number of American expats living in Australia over the years. Some say MEL-bn, some say MEL-burn, and in neither case does it sound like they're pretending to be Aussies; they just know that the first syllable is stressed and the second sort of disappears. Whether they slip an R in there or not depends on whether they can force themselves across the non-rhotic/rhotic divide, but there's no shame in it either way. What tells you that an American isn't a resident is when they say MEL-BORN. Now, for many visitors this is no big deal - who cares if people don't think you're a resident? - and it's no big deal for many locals either, who just accept that they're dealing with a tourist. It only becomes an issue if you want to consider yourself, or be seen as, more than a tourist: then you would be well-advised to de-emphasize the second syllable.

It is emphatically not about Melbourne residents trying to passively aggressively psych out the rest of the world. The pronunciations of English words often diverge from their spelling with frequent use. Australians say "Melbourne" every day, so it's been worn down to a pronunciation that fits our accent more comfortably. But even though it's one of our biggest cities, we know that it's hardly everyday usage for people on the other side of the world, and so there are other pronunciations out there.

Compare this with the city we've all been paying attention to these past few weeks. Do any Americans say "LONN-DONN"? Of course not - English-speakers are all familiar enough with the place that we know it's LUN-dun, for various accents of "u". The only people who say Lon-don are non-English speakers translating from a language where their word for the city does have a proper LON sound in it.

Another example is the Tasmanian city I mentioned above, Launceston = LON-sess-tun. There are plenty of Australians who get that wrong (for Tasmanian versions of "wrong"), because they've never been there or paid it much attention. If I hear an Aussie say LAWN-sess-tun, I know immediately that they've never visited my home state. That's neither them being "rude" nor me being "chippy" - it's just information. I never think of it as anything else because I know that Launceston is an order of magnitude less familiar than London.

But if I, as an Australian, went to Melbourne and wandered around calling it MEL-BAWN, even though I was doing it a non-rhotic way, I would expect people to look at me like I was from Mars. How, they would think, could any Australian not know that you don't stress the second syllable? Because Melbourne features in national news stories every day, in a way that Launceston doesn't.

All of which is quite different from what I, as an Australian, find myself doing in America. When I'm in America I have to accept that most people don't know my accent very well, and if I want to be understood I'd better change a few things about my pronunciation. The example given above of trying to be understood over the phone is an excellent one; you can't fall back on other ways of making yourself understood, so it all has to be there in the sounds you're making. This isn't such an issue for Americans in Australia, because Australians hear American accents much more often on TV and in movies. But it's an issue for a lot of Aussies overseas. When you hear US-based Australian expats interviewed on TV, they can sometimes sound pretty odd to Australian ears, with a whole bunch of US pronunciations overlaid on their original accents. It doesn't happen as much to UK-based Australian expats, perhaps because we're more easily understood by locals here and don't have to change our accents as much as a result.

One last example. I live nowadays in Edinburgh. When I hear another Australian over here say Edin-Burra, I know they're just visiting. When I hear one say Edinbruh, like I do, I know there's a good chance that they live in Scotland or at least the UK. We couldn't possibly pretend to be from here; and I've never heard an Aussie call it "Embra". But I can let locals know that I've lived in Edinburgh for a while by using the proper pronunciations of areas like Dalry, Gorgie and Hunter's Tryst. It's an important way of showing that I'm not just a tourist, and of bypassing awkward conversations that assume that I am.
posted by rory at 6:56 AM on August 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I remember watching The Star years ago, and Bette Davis getting a job at a department store selling "LAN-zher-ee"... I'm embarrassed at how long it took me to figure out what was at her counter. (Of course, early 50s lingerie looks a bit more, erm, substantial than nowadays).
posted by lily_bart at 7:11 AM on August 14, 2012


all I know is Australians (at least the ones I've met) don't pronounce Australia the way Americans do. More "uh-stray-ya" than "aw-stray-lee-ya"

There's a generational shift going on there too, olinerd. Aussies my age and older will tend to say us-TRAIL-yuh or us-STRAY-lyuh. Aussies younger than me will tend to say uh-STRAY-yuh, as you've noticed. (I'm 44.) But all of us turn the "aus" into "us" in "Australia" and "Australian". It's not just that they're very common words for us, and have worn down into their own shape as a result; it's also because they're stressed on the second syllable. We say OSS when it's the stressed syllable and followed by a hard consonant: OSS-trul-AY-zhuh, OSS-trul-oh-PITH-eh-cuss, OSS-tree-uh. But as you have observed, it's OZZ-ee, not OSS-ee (and certainly not USS-ee).
posted by rory at 7:27 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I try to explain to my Japanese students that using the Japanese reading of Chinese place names is something that very, very few Chinese people will think is okay.

Why on earth would you do that? Who cares what Chinese people think about the way Japanese people say Chinese names when they're not speaking Chinese? Get back to me when those Chinese people—when speaking Chinese—start pronouncing Japanese and English place names the way native speakers pronounce them. This is all just nationalistic bullshit, like claiming virtually all of the South China Sea, and it shouldn't be encouraged.
posted by languagehat at 8:33 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Chinese/Japanese issue reminds me of a funny story/factoid.

