Archive for Pronunciation

Respect the local pronunciation: runza and Henri

After I left Omaha and headed westward on Route 30 / Lincoln Highway, I began to notice that every little town along the way with a population of around three thousand or more had a restaurant called Runza.  My instinct was to pronounce that "roon-zuh", but the people around here say "run-zuh".

Because I was not familiar with them, at first I didn't pay much attention to the Runza restaurants, but then I saw a sign that said they made legendary burgers.  Since I'm a burger freak, always in quest of a superior hamburger, by the time I reached Cozad — which somehow has captured my heart, for more than one reason — I decided to stop in and try one.

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Still more Mongolic

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San Francisco Cantonese

From Charles Belov:

While riding the 22 Fillmore bus through the Mission District in San Francisco today, I overheard a conversation in Cantonese. It was nearly 100% in Cantonese, not the Cantlish* that I rarely also hear. What surprised me, though, was when one of the elderly speakers said "Hong Kong" they used the English pronunciation, not the Cantonese one. Aside from those two words, it was all in Cantonese.

And my Cantonese is so minimal that I know nothing of the topic of their conversation aside from the words "faan heui," to return-go, shortly after which the words "Hong Kong" occurred. Not that it would be any of my business – I don't care what people say; I just care how they say it.

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Words for Water Being Sent to the Moon Europa

"Water", "water", everywhere — and it's pronounced differently wherever you go.

See the dozen or so US and UK phonetic and phonemic transcriptions and audio clips provided by Wiktionary here.  The last of the US audio clips even has the trace of an initial "h", as some people pronounce "wh-" interrogatives.


From Marc Sarrel

I recently heard about an engraving that is attached to the Europa Clipper spacecraft, to be launched to the moon of Jupiter in October of this year.  Europa likely has a large liquid water ocean underneath its shell of water ice.  There is more liquid water on Europa than on Earth.

The vault plate features waveforms for the word “water” in 103 spoken languages, plus a symbol that represents the word in American Sign Language.  If you scroll down a bit on the page, you can choose one of the languages, see the waveform and hear the spoken word.

I think this is a really compelling way to represent the common link between Earth and Europa.

I agree with Marc.

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"There's no T in Scranton"

According to Jennifer Bendery, "At 81, Joe Biden Is Still The Last Guy To Leave The Party", Huffington Post 3/8/2024:

After his State of the Union speech, the president was so eager to keep talking to people he didn't care that the lights went down or that hot mics picked him up.


“Thank you, man,” said Biden, before shaking someone else’s hand and pointing at him. “You know there’s no T in ‘Scranton.’ It’s Scran-un!”

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Sanskrit is far from extinct

[This is the first of two consecutive posts on things Indian.  After reading them, if someone is prompted to send me material for a third, I'll be happy to make it a trifecta.]

Our entry point to the linguistically compelling topic of today's post is this Nikkei Asia (11/29/23) article by Barkha Shah in its "Tea Leaves" section:

Why it's worth learning ancient Sanskrit in the modern world:

India’s classical language is making a comeback via Telegram and YouTube

The author begins with a brief introduction to the language:

The language had its heyday in ancient India. The Vedas, a collection of poems and hymns, were written in Sanskrit between 1500 and 1200 B.C., along with other literary texts now known as the Upanishads, Granths and Vedangas. But while Sanskrit became the foundation for many (though not all) modern Indian languages, including Hindi, it faded away as a living tongue.

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The changing accents of British English

King’s English and Cockney replaced by three new accents, study finds

Britons depart from overtly class-based post-war speech epitomised by either clipped vowels or working-class dialects

By Charles Hymas, The Telegraph, Home Affairs Editor 

I vaguely recall an earlier study from about ten years ago that came to similar conclusions (including the emergence of a "multicultural" accent).  It's not surprising that differences would gradually diminish, especially under the influence of enhanced, pervasive mass communications and increased population mobility.

What we see, though, is that, as the older, established accents wither away, new ones arise among various shifting cultural, ethnic, and social regroupings.

Remember the Valley Girl accent, which people used to talk about a lot ten or twenty years ago?  Where is it now?

