Foreigners' common pronunciation mistakes in Eenglish
April 11, 2003 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Ough!* I pronounce the English language unpronounceable: Arriba! Arriba! Arriba! Speedy Gonzales here. When will you make up your minds and stop making fun of pestering us poor foreigners? I mean, it's not as if you yourselves can agree on how to pronounce almost anything... [*As in "plough". Not as in through, , thought, thorough, thought, hiccough, lough or enough already!]
posted by Carlos Quevedo (84 comments total)
You've got "thought" twice there.

bloody foreigners
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:25 AM on April 11, 2003

Though I meant though.

bloody imperialists
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 5:30 AM on April 11, 2003

Portuguese is the evil, unpronounceable scourge of world languages, scientifical studies have shown.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:32 AM on April 11, 2003

Hiccup. That is a funny one.
posted by Dick Paris at 5:39 AM on April 11, 2003

Esperanto, anyone...?

Hey, if it's good enough for Bill Shatner...
posted by davidmsc at 5:45 AM on April 11, 2003

One of my all time favorites is "Gough" Street in San Francisco. I've heard people call it Gawf, gouch, goodge, gow, go, and guff.
posted by shoepal at 5:47 AM on April 11, 2003

blough me, miguel!
posted by quonsar at 5:53 AM on April 11, 2003

gough away, quevedo
posted by matteo at 5:55 AM on April 11, 2003

my favourite is ghoti = fish


rough=f women = i motion = sh

(thanks to G B Shaw for that one)
posted by lerrup at 5:57 AM on April 11, 2003

If it's a 'gh', blame what was formerly "aspirated" (with a dot) in the old Irish script. You think English pronunciations are arbitrary, just try out that language.
Carlos, or Migs, or whoever: you've discovered the infinite joy of strikeout tags, haven't you?
posted by Shane at 5:58 AM on April 11, 2003

Gough! What about British placenames, shoepal? They're truly inscrutable. Here are some I got from Bill Bryson's book Mother Tongue:

Barnoldswick - pronounced Barlick.
Worcester, Leicester, Chichester - Wooster, Lester, Chester.
Keighley - Keethley.
Wyardisbury - Razebry.
Flawith - Floyth.
Cholmondeston - Chumson.
Wymondham - Windum.
Saint John - Sinjun.
Culzean (Castle) - Cullayne.
Dent-de-Lion - Dandelion.
Puncknowle - Punnel.
Magdalene (College, Oxford and Cambridge): Maudlin.
Okeford Fitzpaine - Fippenny Ockford.
Halfpennyworth (Bridge) - Haypth.

There are more. I kid you not.
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 6:06 AM on April 11, 2003

In Okeford Fitzpaine they actually changed the names round, just in case an enlightened foreigner presumed to get it right. You can't get more "local", a la "League of Gentlemen, than this. Damn them.
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 6:08 AM on April 11, 2003

BTW - I disagree that Chichester is prounounced "Chester", but I've never been there so I may be wrong. There's also a "Toucester", pronounced "Towster".

Still, how can we expect the French and Spanish to speak English properly when we can't even get the Americans to do it? ;-)
posted by salmacis at 6:13 AM on April 11, 2003

Bill Bryson also lists some names that, he claims, most Americans think they know how to pronounce but thay are actually pronounced differently by the locals. I'll leave out the local pronunciations to further the confusion:

Boise, Idaho; Gettysburg, Pennsylvabia; Pierre, South Dakota; Quincy, Massachusetts; Monticello, Virginia; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Biloxi, Mississippi; Yakima, Washington; St Ignace, Michigan; Concord, Massachusetts and New Hampshire; Arkansas River; Milan, Michigan; Lima, Ohio; Nevada, Iowa; Versailles, Tennessee; Vienna, Georgia; Houston, Ohio; Montevideo, Minnesota and Cairo, Illinois.

The most outrageous, at least for a South American, is Montevideo, which they pronounce as if it were a rental store: Monna Video.
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 6:25 AM on April 11, 2003

Oh, just go talk to languagehat...
posted by Shane at 6:29 AM on April 11, 2003

Ricky Ricardo demonstrated the alleged difficulty of English pronunciation when he attempted to read a children's story book, about a woodsman who cut boughs and it made his hands very rough and when his day was through he'd developed a terrible cough.