So, my SO's family are Cantonese-speaking Chinese who live in NYC. They listen to Cantonese talk radio for the news and traffic reports and such. Apparently, on Cantonese radio in NYC, when they do the traffic report, they sometimes refer to the Kosciuszko Bridge as "the Japanese bridge," because to many Cantonese speakers, the name is not only unpronounceable and incomprehensible-looking, but it also sounds sort of like a Japanese word even when sounded out correctly.

And so, the slang term for the Kosciuszko Bridge in some quarteres is, apparently, "the Japanese Bridge."

(Also note that most English-speakers who are not already familiar with Polish, Revolutionary War heroes, or with that particular bridge also find the bridge's name to be borderline-incomprehensible.)

(Also, and this is just trivia for me, but I grew up Upstate right by another Kosciuszko Bridge.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:05 AM on August 14, 2012


So order a biscottus. (I myself am guilty of calling an individual pasta pillow with stuff inside a raviolus. It just sounds right.)

There's a spaghetti-with-broccoli dish that we've taken to calling "spags and brockles," but that's just the layman's terminology. I guess the proper Latinate technical term for one of those little broccoli end-bud things would be "a brocculus"?
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:50 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


And make one more circle, I (an American) might pronounce Kosciuszko like an Australian, as I had never heard of it before the Midnight Oil song.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:51 AM on August 14, 2012


languagehat: Who cares what Chinese people think about the way Japanese people say Chinese names...

I can understand why Chinese people might be sensitive about Japanese. Manchukuo.

I mean, I can understand quite a bit of (written) Dutch because I've studied German. But if you tell a Dutch person how cool it is how similar their language is to German, they will make sure you don't make that observation again while you're still in the Netherlands.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:57 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think Melbn is just Melbourne with an Australian accent. That would be more like "Melbawn". It would rhyme with the way we say Hellborn.

In your analogy, the Aussie going to Vancouver would be calling it something like Vancowver


Well, Australians don't pronounce the "ou" in Vancouver the same way I do, either, but my analogy is about the R, and that's why I specifically picked Vancouver: "Vancouva" is how I've heard Australians say it. I think that the difference is equal between Vancouver and Vancouva as between Melbn and Melbrn. Do you think the difference is not equal? If so, why?

(Others have mentioned the stress on MEL and brevity of bn, which is an easy pronunciation for a North American English speaker to adapt to, and I can agree that anyone familiar with Australia should certainly say MELbu(r)n. It's really interesting that the Australians in this thread are piping up on both sides of the (r) in Melbourne--does it matter or does it not? There does not seem to be consensus.)

I grew up in a city called Regina, the local pronunciation of which carries a whole other bucket of issues, so much so that I do my best never to mention my hometown in international contexts. Accents are interesting things.
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:01 AM on August 14, 2012


I can understand why Chinese people might be sensitive about Japanese. Manchukuo.

That's not really the point, though. The point is, Japanese people speaking Japanese will have Japanese words for places in China, just as Chinese people speaking Chinese will have Chinese words for places in Japan. Now, a Japanese person speaking Chinese would do well to refer to Chinese places by their Chinese names, but that's another story.

The fraught history doesn't have very much to do with the Japanese language itself. I mean, I have no reason to be upset that Germans still refer to Jews as Jüden.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:25 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


languagehat: Has it ever occurred to you that you might not have to apologize as often if you stopped reading every comment through your is-this-a-potential-opportunity-to-needlessly-berate-someone filter?
posted by 256 at 10:49 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Place names can have great political importance, unlike most words in a language.

To imagine an extremely dramatic situation, if the Germans had renamed Warsaw to, say, Judenreinstadt, and still used that name on current maps, I'm guessing you wouldn't say "oh, that's just the German word for it."

The Japanese occupation of Korea lead to all sorts of controversy over personal names.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:51 AM on August 14, 2012


To imagine an extremely dramatic situation, if the Germans had renamed Warsaw to, say, Judenreinstadt, and still used that name on current maps, I'm guessing you wouldn't say "oh, that's just the German word for it."

Yes, but that is not the German word for Warsaw now. If it was, then we'd have a problem. The mere fact that there is a current German way to say Warsaw is not offensive in and of itself.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:55 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Japanese occupation of Korea lead to all sorts of controversy over personal names.

This has nothing to do with what we are talking about. Japan was changing people's names there. That has nothing to do with the fact that the Japanese language itself exists.

The fact that there is, say, undoubtedly a Japanese word for Seoul is not offensive in and of itself. Yes, if the Japanese word for Seoul was "shitty city that is also terrible and bad," then that would be a problem, but it isn't, and the mere fact that there is a Japanese word for Seoul is not offensive in and of itself.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:59 AM on August 14, 2012


Language is not purely arbitrary, and what someone chooses to call a particular geographical feature can have great political significance. I'm not claiming that two languages having different words is automatically offensive. I am claiming that name-giving can encode intent and attitude.

The best independent example I can find to back that up is this paper (pdf only) on Israel and Palestine.