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Prince of pronunciation

Many people have the (mis)perception that the French (mis)pronounce all languages with a heavy accent.  It turns out that the gold standard for correct pronunciation of borrowed words is a French gentilhomme /ʒɑ̃.ti.jɔm/.

How to Pronounce the Trickiest English Words: Ask This Frenchman

Millions of Americans, the curious and the insecure, consult Julien Miquel for help with words such as Worcestershire, macabre, and Siobhan

By Joe Pinsker
WSJ, Oct. 30, 2023

Read / listen to this article.  You're in for une gâterie.


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Language as a (nonviolent) weapon

From the movie "Jak rozpętałem drugą wojnę światową" (How I Unleashed World War II):

The initial Q&A:

Q: Name und Vorname?
A: Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz.

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Pronouncing "DeSantis"

The question of how to pronounce Ron DeSantis' last name — and the observation that the candidate, his wife, and his campaign have made different choices at different times — is among the more trivial bits of political flotsam recently washing up on the shores of social and political media. In fact the issue has been discussed in the media since 2018, but it was revived last March by Donald Trump's references on Truth Social to  johnny maga's 3/16/2023 tweet, and more recently in PR moves by Trump's campaign  — "Trumpworld is attacking DeSantis over his inconsistent name pronunciation: 'If you can't get your name right, how can you lead a country?'" (Insider 6/1/2023). A few more links to coverage over the years:

"Tomato, Tomahto; Dee-Santis, Deh-Santis" (Tampa Bay Times 9/20/2018)
"Floridians don't know how to pronounce Ron DeSantis' last name" (News4Jax 9/24/2018)
"DeSantis accused of changing pronunciation of his own name" (Independent 3/21/2023)
"Ron DeSantis Can’t Decide How to Pronounce His Own Name" (New York Magazine 3/17/2023)
"Dee-Santis or Deh-Santis? His team won't say" (Axios 6/1/2023)
"Is Ron DeSantis Forgetting the Way His Wife Wants Him to Pronounce His Name?" (Slate 6/2/2023)
"DeSantis on correct pronunciation of last name: ‘Winner’" (The Hill 6/2/2023)

I agree with Gov. DeSantis that Trump's attacks on his name pronunciation choices are "petty" and "juvenile". But the topic engages some non-trivial linguistic questions:

  1. What kind of name is DeSantis, anyhow? If it's Italian, where does the initial "De" come from?
  2. What are the phonetic variants actually or potentially used in pronouncing the first syllable of "DeSantis" in American English?
  3. What are (some of) the socio-phonetic factors influencing the choice, and which of them are likely to be involved in this case?

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Some recent news and posts from

OMG, it’s nougat (4/15/23) — "OMG" borrowed into Mandarin

A long post on puns, multiscriptal writing, and the difficulties of Hanzi.

Puns piled upon puns.

Microsoft Translator and Pinyin (4/15/23)

Microsoft's not very good character-to-Pinyin conversion.

They have the resources and could surely do better.

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Mandarin with an English accent

Something very funny happened to me earlier today, funny enough that I would like to share it with all Language Log readers who may be desirous of something more than a cup of coffee to perk them up on a gray, midweek morning.

I entered the following Mandarin expression into Google Translate and wanted to hear it pronounced by the machine:  衷心感謝 ("heartfelt thanks").  So I clicked on the speaker button, but, by mistake, I had it set to English rather than to Chinese.  What I heard was Mandarin with an English accent!

When set to Chinese, the machine pronounces 衷心感謝 properly and precisely:  zhōngxīn gǎnxiè.  When set erroneously to English, it sounds like an American reading out romanized Mandarin, with the "correct" suprasegmental intonation and all, but, of course, paying absolutely no attention to lexical tones.  Amazingly, it's still understandable, which replicates the experiments my wife used to make by going up to strangers on American streets and asking them to read pinyin Mandarin to native speakers.  She was always triumphant when the native speakers could understand most of what the English speakers were reading.

I had the machine read 衷心感謝 in French, Spanish, Italian, German, and other languages, and they all had their own special "flavor".

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