Which reminds me of a favorite "I Love Lucy" scene: Percy Livermore (Hans Conreid) was teaching proper English to the Ricardos and the Mertzes:

"There are two words I want you to promise me you'll never use: one of them is 'swell', and the other is 'lousy.""

Fred: "Give us the lousy one first."

(then later)

Lucy: "I would say 'OK'; that's a swell way to get off to a lousy start."
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:29 AM on April 11, 2003

The ones I know:

QUIN-zy, Ma
LANC-a-ster, Pa
CONK-erd, Ma and NH

Other good ones are Calais, Maine (pronounced "CAL-las") and Staunton, VA (pronounced "STAN-ton").
posted by rusty at 6:35 AM on April 11, 2003

By the way, I didn't even know "lough" was a word. I don't think that one counts. It seems to be some kind of specifically-Irish corruption of "loch," and whatever language the Irish speak, it can only be described as "English" in some sort of analagous sense.
posted by rusty at 6:38 AM on April 11, 2003

It should be pointed out that English is perhaps the only language where children need to be taught to spell, and where adults can make simple spelling errors.

Everyone else's language is written phoenetically.

Let's all hear it for Glouchester (GLOO-ster) and Worcherster (WOO-ster).
posted by Cerebus at 6:43 AM on April 11, 2003

I highly recommend the book: The Story of English.

It's utterly fascinating, and goes a long way to explaining why our language is the way it is.
posted by bwg at 6:46 AM on April 11, 2003

...specifically-Irish corruption of "loch," and whatever language the Irish speak, it can only be described as "English" in some sort of analagous sense.

AARGH! Loch is Scottish Gaelic corruption of Irish lough, not the other way around (Irish Gaelic is older). Irish Gaelic is NOT a form of English, it's a language in itself. Scottish Gaelic and Welsh are related, etc etc.

languagehat or somebody else can take it from here. AARGH!
*Backing away from the keyboard...*
posted by Shane at 6:55 AM on April 11, 2003

It's even fun t'other way 'round... when I moved to the American midwest, I was constantly amused by the pronunciation of towns like Des Plaines (pronunce it exactly as it's spelled, not 'day plen'), Peru (pay-roo) and Madrid (accent on first syllable)...
posted by JollyWanker at 6:57 AM on April 11, 2003

We'll always have Manor (MAY-nor), TX.

Nothing beats Poteet (just like it's spelled), TX for sheer silliness in a placename, though. 8)
posted by Cerebus at 7:00 AM on April 11, 2003

Boy, I'd expect a post like this from MiguelCardosa, but not Carlos. He's usually much more interesting than this.
posted by crunchland at 7:07 AM on April 11, 2003

I grew up a couple of hundred kilometres south of Launceston, Tasmania, pronounced LONN-sess-ton, which was named after Launceston, Cornwall, pronounced Lawnstn. So 'Towster' for Toucester doesn't sound too strange.

All you have to do, Carlos, is move to a country where English words are still pronounced the way they're spelled. No 'gh' goes missing here in the fine auld toun of Edinburghghgh!
posted by rory at 7:14 AM on April 11, 2003

Great link! I want to second Cerebus' remark about the difficulty of spelling in English. As a teacher, it has been a complex and difficult task, helping kids learn how to spell such a crazy language. It seems to come down to intrinsic neurological differences (we good spellers SEE the word), and what with the ubiquity of spellcheck, by the time I get kids at age 16 or 17, I just point out the most egregious misspellings to them and leave it at that.

And speaking of egregiousness, the most grating mispronunciation-by-locals-of-their-own-town around here is that of a beautiful Colorado town with a *good view* called Buena Vista. The locals call it "BYOONA VISTA." Ough.
posted by kozad at 7:15 AM on April 11, 2003

The fact that 'carlos' and 'miguel' can be pronounced the same in Portuguese is troubling, and deeply confusing, indeed.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:18 AM on April 11, 2003

Let's all hear it for Glouchester (GLOO-ster) and Worcherster (WOO-ster).

unless you're local, in which case it's WHU-stah. Don't forget Leicester [lester]. We've got Berlin here in Vermont, which has the other syllable stressed than the more popular one in Germany [BURL-in]. But we do have a Berlin Mall. I really liked learning Romanian, the whole language is phonetic and each letter has only one pronounciation. I couldn't believe language could be so easy!
posted by jessamyn at 7:20 AM on April 11, 2003

jessamyn: Native English speakers are usually shocked at the simple phonology of most languages. Only English speakers have 'Spelling' as an elementary school subject.

