If you're uneducated you say it right

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The most famous of all Finnish composers is surely Sibelius. His Latin name is that of his originally Swedish-speaking family, though he was born in Finland when it was a Grand Duchy within Russia, and his parents educated him in a Finnish-language school. In Latin (and in Swedish) the name Sibelius would have stress on the second syllable: Si..li.us. But in Finnish there is an invariant rule that all words are stressed on the first syllable. So how on earth do the Finns say the name of this celebrated composer and Finnish nationalist?

The answer is simple enough, and raises an interesting point. If you are a completely uneducated monolingual Finnish speaker, you would say .pe.li.us. (I wrote p, not b, because Finnish doesn't really have b at all in names.) But if you are an educated person and a European sophisticate, you will break the Finnish rule and say Si..li.us, just like a Swede or a Roman.

Here we see a complete pulling apart of the usual prescriptivist assumptions. It is standardly alleged to be ignorant and lazy people who break the rules and corrupt the language with foreign borrowings and speak it badly. Educated people, it is assumed, know the rules and speak correctly. However, in this domain it is the ignorant people who say it "right", if we take the usual Finnish stress rule to define what is right for Finnish (and I don't see what else we can assume). Educated cosmopolitans say the name of this great Finn in a clearly un-Finnish way — and pick up kudos for mangling it in that way.

It's the same with other aspects of the phonology. For example, Finnish doesn't allow a two-consonant cluster at the beginning of a word, so (as Sally Thomason recently pointed out to me) the word for "stalagmite" is talakmiti, pronounced .lak.mi.ti; but if you are a Euro-sophisticated geology Ph.D. you will say stá.lag.mi.ti.

This shouldn't be too surprising: English speakers who don't know any French say "vinn blonk" and "restront" and "jeaner" and "notra dayme" while Euro-sophisticated English speakers attempt pronunciations a lot closer to the French vin blanc, restaurant, genre, and Notre Dame. The sophisticates deliberately anglicize less. And gain prestige by corrupting English with Frenchisms.

When it comes to pronunciation, it's clearly the ordinary untutored folk who learn the rules more deeply and follow them more accurately. Yet in grammar, for no apparent reason, it is typically assumed that the ordinary folk have no idea how to deploy their language correctly. Doesn't seem quite right, does it?


  1. Bob O'H said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 7:27 am

    Wouldn't Sibelius' name be considered foreign (i.e. Swedish, as his family was from the duck pond), and hence pronounced in the foreign way? Just like football commentators (eventually) learned to pronounce Hyypiä in the Finnish way (and not "Hippier").

    I hope you're enjoying Helsinki. Sorry it's not as cold as it should be, but at least you've got snow.

  2. Sam said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 7:53 am

    Being a Swedish-speaking Finn, like Sibelius was, he would himself always have pronounced it in the Swedish way, like I do, regardless of language.

    IMHO, (person) names are in that strange category where there exists a normative pronounciation: that of the person him/herself.

    As Finland is officially bilingual, and Swedish still is compulsory in schools even if a very small minority speaks it (about 6%), everyone learns how to pronounce Swedish; surnames in Swedish are very common and most are pronounced the Swedish way. Having said that, like the post asserts this is changing: the majority language dominates more and more, even when pronouncing names in the other domestic language.

    Rather interesting, Finland is the only country where Swedish is an official language as Sweden does not legislate the language.

  3. RNB said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 7:54 am

    Yes, I agree with BO'H, it seems odd to me that you have repeatedly used the word right (i.e. correct) for local pronunciation of a "foreign" word whereas, until that word is fully accepted by everybody into English, it is surely not "corrupting" English to bring in additional vocabulary?

  4. Boris Blagojević said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 7:58 am

    I've always found such overzealousness in name pronunciation unnerving. As I've already commented once here, the best approximation you can get with your native language's sound inventory and constraints is quite good enough, you don't have to insert a couple of foreign sounds in every other sentence just to sound smart, educated, politically correct, or whatever.

    As for the cultural attitude and the difference you mention between grammar and pronunciation, I guess it's quite understandable. Learning an imaginary set of rules takes effort, and so does learning to pronounce non-native sounds and syllables. If it takes effort, it can be used to show how well-educated or sophisticated one is.

  5. jo said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 8:39 am

    Language Log (Arnold Zwicky's posts in particular) introduced me to the usefulness of considering the conflict between faithfulness and well-formedness in many areas of language. And since then, I have always thought of the choice considered in this post of whether to naturalise the pronunciation of a foreign word, or to approximate its pronunciation in its original language as one of these conflicts. That is, at times speakers (or at least, those who have the resources available to do so) choose between a faithful, original-like pronunciation of a word, or a well-formed, naturalised one which fits in with the phonological and prosodic rules of the language.

    I suppose it's true to say that sometimes the faithful variant carrys higher prestige than the WF variant, but as previous comments have mentioned, excessive faithfulness in this area can be seen as pretentions, and can even make speakers difficult to understand.

  6. Morgan said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 8:48 am

    Even if Finland weren't an officially bilingual country – and historically even more bilingual – I think your comments about the "rightness" of pronunciation would still not ring quite right to me because, as Sam said, Sibelius is a name – and while names are subject to a certain amount of change when people can't produce the sounds, the general practice is to try to pronounce it the way the person does, and not translate or loan-wordify it.

    It seemed to me that you meant to suggest that Sibelius having been schooled in Finnish-language schools would negate the importance of Swedish as a native language, but in fact, it's quite common for Swedish-speakers to go to Finnish schools and increasingly common for Finns to attend Swedish schools. This doesn't change the native language, or the language of home life. When you say that educated Finns (ie native speakers of Finnish) pronounce Swedish names un-Finnishly, they're only pronouncing them counter to the rules of Finnish language, not in an unnatural, politically foreign, or particularly unfamiliar way, since, as Sam points out, they are exposed to Swedish names and place names all their lives, and to Swedish to the about the extent that Canadians are exposed to French.

  7. Jeffrey Kallberg said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 9:00 am

    Perhaps the educated/uneducated explanation is not so simple as asserted here. I attended a Sibelius conference at Helsinki in 2000, and noted then that a good proportion of the Finnish participants stressed the first syllable of his name. It seemed like a pretty sophisticated crowd at this conference, but maybe the Lakka had clouded my judgment.

    Maybe the solution is to revert to his original Swedish surname, Sibbe.

  8. Jens Fiederer said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 9:12 am

    I'm not sure there is really a difference in pronunciation of the SAME word between the sophisticates and the untutored – I believe they are actually pronouncing different words, in a sense. The sophisticate does not hesitate to pronounce a word borrowed from another language with its original pronunciation (or at least tries). The untutored pronounces a newer word, a word that is now a member of his own language, and thus uses the rules of the borrowing language.

