Archive for Pronunciation

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 Pinyin.info

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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BYD — the look and the sound

Yesterday, Charlie Munger, the 99-year-old billionaire Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, declared that the Chinese company, BYD, was beating Tesla in the electric vehicle (EV) market.  I had never heard of BYD, so I asked my students from mainland China what "BYD" meant.

They all seemed to consider the apparent initialism as though it were an English word, pronouncing it Beeyah'di, making the second syllable long and stressed.  I pursued by asking, "But what does it mean?  What does it stand for?"

They said, "It doesn't mean anything and it doesn't stand for anything.  It's just the name of a car company:  Beeyah'di."

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Sitting in a Starbucks

No, I wasn't reading "a long list of ex-lovers".  I was sitting there writing a Language Log post about DeepL (probably next up after this one).  Across from me was a man with a big red beard.  I was writing a LL post on my beloved little, old MacBook Air and he was writing a long list of components, parts, and numbers, mixed in with some sketched diagrams on a white legal pad.

He seemed to be diligent, and he looked like a constructor, a builder of houses.  Finally, curiosity got the best of me, so I walked over and asked him, "What is that you're writing?" 

"I'm working on a kwow", he replied.

"A what?" I asked.

"A kwow," he repeated.

I thought maybe he was saying "crow", but doing something funny with the "r".  So I asked him to write it down on a piece of paper.

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It's "Hammie", not "Ammie"

"Baby Blues" by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott for January 16, 2023:


(source)

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How many syllables in "World Cup"?

I started to ponder this problem because, over in the comments section of "The value and validity of translation for learning classical languages" (12/9/22) where we are having an energetic discussion about how to pronounce "www", Philip Taylor averred, "I pronounce it as 'World-wide web' (i.e., three syllables)".

That took me a bit aback.  Made me stop and think.

It must mean that Philip, and most people, I suppose, think they pronounce "world" as though it had one syllable.  Fair enough.  That's what all dictionaries and online resources I've consulted hold:  "world" has only one syllable.

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More wonders of Google

I was trying to find an old post I wrote about a dictionary of Japanese pronunciations of Chinese characters and put this in the Google search engine:  victor mair language log dictionary japanese pronunciation (no quotation marks).  I was thunderstruck by the first result (out of 188,000):

victor mair language log       –>       ヴィクトル・メアの言語ログ 

Vu~ikutoru mea no gengo rogu

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Mount a chariot

This has always been a bone of contention with me ever since I started studying Buddhology and Sinology in the late 60s and early 70s, when everybody I knew — Chinese and foreigners, scholars and laypersons alike — pronounced 大乘 and 小乘, the Chinese equivalents of Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna, respectively as dàchéng and xiǎochéng.  But that didn't make sense to me, since Mahayana means "Great Vehicle" and Hīnayāna means "Small Vehicle", i.e., modifier + noun construction, so I formed the opinion that, in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) they should be pronounced as dàshèng and xiǎoshèng.  Consequently, I began to use these pronunciations — dàshèng and xiǎoshèng — for Mahayana and Hinayana, rather than dàchéng and xiǎochéng.  At first it seemed odd, causing editors and reviewers to "correct" me.  Slowly, however, over the decades, other scholars began to adopt these readings, dàshèng and xiǎoshèng, until now most knowledgeable Buddhist specialists use them, although the lay public, by and large, still pronounce them dàchéng and xiǎochéng.

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