And if you don't think giving/using names can be offensive, well, we live in different worlds.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:25 AM on August 14, 2012


And if you don't think giving/using names can be offensive, well, we live in different worlds.

You have constructed a straw man and are not reading words in front of you. I never said that names could never be offensive, and indeed I refuted the two examples you gave of that.

What I am saying is that the mere fact that Japan has names for places in China is not offensive in and of itself.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:49 AM on August 14, 2012


benito.strauss: I'm not claiming that two languages having different words is automatically offensive.

Sticherbeast: What I am saying is that the mere fact that Japan has names for places in China is not offensive in and of itself.

(Man, I've never had such violent agreements anywhere but MetaFilter.)

I constructed hypotheticals (I'm lazy). You pointed out that they were not accurate descriptions of the real world and called them straw men.

So I provided real world examples. I think they show that naming can give offensive, that it's very likely so in the Israel/Palestine example, and very clearly so in the Florida example. What do you think?
posted by benito.strauss at 12:09 PM on August 14, 2012


You are still not understanding what I am saying. You are still defending a straw man.

My actual position is that Japanese words for Chinese places is not offensive in and of itself. I do not know how to make this statement any more clear.

Your straw man is that I think no place name can ever be offensive. This is a wrong position that nobody actually believes. Every time you try to say that I think that, you are wrong.

When you make up a hypothetical offensive place name, you are creating a situation where a name is offensive for reasons other than the fact a place is named at all.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:14 PM on August 14, 2012


You had yet to say that you thought place names could be offensive. You just kept saying things like "I never said that names could never be offensive,". That struck me as possibly weasely (I'm pretty troll-able), but now I see you are not being that at all.

We disagree that all words can exist "in and of themselves". We also disagree in that I do not think you can always separate an act of naming from its social situation.

You could, in fact, strengthen your last statement, as the last two examples I gave were in no way hypothetical or straw-men, but I'd guess you would also believe:
Even in the two cases you document, you are discussing a situation where a name is offensive for reasons other than the fact a place is named at all. [quote modified by me]
I'd guess that at the core you believe naming & languages can be isolated, abstracted, and studied apart from their user's situations. I think that, while that can be useful (and I actually really enjoy doing it and watching others smarter that I am do it), I think we always have to remember that language is a social act. [We could derail into whether or not FORTRAN or the lambda calculus are also social acts, but I'll limit my claims to languages people use in day to day, non-specialized situations.]

I feel a bit rude for attributing opinions to you that you haven't expressed, but I'm trying to get to the core of the disagreement. I'd be glad to hear where my extrapolations are off.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:40 PM on August 14, 2012


Lets all go over and play in the grief bacon thread now.
posted by infini at 1:43 PM on August 14, 2012


You had yet to say that you thought place names could be offensive. You just kept saying things like "I never said that names could never be offensive,". That struck me as possibly weasely (I'm pretty troll-able), but now I see you are not being that at all.

What? I had yet to say that I thought place names could be offensive, but I kept saying that I never said that names could never be offensive? How does that even make internal sense? And when invoked things like Judenreinstadt[sic], I said that they would be offensive...if they were real.

I didn't bother responding to your other points about real life controversies, because you were still in the midst of a straw man argument. More importantly, none of those examples have anything to do with why those particular Japanese words for Chinese places should be offensive. The mere fact that Japan has done bad things to China in the past is not enough. Japan is not to China as Israel is to Palestine, let alone as white people would be to N****rtown.

Regardless, it's obvious that we no longer even have an apparent disagreement on this point, so that's dropped.

I'd guess that at the core you believe naming & languages can be isolated, abstracted, and studied apart from their user's situations. I think that, while that can be useful (and I actually really enjoy doing it and watching others smarter that I am do it), I think we always have to remember that language is a social act.

It is a social act, but the door goes both ways. People shouldn't tell the Japanese how to talk unless there is a very, very, very good reason. With regard to Chinese place names, I haven't seen the evidence of that very, very, very good reason just yet.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:48 PM on August 14, 2012


Google the Rape of Nanking.
posted by infini at 1:50 PM on August 14, 2012


I'm quite familiar. Just as the Holocaust doesn't make the word Jüden inherently offensive, I'm still not seeing why Japanese words in the Japanese language are inherently offensive.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:56 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah I see what you're saying but have you considered whether the words themselves may later pick up layers of meaning for the listeners, except within the closed circle of the speakers themselves? Language does not stay static and evolves (professionals can articulate this better than I) and Nippon still carries layers of meaning over here in Singapore among a certain generation than the word itself in isolation on its originating island does.

Just as the Holocaust doesn't make the word Jüden inherently offensive

Only in isolation of the original German word as in dictionaries, agreed, however can it, today, be separated from the layers of meaning that weighs it down, regardless of the word itself's innocence?
posted by infini at 2:12 PM on August 14, 2012


Ah I see what you're saying but have you considered whether the words themselves may later pick up layers of meaning for the listeners, except within the closed circle of the speakers themselves?