    The cosmopolitan may also use quite a few words from other languages that can not be said to have made it into his native language yet, and would not be pronounced by the untutored at all, unless they came up somehow in reading material.

  9. Nicholas Waller said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 9:55 am

    I should imagine many if not most words borrowed into English from other languages are pronounced in a kind of halfway fashion – café in English is not pronounced exactly in the various French ways (say, "caff'eh"), and more like "caffay" than "cayfe" or "caff" (except that "caff" is quite common). In British – as opposed to American – English we would say notra dahm rather than noter dayme or whatever is precisely the French pronunciation.

    I get mildly irritated when people make an exaggerated attempt to pronounce "Perigueux" the French way in the middle of an English sentence. Similarly the English for Paris is "Parris", not "Paree", just as the French for "London" is "Londres"; I don't expect a French person speaking French to come to a screeching halt in their flow and pronounce "Manchester" in a Mancunian fashion.

    As for the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland – they must have pretty good language teaching there. When I worked for the US college publisher Prentice Hall our new Finland area rep was a Swedish-speaking Finn. Before coming to our sales meeting in Leicester she'd spent only four days in an English-speaking country in her life, yet her command of idiomatic English was good enough not only to understand but to make subtle comments and jokes in English, some of which went over the heads of a few of the native English speakers among us.

  10. Dave Herman said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 10:21 am

    It gets even more fun with the Italian-Argentinian composer Ginastera. Most smug sophisticates pronounce the first letter with a gutteral "kh" sound as you would in Spanish, but some super-smug super-snobs have decided to pronounce the first letter as a soft "j" like the Italian; since it's an Italian name, that must be the "correct" way. Except Ginastera himself was Argentinian and pronounced it "kh". What's a prescriptivist to do?

  11. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 10:43 am

    Personally, I tend to agree with Boris and Nicholas. If you're speaking English, it can be distracting or maybe even pretentious-seeming to stop to pronounce place names in a manner approximating the local pronunciation instead of the English pronunciation. "Florence" or "Warsaw" is fine when speaking English; we're hardly required to say "Firenze" or "Warszawa".

    I guess according to my own aesthetic preferences, the uneducated monolingual way sounds better. For me, well-formedness trumps faithfulness. One can't be faithful to arbitrarily many foreign pronunciation systems. When speaking language X, it makes sense to follow the conventions of language X.

    Having said all this, it does seem reasonable to say that with names of individuals, courtesy requires us to at least make a reasonable approximant to how they themselves say it. But even there, there are limits. My own (real) first name (not Skullturf) contains a short i. But when somebody whose language doesn't distinguish between "bit" and "beet" says my name, I don't correct them even though their pronunciation seems slightly "off" to me. I have to accept that everything they say is limited by the constraints of their own dialect.

    Incidentally, this business about personal names and faithfulness reminds me of an interesting phenomenon. When you meet a North American with an Italian or Polish surname (say), and you're trying to guess how that person pronounces their name, you often have to indulge in a little guessing game where you think, "Most likely their name is somewhat Anglicized. But in what way exactly?"

  12. Roger said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    A Finnish friend of mine said that she would pronounce it as Si.bé.li.us. in the nominative with stress on the second syllable and a /b/, but as Sí.pe.li.uk.sen with stress on the first syllable and /p/ in the genitive (and all other cases), presumably because once you use any non-nominative case the word is Finnicized to a greater extent. She also said that she only learned how to pronounce /b/ as an adult, even though she had always thought she could. Only after hearing herself on tape could she be convinced that her b was in fact identical to her p.

  13. Eyebrows McGee said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    ""notra dayme" … and Notre Dame"

    False positive! The University confuses the issue, since Americans (at any rate) are far more often talking about the University than the Cathedral, and the University is "Noter Dayme." (Not "notra," Bob Costas! NOT NOTRA!)

    Actually, the University takes no position on the pronunciation, but everyone says it "Noter Dayme." And then it wants to carry over to when you're talking about the cathedral even if you "know better." :)

    I was actually interested by how many "French" words were pronounced in an Anglophone way in the UK that are more typically pronounced in a French way in the US — and of course now that I mention it, the only one I can think of is "fillet." The Brits order a "fillet of beef" while the Americans order a "fil-AY of beef." I suspect that's evidence of a longer interchange of foods and other commodities/ideas between the UK and France, so the word got anglicized before we became more conscious of "proper" pronunciations in the loaning language? Or maybe it's specific to food and the introduction of fine French cuisine to America.

  14. language hat said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 10:54 am

    I suspect there's some very dry leg-pulling going on in the framing of this post, but it's so dry I can't tell where it starts and ends. On the face of it, it's silly to claim that "ignorant people" know more about how to pronounce a man's name than the man himself, and in the case of Finland, as others have pointed out, Swedish is an official language, so it stands to reason that many people would pronounce Swedish names in a Swedish way even if their native language is Finnish. It would seem Geoff is making a point about prescriptivism and grammar with a strained analogy about pronunciation, but he's either preaching to the choir or addressing the wrong audience, I'm not sure which.

  15. language hat said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    And of course Eyebrows is correct about Notre Dame; the Americanized version is correct in every way for the university, just as /keyrow/ rather than /kayrow/ is correct for Cairo, Illinois.

  16. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    Hat @ 10:54: I just took it as observing that there's a humorous irony in that unsophisticated, unlettered pronunciations are (maybe sometimes without realizing it) more structured in that they are following a system of rules more faithfully than the recherché, cultured pronunciation.

  17. Cameron said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    One of the most obvious differences in American/British pronunciation of a French word is the military term lieutenant. Americans have "corrected" the pronunciation to bring it in line with modern French. The English pronunciation is probably a parallel development from medieval French, and hence not really an anglicization of corruption of the modern French word at all.

  18. rootlesscosmo said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:28 am

    "Sibelius belonged to [Finland's] Swedish elite; his father spoke no Finnish, and he himself earned it as a second language."

    Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise, p. 161

    The composer also preferred that his first name be spelled "Jean," not "Jan," and pronounced in the French way.

  19. rootlesscosmo said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:28 am

    Sorry, "learned," not "earned."

  20. Mikael said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:36 am

    "Talakmiti" is definitely not "the word for stalagmite" as stated in the blog post. The word is written "stalagmiitti", and the way it would often be pronounced in Finnish is "talakmiitti", with a long i and a long t at the end.

  21. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    Although I like the idea that you "earn" a second language.