And we wonder why our kids lag behind. 8)
posted by Cerebus at 7:26 AM on April 11, 2003

st ignace == saynt igniss
posted by quonsar at 7:33 AM on April 11, 2003

Let's all hear it for Glouchester (GLOO-ster)

The street I live on is Gloucester (as well as one of the suburbs here in town) and most people I know pronounce them both GLAW-ster. GLOO-ster strikes me as amusing, for some unknown reason.
posted by aclevername at 7:39 AM on April 11, 2003

saynt IGniss
posted by quonsar at 7:39 AM on April 11, 2003

Some of my favorites:

Chili, NY (CHI-lye)
Novi, MI (NO-vye)
Bellefontaine, OH (Bellfountain)
posted by kindall at 7:49 AM on April 11, 2003

Puyallup. I dare you.
Also, not a place name: geoduck.

What's up with those Pacific Northwesters?
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:51 AM on April 11, 2003

My pet peeve is a street here in Chicago - Goethe. Often pronounced "GO-thee" (unvoiced "th", like in "theater") .
posted by dnash at 7:51 AM on April 11, 2003

Re: all the Carlos/Miguel cracks. Come on you guys - you know I'm Carlos's editor. I e-mailed Matt about this from day one and he's OK with it. Carlos is not so hot with English, being more of a francophone and, like all Argentinians, hates to make mistakes. Who doesn't? We've been working together, side by side, for over 20 years, so it's only natural. I'm used to him doing the thinking and me the writing. The ideas for the posts are his - I just sub-edit them. On the other hand, I sometimes would love to comment in one of his posts - he's right beside me - but feel that wouldn't be kosher. My English pronunciation, btw, is impeccable and, fwiw, I think English to be, despite the very few charming and explainable quirks, a logical language. These complaints generally come from unsubtle, phonetic (boring!) languages like Spanish - Carlos's mother tongue. Oh - and Stav is absolutely right that Portuguese, of all the Romance languages, is the hardest. .
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:54 AM on April 11, 2003

dnash: My pet peeve is a street here in Chicago - Goethe. Often pronounced "GO-thee" (unvoiced "th", like in "theater")

I recall taking a CTA bus when I first moved here and hearing "Goethe" pronounced "Go-EE-thee"...
posted by JollyWanker at 8:08 AM on April 11, 2003

Okay then, Carlos and Mig, I'll play: Mantua, OH; pron.: MAN-oo-way. Seriously.
posted by Shane at 8:08 AM on April 11, 2003

I was about to cite 'Puyallup' as an example, adamgreenfield. The locals are wrong. There is no way you can get the official pronunciation out of that set of letters. It just won't work.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:13 AM on April 11, 2003

Oh, here's another one: Verdi, NV - just west of Reno on I-80, the first town you encounter when coming in from California. In complete defiance of its Italian namesake, it's pronounced "VUR-dey"...
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:14 AM on April 11, 2003

I recall taking a CTA bus when I first moved here and hearing "Goethe" pronounced "Go-EE-thee"...

Haven't heard that one before, but I believe it. There's also a street, Aldine, that the CTA drivers can't decide how to pronounce. all-DEEN. ALL-deen. all-DINE (like "to dine").
posted by dnash at 8:16 AM on April 11, 2003

Madrid, NM, was renamed (or repronounced) MAD-rid in the 1970s by the hippies who colonized the old mining town, claiming the place rid people of their madness.
posted by liam at 8:22 AM on April 11, 2003

Yeah, who do you think gives Miguel all his good links - namely all of them which are not via another site? Dig dig!

I remember Mencken (worse politics ever; best language skills, whether as user or scholar) once wrote an article about Baltimore pronunciation, where water was wooder, store was stewer, tiger was tagger, power mover was parramoor, clothes was clays and even Baltimore was balimur.