What's hinky about this concept is that I am talking exclusively about Japanese speakers speaking Japanese. Of course a Japanese person speaking Chinese in China would be making a huge mistake to use the Japanese words for places in China, but that's not what I'm talking about at all. I am talking about the Japanese speaking their own language. There's going to be a fairly heavy burden on the side of an outsider who thinks that the Japanese ought to change their own language - not an insurmountable burden, but it's fairly heavy.

Likewise, while the word Nippon has certain associations in Singapore, surely you don't think that the Japanese ought to rename their entire country?

Only in isolation of the original German word as in dictionaries, agreed, however can it, today, be separated from the layers of meaning that weighs it down, regardless of the word itself's innocence?

In German? Yes, it is innocent. If a German-speaker was making a perfectly non-offensive remark about Jews, it would be bizarre and xenophobic to insist that they not use their own word for Jews. Of course Jüden can be used negatively, but that's a separate issue - the word itself is wholly innocent.

On the other hand, if I were to say something in English such as, "a lot of Jüden live in New York City," that would be weird at best and probably quite offensive to boot, but that is an entirely different scenario. The word Jüden has certain contexts in English, and probably other languages as well.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:27 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Sidenote: I'm Jewish, and I prefer the term "Jews" to "Jewish people," but it's funny how the word "Jew" itself can seem fairly harsh in certain contexts. Hm.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:32 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another such example is the random English word coolie. Perfectly harmless. Except I'd want to whack any Englishman who said it in front of me with a baseball bat. How does this kind of weighty history burdening a poor innocent word, in the language of its speakers, reach this level of response?

Otoh I do agree with you that the Japanese speaking their own language in their own country may certainly continue to use words which may have baggage elsewhere as would the German usage of their own language.

Maybe its only when cultures clash or rather meet across the no man's land at Christmas that these problems come to light.

Perhaps we're all correct in what we're each of us trying to say, the challenge is that we're now trying to say them on the same page, together, rather than in the isolation of our language groups and home regions.

It will be a delicate path to navigate, at least in situations where languages and cultures meet and greet.
posted by infini at 2:33 PM on August 14, 2012


Since I don't speak Japanese or Chinese, I certainly can't attest to the actual situation between the two language groups. My goal was to point out that there was a history of tension that might influence Chinese people to take offense at how the Japanese view them.

Weird thing about the word Jude in the dictionary. When I was studying German I looked up 'Jude' in a dictionary that was pretty old (maybe as old as the 1920s). Among the handful of meanings was the phrase "Schlägst du meinen Juden, schlag ich deinen". It's a literary phrase that is fully explained (in German that's beyond my abilities) here. But basically it means "You beat my Jew, I'll beat yours." That doesn't make Jüden inherently offensive, but it did leave me thinking that the word Jüden had some unpleasant overtones that I hadn't been aware of.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:38 PM on August 14, 2012


the word itself is wholly innocent.

Yup, we really do disagree on that point. But it's a point of philosophy of language, and probably a derail. Interesting to me to note the disagreement, though.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:46 PM on August 14, 2012


Another such example is the random English word coolie. Perfectly harmless. Except I'd want to whack any Englishman who said it in front of me with a baseball bat. How does this kind of weighty history burdening a poor innocent word, in the language of its speakers, reach this level of response?

But "coolie" is explicitly a slur. I'm not clear on what your meaning is here.

A better example would be Mumbai versus Bombay, which is indeed a good example of when people from other languages should change how they refer to certain places. Bombay had been a bastardized way of saying Mumbai under English occupation, so it made sense there for English-speakers to change to something without so much colonial baggage. Bombay wasn't meant to be offensive, it just sort of was, since it was emblematic of how the British had planted their flag and taken over.

Is the Japanese place name situation similar? I don't know. I'm happy to see evidence about that particular issue. I'm not saying that people should never change their words for places, just that the mere fact that there are foreign words for a place is not bad in and of itself.

That doesn't make Jüden inherently offensive, but it did leave me thinking that the word Jüden had some unpleasant overtones that I hadn't been aware of.

Right, but that's the thing. The word itself still just means "Jew". People had certain conceptions of "the Jew," hence the connotations, but even if Jews had gone by another name, the distrust and Otherness would have remained. A person telling Germans to no longer use the word is the one being bizarre and xenophobic.

Sidenote: my father's Berlitz Learn Russian book had plenty of phrases in it making fun of Tatars, the idea being, I guess, that the editors of that book felt that Russians being racist against Tatars was a common enough cultural thread to make worth incorporating into your English lessons.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:49 PM on August 14, 2012


Would you mind doing a thought experiment with me, sticherbeast? You've said:

If a German-speaker was making a perfectly non-offensive remark about Jews, it would be bizarre and xenophobic to insist that they not use their own word for Jews.

Now, my mother, a very nice person, grew up in the Midwest 60-70 years ago. The word for a person with dark skin was what you might guess it was. (I'd rather not explicitly type it out and have it associated with my name when someone searches MeFi.) It was used perfectly inoffensively, (though not frequently as there weren't many African-Americans where she grew up). Would you think this situation is parallel to the one you describe? I'm curious.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:53 PM on August 14, 2012


A person telling Germans to no longer use the word is the one being bizarre and xenophobic.