  22. Breffni said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    Eyebrows McGee:

    I was actually interested by how many "French" words were pronounced in an Anglophone way in the UK that are more typically pronounced in a French way in the US — and of course now that I mention it, the only one I can think of is "fillet."

    Maybe another example is "homage" – and those are very similar cases, because they've both been used in English a very long time indeed, presumably since the Norman conquest, and had been pretty thoroughly nativised in both pronunciation (the OED only gives the anglicised versions) and spelling (compare French "filet", "hommage"). The French pronunciations seem to be cases of exoticising established loans, based presumably on the belief that they're much more recent arrivals. But, in the case of "homage" at least, the French pronunciation seems to me to be gaining ground, at least in discussions of art.

  23. Robert Coren said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    @Breffni (and others): On the other hand, it's my perception that a French-like pronunciation (in English) of "restaurant" — i.e., with a more-or-less nasalized final vowel — is a strictly British phenomenon; an American who didn't pronounce the final "nt" would sound distinctly affected.

    The mention of "homage" reminds me that, when I was a mere youth, I never heard anyone pronounce "ambience" in a French-sounding way. I have the (possibly completely erroneous) impression that the (re-)Frenchification of the word entered US usage (in the 1970s?) as a mock-pretentious joke, and gradually gained a foothold as a "respectable" pronunciation.

  24. Adam said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

    How did Sibelius pronounce his own surname in a Finnish conversation? How about living members of that family in Finland?

    (Also, "corrupting English with Frenchisms" sounds a bit prescriptive to me.)

  25. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    Speaking as one data point (North American — specifically anglophone Western Canadian — born in 1974): I've never heard anyone speaking English say "restaurant" with a nasalized final vowel and a silent T at the end, and I've also only heard "ambience" accented on the last syllable in a pseudo-French way.

  26. Elina said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    I take pride in having the confidence to pronounce foreign words the Finnish way, even though I consider myself well educated. Names can sometimes fit in the flow of a sentence in their original pronunciation, but more often than not they don't. So Finnicize as much as you can I say.

    I also cannot stand people who use English words and phrases here and there in the middle of a Finnish sentence, presumably to show off how cool they are to know English so well. I dislike mixing languages for the purposes of showing off. It is only acceptable if you simply temporarily forget a word in your own language (it does happen…).

  27. Miettinen said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

    As a native Finnish-speaker, I do know how to pronounce 'Sibelius' in both the Swedish and the Finnish way. However, using the Swedish pronunciation in a Finnish sentence feels quite pretentious to me, like I was trying to give an appearance of being very sophisticated (I'd guess using lots of French phrases with French pronunciation in English sentences is pretentious in a similar way). For this reason, I usually stress the first syllable when saying 'Sibelius'. I've also noticed that many native-Finnish musicologists often stress the first syllable in 'Sibelius', so it's not about being educated or not.

    "Finnish doesn't allow a two-consonant cluster at the beginning of a word"

    This used to be the case a long time ago, and maybe you can still find old people somewhere in the countryside who genuinely find it difficult to say these clusters (but finding them won't be easy, I'd imagine). Standard Finnish today is full of loan words that begin with two consonant clusters, e.g. 'presidentti', 'traktori', 'kruunu', and I think these have been in the language for a long time.

  28. Andrew said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

    I think it's interesting that two at least of the prounciations given above – 'restront' and 'vinn blonk' – are not the way these words would be said if they were just treated as English and pronounced according to standard English rules. The people who produced these pronunciations were making some gesture at least towards the words' foreignness.

    (I have never heard 'jeener', by the way. I would have thought that this word was sufficiently highbrow that anyone who was using it at all would try to approximate the French pronunciation.)

  29. Johanne D said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

    Here in Québec, a majority of Francophones know English and hear it daily. It would seem ridiculous for us to pronounce English names according to French phonological rules. One example that made us laugh years ago was “Va – chingue – tón” on newscasts from France.

    What about those Irish names that have been integrated into our genealogy long ago? The only change we make is in the “L”, I believe (I don’t know the words used to distiguish our “L” from yours). Many Québécois are called O’Neil, for example. There are no distinctions here between untutored folk and snobs.

    But I do agree with the post when it comes to other languages. There are many Spanish-speakers in Montreal (you can often hear people speak the three languages in the same conversation), but our radio announcers insist on inventing a third version to a name that can be Frenchified quite easily. Take Andújar, for example (a baseball player?): you don’t hear the Spanish version (with the jota), or the French version (with the nasal “an” and French “U” and “J”), but something that sounds like Anndouyár. If you don’t know, don’t invent it! Years ago, I had a record of a good French actor reading Lorca poems in French – I loved it, but did he have to insistently pronounce Málaga not Malagá (both acceptable to my ears) but “Malága”? Ouch!

  30. Pat said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

    Breffni, I always thought "homage" with the French pronunciation was the term of art in art. But maybe that's where all the pretensions are.

    And there's a perfectly good term available for someone who pronounces foreign-derived words in an over-affected accent: Alex Trebek. I suggest the verb "trebecking."

  31. David M. Chess said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

    What an odd posting! Like the Hat, I suspect some form of (self-?)parody here. "When it comes to pronunciation, it's clearly the ordinary untutored folk who learn the rules more deeply and follow them more accurately." The word "clearly" is attempting to carry an overweight load here: do "the rules" really say "always stress the first syllable, even in the case of foreign names"? How do you know they say that? If you're being prescriptivist, whose prescription are you imposing? If you're deriving the rule from behavior, what's your basis for choosing the "untutored" behavior over the "tutored"? You did spark a good discussion, tho… :)

  32. vanya said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    When it comes to pronunciation, it's clearly the ordinary untutored folk who learn the rules more deeply and follow them more accurately. Yet in grammar, for no apparent reason, it is typically assumed that the ordinary folk have no idea how to deploy their language correctly. Doesn't seem quite right, does it?

    Yes, it does. An important part of human language use is demonstrating one's social status vis-a-vis other people. Geoff, and other descriptivists, often seem blind to this fact. In some languages – Javanese or Japanese, say – there is even explicit vocabulary and syntax for this purpose. English and Finnish lack keigo but to make up for it we create elaborate rules around language use, and then create exceptions to those rules that only educated people typically have access to. If all Finns suddenly decided that Sí.pe.li.us was acceptable, or all English speakers agreed to never use "whom" again, both languages would arguably become poorer in their ability to express social nuance, even if more equitable on a different level.

  33. Andrew said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

    One other example of a word of French origin which (I believe) is pronounced in a more French way in the US is 'garage'; UK either GARidge or GARahzh, US garAHZH.

  34. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

    I wonder if people who hear 'ambience' and 'homage' pronounced as if they were French realize that these are in fact different words, spelled ambiance and hommage, respectively.