I've never been to Baltimore but it seemed to me, at the time, that this tendency to render words lazily and "eat" sounds was by no means confined to such a small, insignificant state Baltimore.
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 8:26 AM on April 11, 2003

power mower, I meant. Also iggle for eagle; arnjoos for orange juice; orals for Orioles and beero for bureau. Well, how many murkins don't say arnjoos? [Still drawing from Bill Bryson's above-mentioned book here.]
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 8:33 AM on April 11, 2003

Carlos, that iggle is also a Flufya thing. You know: the Flufya Iggles.

You want an aig with that? An iggle aig, maybe?

There must have been a MeFi thread about the linguist who claimed he could track people down to what block of the Bronx they'd grown up on based on their fricatives & plosives, no?
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:48 AM on April 11, 2003

Everyone else's language is written phonetically.

That is, of course, complete rubbish, as a billion Chinese will tell you.

And how would you pronounce the French événement?
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:50 AM on April 11, 2003

to such a small, insignificant state Baltimore.
Minor nit: Baltimore is a city.

posted by Shane at 9:05 AM on April 11, 2003

Don't forget Berkhamstead, pronounced Bastard.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:25 AM on April 11, 2003

Some time ago, I came across a Usenet posting from an Englishman, who responded to American griping about English placenames with the gentle reminder that, given "Kansas," the pronunciation of "Arkansas" was not, perhaps, self-evident.

Chili, NY (CHI-lye)

I live about fifteen-twenty minutes away from Chili. One of the first things you're told when you move to this area (Monroe County) is how to pronounce "Chili," lest you announce your newcomer status to all and sundry.

"Skaneateles" is good, too.

Incidentally, when it comes to "Saint John," you have to be careful. It's pronounced "Sinjun" as a first name, but often "Saint John" as a last name.

A couple of years ago, an Englishman informed me that "Blair" was pronounced "Blur" (he thought that was appropriate...) and that then-opposition leader "Hague" was really "Hogue." Confirmation?
posted by thomas j wise at 9:31 AM on April 11, 2003

Everyone else's language is written phonetically.

It's also rubbish if you consider regional and national pronounciation differences. For instance, most Latin Americans must learn which words take "c", "s" or "z", as we pronounce all 3 letters the same, (basically as "s"), whereas the Spanish pronounce them differently and, I suppose, have no problem knowing what word takes which. Add a silent "h", homophones and accents (regular and diacritic) and you have many, many opportunites for spelling blunders.
posted by signal at 9:41 AM on April 11, 2003

Reminds me of the one about the man learning English who threw up his hands and said "I quit!" after seeing a newspaper headline, "BAZAAR PRONOUNCED SUCCESS."

Also: Peer, ND.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:46 AM on April 11, 2003

A few more from north of 49:

Mabou, Nova Scotia - MAH-boo
Antigonish, Nova Scotia - Ann-uh-guh-NISH
Baddeck, Nova Scotia - Buh-DEHK
Newfoundland - New-fund-LAND or NEWF-un-lund (but never New-fownd-land)
Stouffville, Ontario - STOH-ville
posted by gompa at 9:46 AM on April 11, 2003, South Dakota.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:47 AM on April 11, 2003

Lake Orion, MI: OR-ee-on, instead of o-RYE-en
Beatrice, NE: be-AH-triss, instead of BEE-a-triss
Norfolk, NE: nor-FORK, instead of how people from Norfolk, VA pronounce it: NOR-fik
posted by eilatan at 9:58 AM on April 11, 2003

Gompa? Quite often on the CBC (well, their Windsor, Ontario, affiliate, anyway) the newscasters pronounce it "New-FOUND-land."

We've got some street names in this area with unlikely pronunciations: "Schoenherr", for example, is "SHAY-nur." "Dubois" is "DOO-boy." And I can't write out the phonetic spelling of "Gratiot" in polite company.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:00 AM on April 11, 2003

One of my all time favorites is "Gough" Street in San Francisco. I've heard people call it Gawf, gouch, goodge, gow, go, and guff.

I call it "goo" (rhymes with "through," natch).

Versailles, Tennessee > Versales
Cairo, Illinois > KAY-ro.