By person, I mean someone who is not a German-speaker. Of course if German-speaking Jews feel that the word Jüden has run off the rails, then it's their right to work with that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:53 PM on August 14, 2012


But "coolie" is explicitly a slur. I'm not clear on what your meaning is here.

Bad example? Or maybe even the fact it isn't/wasn't a slur in its original meaning - a labourer or porter, as its still used in its original language in every railway station in India not to mention a very famous Bollywood movie.
posted by infini at 2:57 PM on August 14, 2012


Am I right that you feel that only members of a language-group have the "right" to complain about the words in that language, their usage and connotations?
posted by benito.strauss at 2:58 PM on August 14, 2012


Sorry, that was to Sticherbeast.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:59 PM on August 14, 2012


Am I right that you feel that only members of a language-group have the "right" to complain about the words in that language, their usage and connotations?

No, that is not correct at all.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:59 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bad example? Or maybe even the fact it isn't/wasn't a slur in its original meaning - a labourer or porter, as its still used in its original language in every railway station in India not to mention a very famous Bollywood movie.

Yeah, I'm sorry, but it's still not a good example. Even read most charitably, it was never exactly flattering in the English-speaking world, and in typical usage, it was always a derogatory reminder of those laborers' place in the English-speaking society.

As for the word in Hindi, that's a completely different word! I'll take your word for it that it's neutral in Hindi, but we're not speaking Hindi right now.

(But what about an English-speaker speaking Hindi, using it without offensive intent, as a native Hindi-speaker would, in the right context? Such as, he needs a porter in the train station? I'm asking because I genuinely don't know if that would offend people.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:09 PM on August 14, 2012


As for the word in Hindi, that's a completely different word!

Now you have me charitably confused... same word, same meaning.


(But what about an English-speaker speaking Hindi, using it without offensive intent, as a native Hindi-speaker would, in the right context? Such as, he needs a porter in the train station? I'm asking because I genuinely don't know if that would offend people.)

This is complicated by history, and may be some of what benito.strauss was also trying to articulate. Depends on the foreigner's ethnicity and fluency in the language's use of suffixes wrt to choice of "you" to use i.e. like the vous and tu endings in French.
posted by infini at 3:20 PM on August 14, 2012


As for the word in Hindi, that's a completely different word!

Now you have me charitably confused... same word, same meaning.
Innocent in its original tongue and among its native speakers, mind you ;p
posted by infini at 3:21 PM on August 14, 2012


As for the word in Hindi, that's a completely different word!

Now you have me charitably confused... same word, same meaning.


No, different word. Hindi and English are different languages with different meanings. Certainly not the same meaning, either. Spelled differently in two different languages. The Hindi word kuli is not an offensive term for Asian laborers - it is apparently a neutral term meaning laborer or porter. Those are two different meanings. In no sense are those two words the same word.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:52 PM on August 14, 2012


Hindi and English are different languages with different meanings.

Er, different languages with different words, rather.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:53 PM on August 14, 2012


So the Bollywood movie poster is wrong and you are right on the interwebs!
posted by infini at 3:57 PM on August 14, 2012


So the Bollywood movie poster is wrong and you are right on the interwebs!

There's a Western called Boss N****r, but it doesn't mean that that word still isn't generally offensive. I remain steadfast to the fact that "coolie" and kuli are separate words, Bollywood posters notwithstanding.

Even at the most neutral level: do you accept that "weekend" and le weekend are different words, even though they mean the same thing? And eggplant and aubergine, they mean the same thing, and yet they are still different words? And you also accept that the English "bizarro" and the Spanish bizarro are different words, meaning separate things, even though they are spelled the same - and that even if the Superman character is still named Bizarro even in Spanish, that "bizarro" and bizarro are still different words?
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:10 PM on August 14, 2012


(Not to mention the overwhelming fact that the film Coolie is in Hindi, not English.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:13 PM on August 14, 2012


infini, what are the overtones (to you) of the word 'wallah'? I ask because I'd worked with many Indians (both in my company and outsourcing IT functions) and they described one contractor sent us as "the chai wallah", indicating that he wasn't really knowledgeable in computers. I liked the "-wallah" suffix, and wanted to describe my own job as a jack-of-all-trades programmer as being a "code-wallah". But I have no idea if that would be offensive or not (as a point of information I'm a very white, very American guy).
posted by benito.strauss at 4:14 PM on August 14, 2012


I accept your other examples but as a bilingual Hindi/English speaker with some knowledge of history, I know the word coolie is the same. Spelling it kuli achieves nothing, unless it comes from some source's wish to distance itself from its own history.

Wallah is simpler as in adding the suffix -er to something e.g. teach er - I just had a Dutch colleague refer to a document's author as designwallah and I found it quite cute tbh. Parsi names have tended to follow this method of naming quite often eg Rishad Tobaccowallah (with the natural result of a bunch of jokes like the guy we all know called Cocacolabottleopenmerwallah ;p)
posted by infini at 4:18 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry first para to Sticherbeast and second to benito.strauss.
posted by infini at 4:19 PM on August 14, 2012


I know the word coolie is the same.