    But let's get back to surnames. Of course there is no "right" or "wrong" here, whether the names are native or nonnative. Hyacinth Bucket's insistence (in "Keeping Up Appearances") on pronouncing her (marital) surname as booKAY is a joke. But in Britain there are toffs named Belvoir or Beauchamp who delight in having their names said as Beaver or Beecham, and pronouncing them as though they were French is so very non-U. Lower-class people, on the other hand, sensibly changed the spelling. (Maybe Pullum was once Poulomb, a name attested in France.)

    English two-syllable names ending in -ell tend to be stressed on the first syllable in Britain and (with a few exceptions such as Russell) on the second in the US (e.g. Darnell, Cottrell, Bunnell). Of course both are "right."

    The US has millions of people with surnames of German origin, many of them (like Roethlisberger) originally with umlauts. Typically, immigrants named Müller or Schröder had three options: to get rid of the umlaut sign (resulting in Muller, Schroder); to replace it with an e-digraph (Mueller, Schroeder); or to anglicize the name (Miller, Shrader). With the last option the pronunciation was set, but people named Muller or Mueller may be variously known as muller (rhymes with duller), myooler, or miller. Even without umlauts there is no uniformity. People who watched the 2004 Olympics might remember the soccer player Mia Hamm (like ham) and the gymnast Paul Hamm (like non-rhotic harm).

    Sometimes even the pronunciation of native names may be "wrong" in the sense of being contrary to the phonology of the language. In Catalan (the Catalonian variant) there is no unstressed /e/; when the letter E occurs in an unstressed position it's pronounced as a schwa, which to the ears of Spanish-speakers sounds like /a/. So, for example, the name of the city of Figueres was traditionally spelled Figueras in Spanish, and both versions appear as surnames: there have been two presidents of Costa Rica named José Figueres, while the soprano who sings with (and is married to) Jordi Savall is named Montserrat Figueras. Now literate Catalans, in order to make the distinction, tend to pronounce Figueres (the surname, not the toponym) as it were Spanish (and similarly with other such pairs, like Sales/Salas). Are they wrong? Some Catalan purists think so.

  35. Dan T. said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    When I'm ordering gyros at a mall food court, should I say "YEAR-ohs" or "JAI-ros"? Or should I singularize it to "gyro" if I'm only ordering one of them, even though the original Greek -os suffix is actually singular? To the best of my knowledge, "YEAR-ohs" is pretty close to the Modern Greek pronunciation, while "JAI-ros" is an anglicized version; Classical Greek would probably say it with a hard "g" instead. If I order a "YEAR-oh", often the guy behind the counter will yell to the cook "Get me a JAI-roh".

  36. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

    Coby, there's also a rarer fourth option for all those erstwhile Müllers out there: "Miiller", with the original ü reinterpreted as ii.

  37. sharon said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

    English speakers who don't know any French say "vinn blonk".

    I think you'll find that English speakers who don't know any French are more likely to say "white wine"…

    I was actually interested by how many "French" words were pronounced in an Anglophone way in the UK that are more typically pronounced in a French way in the US

    How about 'herbs'? Americans always seem to say 'urbs' whereas everyone I know on this side of the pond pronounces the h'aitch. ('Urbs' with an American accent always makes me want to giggle for some reason.)

  38. Nicholas Waller said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

    Dan T – you could ask for a döner kebab (Turkish, and the normal term in the UK) or a shawarma (Arabic). Of course, depending on who you ask and where you are, you might cause arguments.

  39. Nathan Myers said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

    My favorite of such names is "Joule", whose name is used for the S.I. unit of energy equal to one watt-second. It's universally pronounced "joolz", in my experience, but one of my professors insisted Joule was a proud Englishman and would have been scandalized at such a pronunciation. I pronounced it "jowlz", since, until Wikepedia revealed that, at least, his relatives at the time called themselves "jool" or "zhool". Now I don't know what's right, but I still say "jowlz" when I think I can get away with it.

    But I say "crick", "offen", and "whiles", although not "toosdee" or "febyuerry". Nobody in any of my speech communities has said "whiles", but I find myself drawn to it — again, when I can get away with it.

  40. J. W. Brewer said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

    There's a somewhat parallel phenomenon with spelling, where in some contexts users of American English will employ a foreign (i.e. British) variant spelling as an apparent signal of poshness or fanciness. Real estate developers will call a project the Snodgrass Centre or Jingleheimer Theatre, rather than center or theater; wedding invitations will request the "honour" of your presence or "favour" of your company. The people who do this would not use the foreign spelling for words like liter/litre or color/colour, because there's no snob-appeal mileage to be gained in the contexts in which those words are deployed. I quite dislike this phenomenon myself, finding it affected and accordingly counterproductive (because it signals to me that the product or event so described is likely to be, as the saying goes, "klassy-with-a-k"). But the preference for rustic native simplicity may just be a more subtle sort of usage snobbery on my part.

  41. Jongseong Park said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

    At least Finnish and English speakers don't have to worry about how the names are spelled. Koreans don't have the luxury of being able to employ the original-language spellings for foreign names. The hangul spelling is supposed to reflect the original pronunciation, so one gets a lot of headaches when it comes to Argentinian names of Italian origin, for example.

    There are official established rules that map unvoiced stops of other languages to the aspirated stops of Korean (Korean having a three-way distinction of stops), but people with exposure to languages whose unvoiced stops are not really aspirated like French, Spanish, and Russian will often map these to the 'tense' stops in Korean instead. A prominent publishing house of Korean translations of Russian literature continues to use its own spelling system of Russian names, thereby demonstrating their superiority in imitating original pronunciations more closely while messing up any attempt to standardize the spelling of foreign names in Korean.

  42. Andrew said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

    sharon: I think 'erb is actually an old English pronunciation which has dropped out of use in the UK. I remember reading an article about the proper use of the letter H in an old edition of Enquire Within upon Everything; it said the h should be silent in heir, honest, honour and hour, as now, but also in herb, hospital, hospitable, humble, and humility. Also in hostler, which in my experience is written without the h.

  43. language hat said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    Maybe another example is "homage"

    No, as Cory said it's the foreign form hommage that gets pronounced à la française.

    I have never heard 'jeener', by the way

    Nor have I.

    When I'm ordering gyros at a mall food court, should I say "YEAR-ohs" or "JAI-ros"?

    This is a vexed question with different answers in different parts of the US (I have no idea about other English-speaking areas). In New York City, where I lived for 23 years, "JYE-rose" is universal (and the singular is JYE-roe). But when my brother visited from California, he was horrified to hear me order a JYE-roe, especially since I actually know modern Greek! He was crushed when he officiously ordered a YEE-roe and had the Greek counterman call back to the Greek cook "One JYE-roe." Long live regional diversity!