It was a major base for the US Army during the Civil War. I've been there many times going from Virginia to Missouri to visit relatives. The last time I was there, I had a catfish sandwich.

people from Norfolk, VA pronounce it: NOR-fik

I remember it sounding more like, well, NOR-fuk.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:02 AM on April 11, 2003

OK, here I am. [Insert standard lecture on how the local pronunciation is the pronunciation, and there's no such thing as "right" and "wrong" in these matters—you don't seriously expect English speakers to pronounce Goethe with an umlauted o, do you?]

On local place names, I had an entry on Languagehat a few months ago on that very subject, starting off with some wildly varying ways to say "Kosciusko"; here are some highlights from the comments:
Virtually every other town in Massachusetts is pronounced oddly.
Gloucester -> "Glosster"
Leominster -> "Luhminster"
Woburn -> "Wooburn"
Falmouth -> "Falmuth"
Massachusetts -> "this fawkin' place"
Posted by: alkali at January 7, 2003 06:17 PM

Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto, is pronounced by locals as Etobico (that is, with a silent -ke).
Posted by: Gideon Strauss at January 8, 2003 10:02 AM

Anyway, nearly all the towns named after foreign cities that are in Illinois have mispronounced names. I live near Vienna (VIE-an-nuh, as in the word "vie"), Cairo ("KEH-roh") is south of us, then there's New Berlin ("BUR-lin"), and Athens (EI-thens, like the word "eight").
Posted by: Chris at January 10, 2003 02:08 PM

I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, where a few things aren't quite as they seem. Legare Street downtown is "luh-GREE". Vanderhorst Street is "VAN-dross". Huger Street is "YOU-gee."
Posted by: CGHill at January 12, 2003 08:38 PM
There's also a Pfafftown said "pofftown" and a Goethe pronounced "GAY-tee." I love this stuff.

As for "English is perhaps the only language where children need to be taught to spell": English is, of course, the worst, but there are weird spellings/pronunciations in lots of languages. How would you know that the French pronounce Enghien /aN-geN/ (the i is silent), or that the Viennese pronounce Lueger (the name of a famous mayor a century ago) "loo-AY-ger"? And Jessamyn, fess up: it's not always clear whether the final -i is silent or not in Romanian, is it?
posted by languagehat at 10:09 AM on April 11, 2003

What's up with those Pacific Northwesters?

er, we want you to stay away? And also Mars, it's true about the pronunciation, but as I'm sure you know, it's because it's just plain old not a word in English. This begs another question, when we English speakers use words borrowed from other languages, is it more respectful/appropriate to use English pronunciation or the approximation of the actual pronunciation? Amarillo TX comes to mind, as well as listening to people try to say Copenhagen.

Side note: when I was in Romania, they had one vowel that was not in the English vowel set, sort of an oo with an umlaut sound. Not many words used it, but two that did were lamii [lemon -- like in Lemon-ster, which is how I say Leominster] and lamîi [cunt, essentially]. When we would go to the market, people would try really hard to get us to buy lemons from them, we would only point and say "two please." And, languagehat, yeah somtimes the final I adds more of a syllable and sometimes it's just aspirated but I think it's always based on the consonant before the pair of I's. Not quite phonetic, true.
posted by jessamyn at 10:14 AM on April 11, 2003

Having spent a considerable amount of my growing-up years in Spokane, Washington, I found it amusing to hear non-locals call it "Spo-cane"(as in Caine Mutiny), rather than the accepted "Spo-can". What was less amusing was hearing people pronounce Washington as "Warshington." Another pet peeve, hearing "tagger" for tiger. Ah well, regional differences abound, and I became even more aware of that on a visit to Lompoc, California, which is pronounced "Lom-poke" by locals, not "Lom-pock".
posted by Lynsey at 10:19 AM on April 11, 2003

My favourites have to be Lea Andersons excellent:

Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs

(pron. Chumleys and Fanshaws)
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:27 AM on April 11, 2003

Gompa? Quite often on the CBC (well, their Windsor, Ontario, affiliate, anyway) the newscasters pronounce it "New-FOUND-land."

Oriole, I wouldn't dispute this. It's a frequent Upper Canadian error.