They absolutely are not. They mean different things in their respective languages. Are you positing that the word coolie occupies some wholly unique space in all of language, where two different words meaning different things, spelled different ways in different languages, using even different alphabets, are actually the same word? How on earth could "coolie" in English, with one definition, be the same word as kuli in Hindi, with another definition, especially when you yourself grant the fact that "weekend" and le weekend are even separate words?

Think about how you had defined kuli in Hindi, as meaning laborer or porter. Now pick up an English dictionary. Is that definition repeated there, or is it different?

I'm spelling it kuli because that is how Wikipedia had transliterated it. Since I do not speak Hindi, I have no frame of reference as to how to write it otherwise, outside of using the Hindi alphabet. If anything, spelling it in the Hindi alphabet would only further underline how they are not the same word.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:23 PM on August 14, 2012


Thanks, infini, and with your approval I'm going to run with it: "Bill, you're beerwallah for this party."
posted by benito.strauss at 4:26 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast, Think about how you had defined kuli in Hindi, as meaning laborer or porter. Now pick up an English dictionary. Is that definition repeated there, or is it different?

And thus you lost the plot of your original statement that innocent words in their own language carry no baggage if spoken by someone else using that language.
posted by infini at 4:34 PM on August 14, 2012


And thus you lost the plot of your original statement that innocent words in their own language carry no baggage if spoken by someone else using that language.

I did not say that, nor do I believe anything like that. The big tip-off is the fact that I asked about the implications of an Anglophone asking for a porter in Hindi.

You do understand that "coolie" and kuli are different words, though, yes?
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:38 PM on August 14, 2012


I think it's actually the complete opposite, infini.
Of course Jüden can be used negatively, but that's a separate issue - the word itself is wholly innocent.
while
"coolie" is explicitly a slur.
It's more like words in their 'native' language are innocent, but when they are borrowed into another language there is a chance that they loose that innocence, especially if there is a power imbalance between the borrow-er and borrow-ee language communities. Is that a fair characterization, sticherbeast?

Although the first time an employee of the British East India Corporation pronounced the sounds 'kuːliː' he must have been speaking a Hindi word, and at some later time the same sounds constituted the English slur 'coolie'. It's the same problem evolution has with slow change over time leading to categorically different beasts.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:03 PM on August 14, 2012


You do understand that "coolie" and kuli are different words, though, yes?

No. I don't.

The history of the British in India, particularly their learning of (Koi hai?) the local language and using it and then taking most of it back with them means that the word remained the same, its meaning (if changed) based on which ethnicity was using it. Its not the borrowing of le weekend nor a synonym like aubergine or a similar sounding but differently rooted meaning context of a bizarro. (Or what benito says, but the slur is the weight of it, not a change in meaning of the actual word)

Lets take another word, black. Its the same word in every context its used in English, yes? How then does the benito.strauss explanation hold up here?
posted by infini at 5:08 PM on August 14, 2012


It's more like words in their 'native' language are innocent, but when they are borrowed into another language there is a chance that they loose that innocence, especially if there is a power imbalance between the borrow-er and borrow-ee language communities.

That and the fact that a loanword consists of the foreign word plus the fact that it's in the language it's in, which may be coloured by the local culture's experience of said language. For example, the English word “demand” comes from the French word demander (to request), though has imperious connotations that the original doesn't, which are apparently a reflection of the hauteur of the Norman aristocracy of mediaeval England.
posted by acb at 5:09 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]



I think it's actually the complete opposite, infini.

Of course Jüden can be used negatively, but that's a separate issue - the word itself is wholly innocent.

while

"coolie" is explicitly a slur.


So juden was or was not a slur when used in Poland? Or rather, was it slur when used in Germany when referring to a Pole?
posted by infini at 5:15 PM on August 14, 2012


Or maybe that was when its used by a Pole speaking German in Germany?
posted by infini at 5:17 PM on August 14, 2012


No. I don't.

Okay, explain to everyone how they are the same word, despite being spelled differently in different alphabets in different languages and having different meanings.

For example, try looking up क़ुली in an English language dictionary. You will notice that those letters don't exist in English, which is the first of many signs that it is not a word in English. Okay, now try look up kuli. You don't find it there, either. Well, maybe it's under "coolie." Now, isn't it interesting how the definition here is quite different than the definition for क़ुली?

The history of the British in India, particularly their learning of (Koi hai?) the local language and using it and then taking most of it back with them means that the word remained the same, its meaning (if changed) based on which ethnicity was using it.

Your thinking about this runs contrary to every single thing I have ever read about historical linguistics, but maybe it was my fault for reading so much of that stuff. Adopting the word into a different language and changing the meaning is exactly what makes it not the same word.

Lets take another word, black. Its the same word in every context its used in English, yes?

"Black" is a word with many different meanings. It can be used positively, negative, neutrally, however you please. The word itself is not a slur, although it can be certainly used in a derogatory fashion. What's your point?

So juden was or was not a slur when used in Poland? Or rather, was it slur when used in Germany when referring to a Pole?