  44. Panu said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

    How did Sibelius pronounce his own surname in a Finnish conversation?

    I don't know if he ever mastered Finnish well enough to conduct a particularly fluent conversation. It definitely wasn't his native language.

    How about living members of that family in Finland?

    Well, when I still attended lectures in mathematics, about two decades ago, one of our lecturers indeed had that surname, and as Swedish was his native language, he stressed the second syllable.

  45. Noetica said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

    Since Sibelius turned Sibbe to Sibelius with the particular wish to internationalise it for a wide European public, it is reasonable to give the word an international pronunciation. Stress the second syllable of Sibelius, as the man presumably wanted us to.

    In Australia we notice the American way with 'erbs, and it sounds strange and pretentious to us. Similarly with the American-led re-Frenchification of homage. But we are bad at many of these things, just like the British. We stress oregano on its third syllable, while the Americans get it "right". We also notice a certain American way with 'uman, and that is harder to explain, I think.

    As for gyros, the treatment of the second vowel is what interests me: "YEAR-ohs", as Dan T has it above. In Australia and Britain we would never make it the same as the vowel of toe, like that; and we never say kahzmohs, or Kohsohvoh (we say Kosovoh, in which only the last vowel is aberrantly rendered). This terrain has been traversed chez Languagehat some time ago. I say it is not simply a matter of American–British differences in how the vowel of hot is pronounced, and the consequent differences in how we distinguish other realisations of o from the vowel in hot. After all, the usual vowel of lawn is available to all, and matches the native vowel of Kosovo better than the toe-vowel does. I see it as a more or less conscious cultural decision to map "foreign" vowels onto English one way rather than another.

  46. marie-lucie said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

    Here in Québec, a majority of Francophones know English and hear it daily. It would seem ridiculous for us to pronounce English names according to French phonological rules. One example that made us laugh years ago was “Va – chingue – tón” on newscasts from France.

    I find this example hard to believe. How long ago was that? I grew up in France in the post-war years and by the time I was old enough to listen to the radio (my father listened to the news every night) I heard frequent references to President "Eisenower" but never, ever heard “Va – chingue – tón” said by anyone, on the radio or in conversation. "Wa-chigne-tonne", yes, but never that other horror: if it had been said on the radio, it might have been in a comedy program, never in a newscast. And it isn't as if there were alternative radio stations with more or less competent newreaders, since at the time French radio was a government monopoly. Perhaps what was heard in Québec was not the French radio per se but international broadcasts from one of the surrounding countries, such as Luxembourg or the Netherlands, which could be heard in France too. A very popular station was "Europe no. 1", which I believe was sponsored or subsidized by the US and would have been unlikely to tolerate such ridiculous pronunciations from its broadcasters.

  47. Dan M. said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:18 pm

    I pronounce the 'h' in 'herb', both in the guy's name and in the plant matter. I'm an English-only-speaking American, I grew up mostly in New Hampshire, my dad has a Chicago accent and my mom has a mild New England accent. But I should note that even in that context, I have been repeatedly corrected about pronouncing that 'h'.

  48. Loldemort said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

    Even by your usual standards, this posting is nonsense. Your obsession with prescriptivism is ruining this blog, and I for one am bored with your rants, which read like transcriptions of maoist re-education sessions. If people want to spice their speech and writing with foreign morsels, then let them.

    Please understand that prescriptivism is *logically* distinct from descriptivism. Trying to refute a prescriptivist by showing that people have always done it the other way is as absurd as saying that there should be no law against murder because millions of people have commited it.

  49. joseph palmer said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 12:56 am

    You would think that Geoff would realise that there is often no clear right and wrong when it comes to saying foreign names, and launch his inevitable umpteenth attck on the "prescriptivists" from a better angle.

    Are there really any people who would call themselves "prescriptivists" out there? Isn't everyone trying to make an honest description of standard educated English, even if they are befuddled, refuse to be swayed by the number of people using a particular form, or refuse to accept the inevitability of language change? And doesn't every firm description of standard English made by a very famous and influential linguist also inevitably serve as a prescription?

  50. Huntington said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 1:04 am

    Loldemort, no one's telling anyone not to "spice up" their speech and writing; that's the whole point to being a descriptivist. All Geoff's pointing is that it's kind of ironic that people who think they're being "correct" by doing so are actually breaking their own language's sound rules.

    Which late-80s SNL regular used to make a joke of this, playing a TV journalist who tries to "go authentic" with "Nee-ka-RAH-wa"? Nora Dunn? Victoria Jackson?

    I have one example of an American re-Frenchification: claret. Every time I pronounce it the "English" way (with the T sounded), many of my fellow California-casual oenophiles, who are much more familiar with merlot, look at me funny.

  51. Nijma said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 2:12 am

    just as /keyrow/ rather than /kayrow/ is correct for Cairo, Illinois.

    Um, AFAIK, in Illinois the town is pronounced kay-row.
    However the restaurant in the Chicago Arab neighborhood was pronounced kah-hah-row. It's in new hands now and has been renamed "Nile", pronounced "neel".

  52. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 2:29 am

    @Huntington: I believe you're talking about the SNL skit transcribed here. The linguistic anthropologist Jane Hill discusses it here.

  53. Jongseong Park said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 3:02 am

    As for Cairo, the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary gives [ˈker.oʊ] or [ˈkeɪ.roʊ] (CARE-oh or KAY-roe) for "places in the USA".

    I can never decide how to say gyros. In Boston, the last English-speaking place I lived in, I believe the pronunciation 'JYE-rose' predominated, but having spent some time in Greece, I had already become used to calling it 'YEE-ro'. Then again, since gyros shares the same etymology as gyroscope, there is a certain logic to the pronunciation 'JYE-rose'.

  54. mollymooly said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 3:25 am

    I was actually interested by how many "French" words were pronounced in an Anglophone way in the UK that are more typically pronounced in a French way in the US — and of course now that I mention it, the only one I can think of is "fillet."

    Of course the usual US spelling is filet, as in that delicacy, the Filet-o-Fish.

    There are lots of French disyllables which Americans stress on the second syllable and Brits on the first; especially those ending in -et or -é(e). See Wikipedia. Whether the American pattern is closer to the French is moot.

    Sophisticates can mock as illiterate those who pronounce creature as "critter", since they don't pronounce it as spelt; and they can mock as underliterate those who don't pronounce breeches as "britches" since they do pronounce it as spelt.

  55. Leena said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 3:28 am

    "everyone learns how to pronounce Swedish; surnames in Swedish are very common and most are pronounced the Swedish way."