In my experience, the further east you get in the Maritimes, the more baroque the pronunciation of place names. Nova Scotia's got more local tics than New Brunswick, Cape Breton's got more than mainland Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland's got more than Cape Breton. Say "New-FOUND-land" anywhere east of Moncton, and they'll know immediately that you're "from away," b'y.
posted by gompa at 10:48 AM on April 11, 2003

One of my all time favorites is "Gough" Street in San Francisco. I've heard people call it Gawf, gouch, goodge, gow, go, and guff.

I call it "goo" (rhymes with "through," natch).

Natives pronounce it "goth", appropriately enough. It's an easy way to pick out newbies. That and prounouncing San Jose as "San Joe-ZAY".

What really annoys me is when my fellow Irish Americans pronounce Mayo, may-o instead of MAY-yo or pronouncing Meath "meeTH" instead of "meeth" with a slight d sound with the th. I know, it's petty

The Glouchester/Gluester thing drives me nuts. That and the different pronouncations of bow (bou for a tied ribbon and the front of a ship, and as in "bow and arrow; and bow which rhymes with with ow for bending at the waist).

Despite speaking English from birth, I sometimes feel like an ESL student.
posted by echolalia67 at 11:00 AM on April 11, 2003

Late to the thread yet again, but no less an authority than Dr. Johnson lived on Gough Square in London.

And Cirencester is pronounced somewhere between "sister" and "sester."
posted by Vidiot at 11:44 AM on April 11, 2003

Foreigners? I've lived in the Los Angeles area since I was 5-and-a-half, but when I moved up to Fresno for my short-lived radio career, I was confronted on my first solo on-air shift with a totally mysterious place name: Tuolumne. I was taken aside the next day and told: "not TOO-uh-lum-un, it's Too-AH-lum-ee".

But then, here in El Lay, try to decode:
Figueroa: FIG-er-oh-ah
Van Nuys: Van NIZE
Tujunga: Tuh-HUNG-gah

But then, I have relatives in Central Ohio where there's the only town pronounced WOO-ster that is SPELLED Wooster.
posted by wendell at 12:28 PM on April 11, 2003

WOO-ster that is SPELLED Wooster.

But the "Woos" is as in "wusse" (like, "You wussie!") or "foot," I believe. Not like "Woo hoo!" (or John Woo.)
posted by Shane at 12:46 PM on April 11, 2003

Staunton, VA (pronounced "STAN-ton").

In case anyone cares, that's because the city was named after Lady Rebecca Stanton, the wife of Governor Gooch, but someone early on thought it looked more "elegant" with a U. So it's really the spelling that's an abberation, not the pronunciation.

Virginia also has a MON-tuh VIHD-ee-o and another BYOO-na VIHS-ta, as well as Fries, which is pronounced Fries or Freeze according to the season. Richmond's Powhite Bridge is either POW-hite or PO-white.

When I was in Newfoundland a few years ago, someone explained the emphasis to me this way: "Newfies call it New-found-LAND because it's their land. Europeans call it New-FOUND-land because they found it. And Americans call it NEW-found-land because it's new to them." None of which makes the least bit of sense to me.
posted by hippugeek at 1:27 PM on April 11, 2003

The South has some -ville issues. I grew up in Greenville, SC, and it's Green-vuhl. I believe the same goes for Nash-vuhl, TN.
posted by alou73 at 1:29 PM on April 11, 2003

I know these posts were a long way back, but i've just got back from work.

1. Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic are the same age - they've drifted apart from the same root.

2. Sorry, but Launceston should be pronounced Lahnsen.

The second is a good example of the English writing something down wrong and then deciding it should be pronounced there way. (It is derived from the Cornish Lanstefan)

Sorry, obscure linguistic ramble over, enjoy your weekend.
posted by lerrup at 1:56 PM on April 11, 2003

Miguel, Italian is *much worse* than portuguese. Though some of the constructs look a little bit like english, the plurals and absence of pronouns can drive you completely insane.
posted by falameufilho at 2:34 PM on April 11, 2003

I remember it sounding more like, well, NOR-fuk.