Jüden could be used negatively, positively, or neutrally. Heroic Germans who said, "The Jews did nothing wrong, let us save as many Jews as we can" were not using it as a slur. Evil Germans who said, "The Jews must be rounded up into the trains," were using it negatively, but it didn't make Jüden itself a slur. It just meant that a lot of people hated Jews. Had history gone differently, Jüden could have become a slur, just as one does not nowadays refer to African-Americans as "negros," but Jüden did not become a slur.

"Kike," and whatever the German equivalent of "kike" is - that's a slur. Likewise, you will not find any English speakers who use the word "coolie" in a neutral manner, unless they don't know English very well and are making a serious mistake.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:30 PM on August 14, 2012


Likewise, you will not find any English speakers who use the word "coolie" in a neutral manner, unless they don't know English very well and are making a serious mistake.

Page 34, check the authors.
posted by infini at 5:45 PM on August 14, 2012


Page 34, check the authors.

Interesting, but at the same time, "coolie" is in quotes whenever it is in the body, obviously delineating the neutral aspect that the term would have in its native India.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:49 PM on August 14, 2012


I think it is obvious that in English (at least US English), "coolie" carries a negative connotation. In Hindi, it seems it carries a neutral connotation. The end. Why is this so difficult? Whether this constitutes a different "word" or not depends on the technical definition of "word." But, to the larger issue, the use of "coolie" in English is generally seen as offensive by the majority of English speakers and the use of "kuli" in Hindi is generally seens as a mere descriptor by the majority of Hindi speakers (at least that is what infini has lead me to believe, I don't speak or read Hindi).
posted by Falconetti at 5:51 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually the use of the word is offensive, as offensive as a certain other word you're all familiar with, and seeing it in that report resulted in me writing a written complaint. Only the Finns were confused. I'm also misquoted in that chapter btw.

I didn't even know that US english had the word in its own right until now, reading Falconetti's comment, tbh Sticherbeast, so its entirely possible we've been discussing two entirely different words, with me referring to UK usage and meaning and that report whereas you've been referring to the US meaning (more related to the Chinese coolies and the history of the railroad, iirc).
posted by infini at 6:01 PM on August 14, 2012


Actually the use of the word is offensive, as offensive as a certain other word you're all familiar with, and seeing it in that report resulted in me writing a written complaint. Only the Finns were confused. I'm also misquoted in that chapter btw.

Oh, okay, fair enough. To be honest, I had thought you posted it as an example of a non-offensive use of the word, which really threw me for a loop, but I wasn't in the mood to argue further. Think of my silence on that issue as my kiss on your nose, to use your phrase from earlier.

I didn't even know that US english had the word in its own right until now, reading Falconetti's comment, tbh Sticherbeast, so its entirely possible we've been discussing two entirely different words, with me referring to UK usage and meaning and that report whereas you've been referring to the US meaning (more related to the Chinese coolies and the history of the railroad, iirc).

I've heard it in both contexts, offensive both ways. Obviously, being American, I associate more with railroad workers, but it's a moot point by now.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:06 PM on August 14, 2012


As long as we're talking slurs, though, it is interesting how the American version retains only the offensiveness and the Otherness, minus even the shared surface meaning.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:12 PM on August 14, 2012


acb: That and the fact that a loanword consists of the foreign word plus the fact that it's in the language it's in, which may be coloured by the local culture's experience of said language.,

I agree with you on that, but I also think that all words are subject to the same colouring by experience, no matter how long they've been in the language, or where they came from.

To be clear, I don't hold with the distinction I described here; that's me trying to re-state what I'm hearing from sticherbeast, to see if I've understood him.

Maybe this comes down these two alternatives:
  1. Intention of the user is what matters. Some words are always intended offensively (see 'kike' above), other words sometimes are and sometimes aren't (see 'Jude' above), and some are basically never (see ????). versus
  2. Language is a social act, and had both a sender and receiver. And, even if sender has no intent to offend, sometimes receiver is offended.
Is that the difference we're seeing here, some think #1, and some #2?

/And we are definitely at the point where, if this weren't on the internet, I'd suggest we go to a bar and I'd buy sticherbeast his first few beers, which is my culture's equivalent of a kiss on the nose.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:18 PM on August 14, 2012


Yes and that's probably where the confusion over my example arose from ... where coolie was fine in context of its home territory usage but not in context of that report or as used in London for eg. Like really, wtf imagine if you saw something like "From [ ] to Olympic medallers" or some such.
posted by infini at 6:20 PM on August 14, 2012


will happily give up ideas of kisses on noses for beers
posted by infini at 6:22 PM on August 14, 2012


Maybe this comes down these two alternatives:

I am extremely confused that you would think that I believe in #1. Intent is not the sole determinant of anything when it comes to language.

Language is a group process, which is part of why it becomes so sticky when we try to argue about its details. Some details remain fixed for a while, but others change, sometimes rapidly. Words have denotations and connotations. Some words can be offensive in some circumstances and not others. Other words will always be offensive, no matter what. Other words still should only be used by an in-group. And blah blah blah.