    Everyone learns how to pronounce names in the Finnish-Swedish way which is very similar to Finnish pronunciation. The Swedish-Swedish is a totally different language.

    @Nicholas Waller
    "As for the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland – they must have pretty good language teaching there. "

    All of Finland has good language teaching, including the Finnish-speakers. We have to learn Swedish, but most of us end up knowing English much better. It is also the language we would use in Sweden.

    For English speakers my name is totally disastorous; The problem is that using English it sounds like another Finnish name, Liina. If I use a 3rd Finnish name, Laina, I probably get the best result…. :)

  56. Dan T. said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 9:59 am

    In my own dialect (ideolect?), I use "creature" and "critter" as separate words of different degrees of formality.

  57. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 10:16 am

    I've noticed that in the Finnish-Swedish discussion no one mentioned the Åland Islands. As far as I know, this area is culturally a part of Sweden. Can someone more knowledgeable weigh in?

  58. David said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 10:43 am

    I have a problem whenever I go to the channel islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney etc). All the road names, surnames, place names etc are old french words (Lihou, Le Mesurier, St Helier) but are always pronounced as if the speaker has no grasp of french (Lee Who, Le Measurer, Saint Hell ear). Most of the islanders in fact have a fairly decent level of french from their schooling and exposure to french tourists, but they look at you as if you're mad if you pronounce things with a french accent.

    It always seems to me to be a reverse snobbism – trying to not look too educated in order to fit in, but I suppose it's what always happens when words are cut off from their roots.

  59. Jongseong Park said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    Coby Lubliner: Most if not all place names associated with the Åland Islands have both Swedish and Finnish versions, including the name of the islands themselves: Åland in Swedish, Ahvenanmaa in Finnish. So when Finnish speakers refer to the Åland Islands place names, they would likely use the Finnish names. Many place names in those parts of Finland with a strong presence of Swedish speakers have both Finnish and Swedish versions, like Helsinki/Helsingfors and Turku/Åbo. You will find that the street signs there are bilingual in Finnish and Swedish.

    On the other hand, I would guess that certain Swedish proper names like Åbo Akademi (a university in Turku/Åbo) would retain their Swedish form even in Finnish. Then we have a situation analogous to Sibelius.

  60. Robert Everett-Green said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

    Sibelius went to a Swedish-language school till he was 10. "Whatever young Sibelius's initial abilities with Finnish might have been, his fuller, more sympathetic immersion in this language-world came only in the 1890s," i.e. when he was in his late twenties/early thirties (New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians). Most of his later diaries and letters were written in Swedish.

    Sibelius's English champion Sir Thomas Beecham solved the pronunciation problem by calling him "Old Sib."

  61. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

    Um, AFAIK, in Illinois the town is pronounced kay-row.

    Nijma, you and languagehat are actually saying the same thing, you're just using different notation. /keyrow/ is a phonemic transcription using American structuralist conventions; I imagine your "kay-row" is an informal respelling meant to represent the same thing–the pronunciation with Jongseong Park represents as [ˈkeɪ.roʊ] (using yet another transcription convention, namely IPA as realised by Longman's). Languagehat's /kayrow/ would be represented [ˈkɑɪ.roʊ] in Longman's IPA and, I imagine, "kye-row" according to your informal system.

    Interesting to see the variant [ˈker.oʊ], by the way. It's not one I've ever heard from any of the "Lil' Egyptians" of my acquaintance.

  62. Irene said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

    I refuse to say the English word, quixotic, because the "correct" pronunciation is absurd! We do not refer to the character as Kwiksoat, so why should we Anglicize the adjectival form of his name?

  63. Jon Lennox said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

    Johanne D:

    One thing I've been wondering about was how the city of London, Ontario is referred to in Québecois French. I was recently on an airplane whose French-language version of the in-flight live map displayed it as Londres, which seemed unlikely to me.

  64. Breffni said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

    Pat, Cory, Language Hat:

    It never occurred to me that anyone makes a distinction between English non-count “homage” and French “an hommage” (presumably with the sense “artwork honouring X by adopting X’s style”), but of course you’re right, now that I look.

    Still, for the majority of people, I think my point stands: "an homage to" clearly outnumbers (minimum 1.8:1) "an hommage to" in each of Google, Google Scholar, Google Books and the LION (Literature Online) database (Criticism section). That suggests that most people who use the French pronunciation use the English spelling. And "a homage to" outnumbers them both (except in LION, where "an homage to" wins), which suggests that for the majority of people, artwork "homage" is identical to that of "pay homage", both in pronunciation and spelling. So even granting that the distinction may have been real for some in the past, it doesn't look too robust in contemporary usage.

    (For the Google searches, I used {"an hommage to" -"an homage to" -"a homage to"} and cycled through the include/exclude combinations.)

  65. MelissaJane said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

    @Irene: Perhaps you could move to England; then you could expand your vocabulary with that charming adjective. Brits have traditionally said quix-it, rather than use the more-like-modern-Spanish pronunciation common in the US. Presumably, the adjective arrived on this side of the Atlantic with its traditional pronunciation intact. Following the whole Frenchy-sounding-pronunciations-are-pretentious argument that has prevaded this thread, it seems as though it's the novel you ought to refuse to refer to, and deploy the anglicized adjective with abandon.

    Interesting wikipedia entry on the pronuciation of Quixote, which suggests that if you use the modern American pronunciation of the novel/character, you're incorrectly modernizing anyway. Your stock of usable words seems to be shrinking. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Quixote#Spelling_and_pronunciation

  66. MelissaJane said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

    Oops, pervaded. I wonder what pre-vaded would mean?

  67. Nicholas Waller said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    @Irene – Some people pronounce Quixote Kwiksoat – Melvyn Bragg for one, in his In Our Time BBC Radio 4 programme on Don Quixote. (Actually, it's more like Kwiksot).

    You'd have to listen to it (click on the Listen To This Programme In Full button) to see how the other contributors pronounce it – "Barry Ife, Cervantes Professor Emeritus at King's College London; Edwin Williamson, Professor of Spanish Studies at the University of Oxford; and Jane Whetnall, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Queen Mary, University of London."

  68. Pat said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 2:34 pm


    You are correct–London, Ontario is still "London" in French. There are only a handful of dual-named cities; most geographic features with a dual name are natural (e.g., Ottawa River/Rivière des Outaouais, which incidentally took me 2 years to realize were the same thing) or provinces (e.g., New Brunswick/Nouveau-Brunswick). More than you care to know is available from the Mapping Service.