The vowel, to my ear, sounds somewhere between "fik" and "fuk", depending on who's doing the speaking. I decided to use the vowel which sounded less, ah, obscene.
posted by eilatan at 3:44 PM on April 11, 2003

oh, and my favorite:
Beaufort, NC is pronounced "BOW-fort" (as in bow and arrow);
Beaufort, SC (same spelling!) is pronounced "byew-fort.", as if it were spelled "buford."
posted by Vidiot at 3:56 PM on April 11, 2003

Carlos Quevedo, quite a few of those pronunciations of English towns are jokes or local variations of the true name, they're not actually the real/formal way you pronounce the names. Chichester is not pronounced 'chester' 10 miles or more outside of the place.
posted by wackybrit at 8:33 PM on April 11, 2003

that's because the city was named after Lady Rebecca Stanton, the wife of Governor Gooch

This one made me laugh - Someone prettying up the "Stanton" with a "u" when the Missus just escaped by a hairbreadth being called good old "Becky Gooch".

(oh, and I'm surprised no one has mentioned the crescent city: call it N'awlins, call N'Orlenz, call it New ORleans, but just don't call it Noo OrlEENz!)
posted by taz at 8:45 PM on April 11, 2003

My mother was born in Cape Breton (Gaberus, pronounced Gah-ber-oose) and lived in Newfoundland for a couple of years, and pronounces it "Noofinlaan".

As to Toronto, you can tell a someone from a native by what they call it. My mother, being from Cape Breton, calls it Toronto, albeit she's lived there long enough to properly say "Trahna" rather than "To-ron-to" as out-of-town Americans do. I, being from Etobicrack by way of the The Sog, with friends in The Ham, Borington and the Shwa, and now living in K-town, call it TO. I can't think of a town in southern Ontario the locals bother to call by its real name, for that matter. Maybe Thunder Bay?
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:50 PM on April 11, 2003

In beautiful Ventura County, CA, is the town of Port Hueneme (pronounced why-NEE-me, natch!)

Another Central California standby similar to Tuolumne is Mokelumne.
posted by Guy Smiley at 8:43 AM on April 12, 2003

What a great post. Specially to those of us that do not have English as a first language.

Some stuff that came to my mind while I was reading all the posts:

.Portuguese: I've always said that Portuguese is not a language. It's more like a secret code. Portuguese is the last flower from Lascio, according to parnasian poet Olavo Bilac, meaning that it's the last modern language originated from Latin.

Anyone wondering if it really is phonetic should try figuring out how we, Portuguese speakers, pronounce 'sc', 'ss', 'xc' 'ç', 'xç' and 'c'. I can think of many words with those combos where they all have basically the same sound. I think the difference is that we have some grammar rules about using it right.

Mo Nickels' remark about Chinese not being phonetic made me think about something that Freud has written. Freud's Conference XV about criticism to his theory states that some Chinese languages are based on several syllabic sounds that can be used isolated or paired up with other syllabic sounds, given a limited amount of possible combinations.

However, some of those languages have a broader vocabulary, meaning that some of those syllabic sounds have several meanings. Therefore, there are several methods to avoid ambiguity while speaking, because context can't assure the right meaning. Also, he states that this particular language he's writing about (I think it's Mandarin) has practically no grammar or inflections (meaning that it's a hard task to acknowledge case, gender, number, tense, person, mood, or voice). Understanding the real meaning is up to the person listening and the listener ends up using the context as a guide.

His point is: the remarks/attacks on his theory (specially Dreams and Interpretations) being vague and lacking proof were not new and in a certain way, there are ancient languages that are also ambiguous (as he states that several elements of the dreams lack a meaning even after the interpretation is done) and that rely on the interpretation of the meaning by the reader/listener (he mentions other examples). This links both ancient languages and dream interpretation as 'primitive' systems of expression.

that the speakers had to really work hard on the context of the sentence so they could understand it right.
posted by rexgregbr at 11:15 AM on April 12, 2003

Hey we're recycling old Gallagher bits!

Why is c-o-m-b pronounced comb, and b-o-m-b is bomb?

The unfixed nature of English spelling and pronounciation is what gives it its character. As Andrew Jackson said...