But most importantly, I will happily buy everyone beers if we ever meet face to face.

Yes and that's probably where the confusion over my example arose from ... where coolie was fine in context of its home territory usage but not in context of that report or as used in London for eg. Like really, wtf imagine if you saw something like "From [ ] to Olympic medallers" or some such.

I hear you. And it's interesting how that author even attempted to use the term as closely as he could manage to its Hindi meaning, but even then, the result is obviously and completely unacceptable.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:29 PM on August 14, 2012


to use the term as closely as he could manage to its Hindi meaning

See, that's the thing. That's what it also means in the UK, technically speaking, just like pajama or bungalow, but its use by "them" is what makes it an offensive insult.
posted by infini at 6:35 PM on August 14, 2012


Or rather, they perceive/d Indians always in that role thus the chapter title.

(I've a long complicated story around this, on the threat many in the UK felt when BRIC was first rising and it manifested itself in my experiences in the creative fields in London and with other UK citizens working elsewhere in EU)
posted by infini at 6:38 PM on August 14, 2012


That's what it also means in the UK, technically speaking, just like pajama or bungalow, but its use by "them" is what makes it an offensive insult.

Right, and I guess where our difference had been. The term's offensiveness is even mentioned in the dictionary definition. In English, its offensiveness is a fundamental part of its being, just as "kike" is obviously offensive. To me, that makes it not an "innocent" word at all, quite unlike "pajama" or "bungalow."

However, while I stand by my position that the English word "coolie" is inherently offensive, I can see how your background and experiences would give you a different take, as it's apparently used more cavalierly in UK English, and with a definition with a surface similarity much closer to its technically innocuous Hindi cousin. While I had been aware of the UK usage, my take on the word is still largely informed from my experience of the term as an outmoded racial slur that you talk about briefly in high school when talking about American railroads. So, to me, the idea that anyone could use that word and think it would be okay is pretty alien. However, it's pretty easy to see things that way from afar.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:51 PM on August 14, 2012


I am extremely confused that you would think that I believe in #1.

I am trying figure out what you meant by "the word itself is wholly innocent. " You've said you see language as a complicated, sticky, and changing affair, rife with the risks for offense, and yet somehow the word "Jüden" remains innocent. Is this the word as a series of sounds, existing separate from messy language, that is innocent?

I do not understand this in the least. I'm afraid you'll have to explain it like I'm five if I'm to get it.

[And as another data point for someone from the U.S., I view 'coolie' as completely offensive, but to Chinese people! Someone trying to insult an Indian person would probably call them a Muslim, very likely leaving behind a very confused Hindu.]
posted by benito.strauss at 7:06 PM on August 14, 2012


I am trying figure out what you meant by "the word itself is wholly innocent. " You've said you see language as a complicated, sticky, and changing affair, rife with the risks for offense, and yet somehow the word "Jüden" remains innocent.

I may not have expressed myself as well as I should have, but what I meant was that the term Jüde is a neutral word for Jew. It is not a slur. It is not inherently offensive. It does not definitionally refer to Jews in a derogatory way.

Words do have meanings. They really, truly do. They have denotations, which are the kinds of meaning that you'd see in a dictionary, and connotations, which are the kinds of meaning that are typically unspoken. The problem is that these meanings can and do change, through group processes. They don't change instantly, and they cannot be changed by any one person. Words' meanings are selected, almost always involuntarily, by an unknown quorum of a language's speakers. Many words are highly stable and uncontested. Others are not.

Just as you can't use the word "chair" to mean "table" outside of your own idiolect (your own personal language), you can't say that the word Jüde is itself is a slur. A slur is very specifically a word that refers to a certain people in a derogatory way. But, that is not how the word Jüde works. That is not part of the agreed-upon definition for that word, even though the word Jüde can be used in negative or otherwise inappropriate ways. It would only become a slur if enough people agreed that it was a slur.

The term Jüde may have carried negative connotations during the Nazi regime, but we do not live in that period now, and the sweeping majority of Germans do not maintain those connotations for that word. As far as I know, as someone who only knows a few words of German, it remains to be the neutral term for "Jew."

The term Jüde has a life outside of any one person. It is not your place to determine on your own that it is offensive or not. Its offensiveness is determined by informal vote. We can gauge this by talking to German speakers, reading German dictionaries, talking to Jews (especially German-speaking ones), absorbing German communication, and so on and so forth.

Is this the word as a series of sounds, existing separate from messy language, that is innocent?

You keep separating these concepts into false dichotomies. Language is fluid, but it also has substance. It is not a contradiction to say that a word has a meaning, while also saying that that meanings are socially determined and subject to change.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:27 PM on August 14, 2012


For what it's worth, a really awesome book on linguistics is the The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, by David Crystal. It's a great all-around, without sacrificing depth.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:35 PM on August 14, 2012


Thanks for the description, sticherbeast.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:40 PM on August 14, 2012


"Kike," and whatever the German equivalent of "kike" is - that's a slur.

But such an interesting one.
posted by snottydick at 8:11 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older How to walk your dog   |   Taxes and inequality Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post