  69. Pat said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

    Well, now I know links get chomped. The page I was trying to link to is:


  70. Panu said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

    On the other hand, I would guess that certain Swedish proper names like Åbo Akademi (a university in Turku/Åbo) would retain their Swedish form even in Finnish.

    As a bilingual alumnus of said university, I can confirm that. As regards the names of Finnish universities in Swedish, most of them are translated, so that Tampereen yliopisto is Tammerfors universitet, Helsingin yliopisto is Helsingfors universitet and Jyväskylän yliopisto is Jyväskylä universitet. However, the Finnish-language University of Turku, Turun Yliopisto, is not usually called Åbo universitet in Swedish, but keeps its Finnish name. In the everyday Swedish-language parlance of Åbo Akademi, it is called Yliopisto, i.e. the Finnish word for university.

  71. Ellen said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

    Seems to me one of the points that Geoffrey K. Pullum made in his post has been lost in the discussion. The uneducated pronounce it in a way that shows they know the rules of their language. One doesn't need an eduation to know the rules of one's native language.

  72. marie-lucie said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

    Ellen, this is true if you know the unwritten rules of your language, the ones you discovered for yourself mostly unconsciously as you acquired the language from trying to speak it with your parents, siblings etc. Many people think the only "rules" that matter are the ones you were taught consciously in school, some of which went counter to the unwritten ones that cause spontaneous, unself-conscious utterances. Those are the ones that linguists try to discover and that second language learners have to learn consciously.

  73. Nathan Myers said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 9:40 pm

    Ellen: You have noted the difference between "experiential knowledge" and "declarative knowledge". Everybody has plenty of the former that they would find difficult or impossible to express as the latter, and plenty of the latter that they find hard to apply. As marie-lucie noted, one of the projects of linguists is to achieve that expression for the case of language. More interesting to me is when the latter contradicts the former. In language, that's the domain of "prescriptivist poppycock".

    Everyone knows how to ride a bicycle, but, astonishingly, almost everyone explains what they are doing entirely wrongly. I have found that by expressing this knowledge correctly, I have taught many children to ride in under five minutes. Most learn it by trial and error, and must first un-learn what they have been told. (The most important detail is that one twitches the handlebars to stay up and to steer.)

  74. Kisa said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 4:10 am

    Like Dan T., I use different language in different contexts. I'll revert to my native Southern American lexicon and accent when with others from the region; you could say it removes distracting noise from the conversation to do so–otherwise my conversational partners would be paying far too much attention to "how funny I speak" instead of actually listening. I leave out Southernisms and the accent elsewhere, for the same reason.

    Well, except for y'all. That's such a fantastic word, I use it everywhere.

  75. Kisa said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 4:13 am

    By the same token, I say "Einstein" (standard American pronunciation) when speaking English, as that's the generally accepted American pronunciation, but "Einshtein" when speaking Dutch or speaking English with Dutch folks, as that's the accepted Dutch pronunciation.

    That the Dutch pronunciation is closer to the German, and presumably to how Einstein himself would have said his name, isn't too relevant to me. I'm aiming to speak in a way that puts the focus on the conversation, not on its container.

  76. Nicholas Waller said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 5:32 am

    @ Kisa – shifting accents for names is natural enough in the situation you describe, of course, but one should probably avoid the Steve McLaren gambit: he's a former England football manager who was ridiculed for trying to fit in to his new Dutch working environment by speaking English with his idea of a Dutch accent ("The boysh done good, Einshtein up front shcored a good goal" I have to imagine – unfortunately the video of his interview (eg via istadia.com/blog/robrobson/299) seems to have been hoiked off YouTube due to a 3rd-party copyright complaint).

  77. Simon Cauchi said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

    @Nicholas Waller – Some people pronounce Quixote Kwiksoat – Melvyn Bragg for one, in his In Our Time BBC Radio 4 programme on Don Quixote. (Actually, it's more like Kwiksot).

    I've just listened to the whole programme (thank you for mentioning it): they all pronounce Quixote Kwiksoat or Kwiksot. And I heard one [Th]ervantes but usually it was [S]ervantes.

    Harington's translation of Ariosto has such place names as Callice, Muttrell, Burdells, Montpeleer: would that they were still in use!

    Here in New Zealand we pronounce all the consonants of Renault, so that the name rhymes with "penult".

  78. Östen Dahl said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 5:49 pm

    I once heard a Finnish radio announcer pronounce the name "Sibelius" in the middle of a Finnish sentence and was struck by the way in which the name – although pronounced the Swedish way – was as it were seamlessly integrated into the rest of sentence. It seemed that for this speaker, Swedish phonology (in the Finland Swedish version) was just a natural extension of the ordinary Finnish sound system. I have had similar experiences on other occasions.

  79. Nathan Myers said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 8:07 pm

    I refuse to say the English word, quixotic, because the "correct" pronunciation is absurd! We do not refer to the character as Kwiksoat, so why should we Anglicize the adjectival form of his name?

    I don't think anybody knows for certain how Cervantes pronounced "Quixote", but everybody seems to agree that it was not how Spaniards pronounce it today. If you're a purist, you pronounce it precisely as he did, but how is that? This reasoning applies equally well to any word, if you chase it far enough. The end result is either remaining entirely mute, or embracing practicality. But don't let me rush you.

  80. Nick Z said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 1:00 am

    @ Breffni: your numbers for an hom(m)age vs. a hom(m)age might be skewed by the fact that some people always write "an" before initial "h" regardless of whether or not the letter is pronounced; you often see "an historical event" etc.

  81. Simon Cauchi said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 1:03 am

    I thought it was generally agreed that the sixteenth-century Spanish pronunciation of "Quixote" was much the same as the modern French pronunciation of the word, Quichotte, three syllables, but with the last vowel an [e] rather than the French schwa. Similarly Xerez gave us "sherry", the initial consonants being near enough the same in Spanish and English. The change in orthography from X to J represents a change from an unvoiced postalveolar fricative to an unvoiced glottal fricative. No?

  82. Arnold Zwicky said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 10:05 am

    Nick Z refers to "the fact that some people always write "an" before initial "h" regardless of whether or not the letter is pronounced; you often see "an historical event" etc."

    This is a gross overgeneralization of common practice. Many people write (and say) "an" before "historic" and "historical" but not before other words with an initial pronounced H (not even "history"). There's a historical (or an historical, if you prefer) reason for this, having to do with earlier stages of the language in which the H was not pronounced in these words. Some people also use "an" with a few other words (MWDEU notes "hotel"), but so far as I know, no one uses "an" before *all* words spelled with initial H (even those pronounced with an [h], like "hot"); the convention is specific to just a few words.

  83. Ken Brown said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

    David said:

    "I have a problem whenever I go to the channel islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney etc). All the road names, surnames, place names etc are old french words (Lihou, Le Mesurier, St Helier) but are always pronounced as if the speaker has no grasp of french (Lee Who, Le Measurer, Saint Hell ear). Most of the islanders in fact have a fairly decent level of french from their schooling and exposure to french tourists, but they look at you as if you're mad if you pronounce things with a french accent."

    Might it not be that these pronounciations are normal developments from or continuations of the Norman French originals? Maybe the mainlanders lost the final consonants in words like "Helier" but the islanders missed out on that sound change?

    Andrew said: "One other example of a word of French origin which (I believe) is pronounced in a more French way in the US is 'garage'; UK either GARidge or GARahzh, US garAHZH."

    I think its most often always the middle of those, "GA-rij" Stress always on first syllable, the final consonant is maybe the "zh" but more likely the English "j". The second vowel might be a schwa sometimes. Presumably the word is a very recent import from French?

    I have no idea how to prove it but I suspect many of these Anglicisations are quite recent and due to a desire to stop seeming pretentious. No-one wants to be Hyacinth Bouquet, so French-sounding speech is socially embarrassing.

    That seems to be the case with "'erb" and "'otel" which probably would have been normal in the 19th century but are now definitely "herb" and "hotel" in educated middle-class speech in Britain. Dropping the "h" sounds pretentious. Unless its done by someone who routinely doesn't use initial "h" anyway, in which case it sounds uneducated – you can't win.

    We also stress "cafe" on the first syllable. It was a caffy when I was a kid. Though I think I might have replaced the second syllable with an "ay" rather than an "ee".

    The same avoidance might be behind the almost complete replacement of the fake-French "serviette" (the word I grew up with) with the much more English "paper napkin" Which in my childhood was the posh thing to call them, but seems to be usual among my daughter's generation. In fact (actually!) I have no word I can use in an unmarked way to describe the little paper things you wipe your fingers on when eating food in public. Neitehr word comes naturally to me, either would be preposterously pretentious. "Serviette" is what the lower-middle-class used to say in a failed attempt to sound sophisticated – and who would want to be associated with that? But "napkin" is what the upper-middle-class used to say and I am not and never have been a member of the upper-middle-class, were I to use the word I woudl be faking it. So I am bereft, deprived, in want of a word.

  84. Nathan Myers said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

    Ken Brown: My heart bleeds for you, but I have nothing to sop it with. A paper towel, maybe.

  85. David said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

    or you could use your sleeve.

  86. Markus said,

    February 8, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

    "Coby Lubliner said,
    February 3, 2009 @ 10:16 am
    I've noticed that in the Finnish-Swedish discussion no one mentioned the Åland Islands. As far as I know, this area is culturally a part of Sweden. Can someone more knowledgeable weigh in?"

    As a Swedish-speaking Finn from the mainland, with some contact to the Åland islands (a girlfriend, a load of friends, a truckload of relatives ) I couldn't not respond to this.

    In the Scandinavian countries, you get a lot of cultural continua, really; a less obvious example is the countryside around Vasa/Vaasa on the mainland (roughly were the Finnish west coast takes a turn towards the northeast) which is culturally pretty influenced by Sweden too – even the Finnish speaking inhabitants of Vaasa are culturally very Sweden-influenced (up to the 70s, there were municipalities in the vicinity of Vaasa that had zero speakers of Finnish. These administrative units have since merged, and none of them would anyway have remained at zero speakers – my home village/former municipality has gotten like five speakers of Finnish since then, but administratively that doesn't matter since it merged with five other municipalities where there's in total something like 3000 speakers of Finnish. Not a single municipality on Åland has had that few Finnish-speaking inhabitants, and some of those municipalities are in the same size-class, viz. a few hundred inhabitants);

    Still, Åland probably is the part of Finland that comes closest to Sweden on this cultural continuum – whereas the Torneå river valley in Northern Sweden probably actually is more Finnish than that; otoh, the Vaasa region has spots that are slightly less Swedish than Åland, but also spots that are slightly more Finnish than Torneå.

    As a man who moves rather freely between Finnish and Swedish, I can't say there's actually that much of a difference in the first place.

  87. windy said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 6:59 am

    OK, show me the Finn who is so pure and uneducated that he pronounces Rosberg, Rydman, Vilén, Virén… "correctly" according to the Finnish rules! Hint: he doesn't exist. (-berg of course becomes -peri more often than -bärj)

    (Not counting tv personality Timo T A Mikkonen who famously pronounced "Keke Rosberg" something like "kiik ruusböög". I'm not sure that Timo T A can be classified as either uneducated or well-educated, more like self-educated?)

  88. Aaron Davies said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 10:04 am

    what i really want to know is what happened to the practice of localizing your name as you wandered around europe? marie antoinette wasn't born that way. the only person it seems to apply to these days is the pope, who isn't called "benedict" in any language but english.

  89. Aaron Davies said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 10:05 am

    i read somewhere that the english started pronouncing the h in herb specifically to annoy the french. urban legend?

  90. Aaron Davies said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 10:16 am

    @coby lubliner: my family pronounces our last name [deɪ viz], despite most of the world's insistence on rendering it [deɪ vɪs], which we maintain is appropriate for "Davis". (growing up in kentucky was particularly annoying, due to the presence of Daviess county, rendered by the locals as [deɪvɪs], leading me to conjecture that anything with a 'd', a 'v', and an 's' was pronounced that way.) i've since been informed that one 'e', one 's', and [vɪs] is the correct welsh way, but i'm not about to change now.

    (standard disclaimers about my incompetence wrt ipa apply. every time i need to do transcription, i have to go scanning over the same dozen wikipedia pages, and i invariably get something wrong)

  91. Aaron Davies said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    what are we to make of "gateaux"? the first time i heard it out of the mouth of an english character (rose's mother on dr. who, iirc) it struck me as just about the most non-U thing imaginable.

  92. Arnold Zwicky said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    Aaron Davies: "i read somewhere that the english started pronouncing the h in herb specifically to annoy the french. urban legend?"

    It's a silly idea on the face of it. The standard story is that a pile of words were borrowed from French into English that had an initial H in their spelling but no [h] in their pronunciation, and at a later point some (but not all) of them picked up an [h] from the spelling. The word herb went this way in British, but not American, English. I don't see any point in ascribing motives to spelling pronunciation (beyond the widespread idea that "words should be pronounced the way they're spelled"). Brief discussion, with some references, here.

  93. Nijma said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 8:39 pm

    Daniel von Brighoff, I have no clue what is American Structuralist convention, but IPA I can manage. Here in upstate Illinois we would pronounce Cairo, Illinois as [ˈkeɪ.roʊ].

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