"It is a damn poor mind indeed which can't think of at least two ways to spell any word."
posted by wrench at 11:52 AM on April 12, 2003

rexgregbr: I respectfully suggest that Freud, however you feel about his contributions to the study of the human psyche, is not the person to go to for insights into Chinese, about which he clearly knew nothing whatever. All languages have about the same amount of "grammar" and similar numbers of "words," however each of these ideas may be expressed (except that a few languages have extra-large vocabularies because of long literary histories and frequent borrowing); there is no such thing as a "primitive" language, or an "ambiguous" one. Chinese words are generally bisyllabic; they just write each syllable with a separate character. Their sentences are just as readily comprehensible as English ones (which is to say, it depends on whether the speaker is comprehensible, not on the language).
posted by languagehat at 8:30 PM on April 12, 2003

Why is c-o-m-b pronounced comb, and b-o-m-b is bomb?

Exactly, wrench! Is it any wonder we foreigners can't cope? Rexgregbr: Bravo! Bravura performance, in fact. I'm Argentinian, I've lived in Portugal for over twenty years and I still can't speak/pronounce the exclusionist lingo. But when I visit Buenos Aires, my old friends can't understand me either. Portuguese is a devil's curse, to be sure.

Here are a few other "difficult to explain" cases, from Bryson:

heard - beard
road - broad
five - give
early - dearly
beau - beauty
steak - streak
ache - moustache [Not really fair, I know.]
low - how
doll - droll [idem]
scour - four
grieve - sieve
paid - said
break - speak.

Case dismissed!
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 12:16 AM on April 13, 2003

hippugeek: Thanks for the "Staunton" explanation. I didn't know that.
posted by rusty at 6:29 AM on April 13, 2003

nd I can't write out the phonetic spelling of "Gratiot" in polite company.

What's impolite about GRASH-it?
posted by kindall at 10:31 AM on April 13, 2003

Oh, and you forgot Hamtramck. There is a disturbing undersupply of vowels in that name.
posted by kindall at 10:32 AM on April 13, 2003

Languagehat: yes, I know that Freud is not the best source for insights about Chinese (on second thoughts, maybe Lacan was a better choice - just kidding). I just wanted to add that because it came to my mind (maybe because I've read it 2 or 3 days before) and I tought about it while I was reading the posts...

By the way, I'm enjoying your webpage a lot and it's clear that from now on, I'll know who to call when I want some insights on Chinese. :-) Thanks.
posted by rexgregbr at 4:47 PM on April 13, 2003

The English place names can easily be extrapolated from imagined colloquial pronunciations of illiterate Englishmen.

I would imagine that the best linguists are able to reconstruct these things. Indeed, people have been able to reconstruct ancient Chinese, however dubiously.

As for Chinese itself, it seems to me, a non fluent (beyond elementary school) speaker, that it relies a lot more on context and imagined things than English.

Not that is a chore to figure out the context, but rather, much more meaning can be condensed into a few words compared to English. I am referring particularly to various 'proverbs', but this may be a feature of both their ancient source (Chinese had more actively used words in the past I think) and the illiteracy of the masses.

However when I read Chinese, however limited my ability, I still retain the imaginings behind the word, the background context, such that each word holds more meaning than its approximate English equivalent.

This could be because Chinese is not my primary language and by virtue of the fact that it is, after all, a different language, I am switching to the different and appropriate meanings for Chinese, which have no exact counterpart in English. It may also be that my illiteracy and slow reading rate hinders me and I pay too close attention to the visual formation of the words. Furthermore, there are fewer words, and I also know fewer words.

The end result is I have more time to contemplate fewer words which often have visual components. I also need to access all their associated meanings in order to understand because my limited vocabulary and little use does not allow for snap to contextual placement.

For instance 'Tian', which means heaven and also day. It is of course related to sky.
I tend to imagine all the meanings. And they are related; people who cannot see these things are, IMO, not qualified to study much less teach in the field.

Similarly 'heaven', in English, can mean the spiritual realm above or the sky or space etc - but I only get a little piece of the meaning and the specific meaning is determined by contextual placement. This instantly. Of course I have to know the other words standing idly by the word 'heaven'. ^^

btw I have hated 'writing' class ever since we stopped writing stories i.e. mid middle school. writing class = teh sux0r!
k thx bai
posted by firestorm at 3:12 AM on April 14, 2003

« Older Pass The Tissues   |   Let's melt the f#$%ers down and make 'smores! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments