The pronunciation of "sudoku" in English

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I find Japanese pronunciation to be straightforward and easy.  But, for some reason, many people murder Japanese words borrowed into English.  Take "karaoke", for example.  I hear Americans pronouncing it as something like "carry Okie".  How did that get started?  You can listen to the Japanese pronunciation here.  Cf. the UK and US pronunciations here.

On "sudoku", Bean remarks:

Today during a scientific talk, I heard yet another well-educated (English) speaker stumble over the word "sudoku". It came out something like sah-doo-koh. This happens all the time, and people somehow know it's wrong and hesitate but can't choke out the "proper" pronunciation. Why? What's so special about that pattern of sounds that makes it so hard for English speakers?

As a side note, my Sardinian father finds Sudoku a hilarious word (like Subaru) because it includes the article "su" right in the word. AFAIK "doccu" is not a word in Sardinian or it would be funnier. Maybe it's funny to him because it makes a nonsense word.

I actually hear more Americans approximating the Japanese sound of "sudoku" than they do for "karaoke".  But I wonder how many different ways there are to pronounce "sudoku" in English.  Even before Bean wrote in with her questions about the English pronunciation of "sudoku", I often pondered how the passengers on the commuter trains I ride, many of whom are absorbed in these puzzles, pronounce the word to their friends and in their own minds.

For those who are interested in etymology, "sudoku" literally means su ("number") + doku ("single").


  1. Mark Meckes said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:13 am

    I assume that "carry Okie" (which in my mind is the standard American pronunciation of karaoke) got started because the sequence of vowel sounds transcribed as "ao" is extremely rare in English, maybe to the point of being nonexistent in "native" English words (whatever that might mean), and very rarely occurring even in adjacent words. (I welcome corrections.)

    And then there's the issue of how to pronounce that "r", but I'm guessing you'd find it less weird to hear an American "r" together with Japanese-sounding vowels.
    But I think I mostly hear Americans pronounce sudoku more or less correctly.

  2. Max Wheeler said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:32 am

    In British English, the issue is whether to map the vowel of the second syllable to the diphthong of 'poke' or the short open vowel of 'dock'. I do the latter, but I've rarely heard the word from anyone else.

  3. jhholland said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:43 am

    If we're talking about Japanese pronunciation, we should remember that there's a long vowel: suudoku.

  4. Adrian said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:47 am

    I find a question like "What's so special about that pattern of sounds that makes it so hard for English speakers?" hard to take. Surely it's pretty obvious that if a foreign word has sounds in an order that doesn't occur normally in one's own language, it's going to be hard to get one's tongue (etc.) around? Also that people will approximate to patterns that do exist in their own language, or to stereotypes learned from other foreign words.

    My mind immediately goes to the way that Americans (and nowadays, sadly, more and more Britons) murder the word "lingerie".

  5. John Roth said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:51 am

    I don't believe I've ever heard the word sudoku pronounced, and I've only heard karaoke pronounced at a couple of church karaoke nights. They're entirely part of my written vocabulary.

    I suppose this says something about the way I triage TV and internet feeds, and the kind of conversations I don't have.

  6. Robert Coren said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:54 am

    I've never thought there would be much variability in the English-speaking pronunciation of the vowels in sudoku (I assume /u/ and /oʊ/), but I'm uncertain about the stress pattern: I usually put primary stress on the first syllable and secondary on the last, but I also frequently hear it with the second syllable stressed.

  7. unekdoud said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 10:05 am

    "many people murder Japanese words borrowed into English"

    On a related note, I've heard sudoku pronounced suhdooku by someone who was trying to humorously substitute it for seppuku.

  8. kd said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 10:10 am

    My daughter once had a chihuahua she named "Gari." We pronounced his name just as you would in Japanese. I can't tell you how many AmE speakers had no idea what we were saying. "Did you say Gah-Dee?"

    We had to exaggeratedly say it "GAHR-ee" before they could understand that "r" sound.

  9. dfan said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 10:13 am

    As far as I can tell, it's not that people don't know how to pronounce it, it's that they don't care. They have glanced at the word a million times and have remembered it as s?d?k? with some u's and o's in there. If you asked them to spell it from memory they'd probably get it wrong similarly often.

  10. Finn said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 10:18 am

    Japanese "ka-ra" becomes "karra" in American mouths, where the initial 'a' is a short sound.

    How "oke" becomes "okie" seems kind of obvious.

    And then, because it's unusual in English to have those vowels next to each other, you insert a 'y' sound between 'a' and 'o' to make the transition seems smoother.

    Karra-yokie. If I say that out loud, it sounds almost identical to "carry-okie".

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 10:19 am

    I've heard "sooDOOkoo" from an American. (I've also heard "Izusu" and "Izuzu", one of them from a salesman who sold them and the other from a well-read and very intelligent friend.)

    Lots of my students stumble over "calorimeter", though I say it for them and write "caloRIMeter" on the handout.

    One of the main characters of Margaret Atwood's novel Life Before Man is named Lesje, and at the beginning there's a note saying it's pronounced "Lashia". Some years ago I read that book and lent it to a friend, another well-read and very intelligent man. He made some comment about "Leslie".

    My hypothesis is that many people don't look at the details of what they read or listen to the details of what they hear.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:02 am

    I don't think "sudoku" is harder for an L1 AmEng speaker to say than e.g. "soduko," it's more likely to just be that neither of those options (nor any other plausible variants) seems more intuitively right or meaningful or even stereotypically Japanese-looking/sounding than the other(s), so it may be easy to mishear/misremember etc.

    I think I pronounce it "correctly" insofar as I do have the vowel sequence as GOOSE-GOAT-GOOSE, but pretty anglicized, i.e. with those vowels being the somewhat regionally-accented way I say them for ordinary English lexemes in ordinary speech, not the way I say them when I am self-consciously pronouncing a Japanese lexeme. I also default to second-syllable stress, presumably because that's what feels natural from an AmEng perspective, which is not what I would do if I were self-consciously pronouncing it as a Japanese lexeme.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:14 am

    I've used the term "electron microscopy" in hundreds of lectures, interviews, and conversations, but — if I don't say it very slowly and carefully and deliberately — I nearly always choke on it.

  14. Tom Dawkes said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:16 am

    Think of the way Japanese have "murdered" English words! And there's a wider issue of prosody and vowel length in cross-language borrowings: take the Italian "latte", which the average British coffee-drinker pronounces as "laa-tay", though it would be just as easy to say "lat-tay".

  15. Rodger C said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:28 am

    Actually "Soduko" feels a bit more "natural" to me than "Sudoku," perhaps because Americans' notions of words with a lot of vowels in them is modeled on Romance. Domenico Modugno, anybody?

  16. Ferdinand Cesarano said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:31 am

    The transformation of "karaoke" into "carry okie" follows the pattern of the transformation of "hara-kiri" into "harry carry".

    The turning of a word's final syllable into "ee" seems to be an American English pattern, just Australian English speakers tend to turn final syllables into "o". We can look at "Mason-Dixon" becoming "Masie-Dixie", and eventually yielding the name "Dixie" for the South.

  17. Chris Button said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:34 am

    I think a lot of it comes down to the influence of spelling on pronunciation.

    The "kara" in "karaoke" looks to have a rhotic "r" yet the Japanese "r" often approximates an American English flapped "t" (e.g. in "pretty") which is not in and of itself hard to pronounce, it's just not something generally associated with the spelling "r". Having said that, one only needs to look at the single flapped Spanish "r" in words like "pero" to find a similar situation there.

    The "doku" in "sudoku" would receive a much better approximation in English if it were spelled as "dokku" (or even "docku") with the doubled consonant "kk" (or "ck") marking the short "o" (e.g. in "dock") as opposed to the diphthong before a single "k".

  18. George Lane said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:56 am

    The American pronunciation of karaoke is in line with our tendency to stress the second-to-last syllable, and to change of the final "e" sound in other Japanese words, e.g., "karate" (kah-RAH-tee") and "sake" (SAH-kee). And many well-known Japanese words and names do in fact end with a long "e" sound (sushi, Suzuki, Mitsubishi).
    I can't help but suspect that the "hara-kiri" pronunciation may have been somewhat influenced by the prominence of a famous baseball announcer, Harry Carey.

  19. Morten Jonsson said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

    @George Lane

    Google Books tells me that the misspelling "hari-kari" already existed in the nineteenth century, which suggest that the "Harry Caray" pronunciation predates the announcer by quite a bit. His name could have reinforced that pronunciation, of course, along with the cowboy actors Harry Carey Sr. and Jr.

  20. Guy said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 12:54 pm

    Isn't the usual English pronunciation of "karaoke" roughly what you would expect for it from its spelling if it were an English loanword ultimately from Ancient Greek? Of course, it's Japanese, not Greek, but I don't think people usually consciously connect how they guess at pronunciations from spellings with the language of origin.

  21. Sniffnoy said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 1:13 pm

    Yes, "hara-kiri" into "hari-kari" is (IMO) considerably more surprising than "karaoke" into "karioki", the latter of which really does seem to me (as an American) a transformation into something easier to say.

    One odd thing I've noticed is "hadoken" into "haduken" (from Street Fighter). Of course seeing as the original Japanese is "hadouken", maybe that's just, like, hearing it slightly differently. But it seems very strange to me to hear the Japanese "ou" as "u" rather than "o", and I haven't noticed this with any other Japanese words featuring it.

  22. TonyK said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 2:04 pm

    To be fair, the Japanese did rather murder the English word "orchestra" when incorporating it into "karaoke".

  23. Chandra said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 2:12 pm

    It isn't always laziness or inattention – my ex always pronounced it "suduko" no matter how many times I pointed out the spelling and practiced pronouncing it slowly with her. I think there might be two things at play here – the effect where nearby sounds influence each other (I forget what it's called, but in this case the first long u affecting the second vowel), and the fact that in English we're more familiar/comfortable with foreign-sounding words from languages like Spanish that end in o.

  24. Haamu said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 2:15 pm

    I first encountered the word karaoke in this 1991 episode of the American sitcom Cheers. I'm quite certain they were using something close to the now-current US pronunciation even then, because I can recall expecting a humorous outbreak of Brazilian dancing. I had parsed the phrase as "Carioca machine," a new concept to me, but nonetheless one that sounded like a great thing to have in a bar.

  25. Ken said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 3:55 pm

    Interestingly, I first heard of karaoke through the Chinese for it, 卡拉OK (ka la oh kay), which is much closer to the Japanese pronunciation, and it was a thing that the drunk uncles and aunties at parties did while us kids played video games. It wasn't until high school that I heard white Americans saying "carry-okie".

    Loanwords borrowed from Greek are also mangled in English. Nike is supposed to be pronounced "nick-ay", not "nigh-key." Embarrassingly (maybe not in this crowd), I knew this way back from reading a children's mystery book published before the founding of the shoe company and partially from Back to the Future III. "Nee-kay? Must be some Injun lingo."

  26. Andrew McCarthy said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 4:29 pm

    One of the reasons why Greek loanwords (and proper names from mythology) are often butchered in English was that for centuries it was the usual practice to transliterate the Greek alphabet according to Classical Latin spelling idioms. So, for instance, Greek K sounds became hard Cs (as in Cerberus).

    Which in turn led to widespread mispronunciation when Classical Latin stopped being a mandatory subject in schools. A lot of the English mangling of Greek would probably go away if the words were directly transliterated rather than filtered through Latin first.

  27. Anna said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 4:36 pm

    In Iceland 'karaoke' is rendered as karo-keh — like two words, both with a light stress on the first syllable.

    The Japanese pronunciation (I just checked) really surprised me because it's simpler and more "straightforward" than I had expected.

    I'd spell the word karaÓke in Icelandic (with the Ó signifying the stress, of course). Or kar'Óke because the second a is so indistinct. But I don't think Icelanders would be willing to adopt the correct pronunciation. Putting the stress on the second syllable is just too fatiguing. And sounds pretencious.

  28. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 4:55 pm

    The other thing with "Nike" is that it was borrowed (via Latin) so long ago that its pronunciation reflects historical pronunciation shifts within English (and/or more specifically in Anglophone pronunciation of Latin/Latinate words). The "i" coming out as the PRICE vowel not the FLEECE vowel is parallel with e.g. very-well-domesticated Greek-etymology words like "microphone," and also with how Latin-origin words like "regina" are pronounced in English to rhyme with China rather than Christina. By contrast, "pita" was borrowed into English (probably from Greek although apparently there are rival theories) less than a century ago and has the FLEECE vowel. I don't think English has too many Japanese loan-words that have been around long enough for processes like that to play out.

    The first name (often a nickname) "Nico" is current in enough different European languages that it's hard to say where Anglophones might think it comes from, but Anglophones do seem able to pronounce it (again, perhaps because it's a quite recent import) with the FLEECE vowel, despite the ultimate etymological connection (via clipping of Νικολαος and/or that name's transmutated forms in various other languages) with Nike.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:27 pm

    I'm surprised that Americans don't pronounce "Nike" to rhyme with "Mike".

  30. AntC said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:33 pm


    Always having bought no-name brands of sportswear, it came as quite a surprise to me that's pronounced with two syllables; doesn't rhyme with Mike.

  31. Lazar said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:56 pm

    "¿Esas son Reebok o son Nike?"

  32. AntC said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 6:10 pm

    @Victor Mike Snap!

    My next thought is that their gear is made in Asia, so it's pronounced like Nikkei.

    Come to think: their TV ads are all image with the swoosh-thingy, so I don't think I've ever hear the name pronounced there. (I could easily be wrong on that: I watch hardly any TV.)

    So I don't recall where/how I heard it pronounced. You can tell I just. don't. it.

  33. Guy said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 6:36 pm


    Yes, I know, but the transformations that led to English pronunciations of Greek loans are pretty well understood and not very mysterious. One hypothesis explaining the pronunciation of karaoke is that English speakers subconsciously drew on mental pronunciation/spelling rules associated with Greek loans because of superficial similarities in the letter sequence with those that might be expected in a Greek loan.

  34. Aristotle Pagaltzis said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:25 pm

    I was moved to enter the comment section here because it seems obvious to me what’s going on, but I kept reading and not seeing anyone bring it up… until Chris Button finally did.

    Yeah, that. Obviously (to me), it’s because English speakers don’t adopt the word by verbal contact with Japanese speakers, but by encountering a transliteration of it in written English. So they guess at its pronunciation from the spelling of that transliteration, based on their individual sense of the rules of English pronunciation.

    I don’t believe anything more involved than that is going on here.

    (I disagree with Guy that it has to do specifically with the rules for Ancient Greek words. I think the process is pretty much universal.)

  35. ryan said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:30 pm

    >To be fair, the Japanese did rather murder the English word "orchestra" when incorporating it into "karaoke".

    I had to google to be sure you were in earnest. Nice!

  36. edhall said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:15 pm

    On the other hand English speakers do a bit better with "karate." If they butchered it as bad a karaoke they'd pronounce it ka-RATE or CARRY-tea.

  37. Dave Cragin said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:26 pm

    To compare Japanese and Chinese, I’ve always thought of Japanese as phonetically easier for English speakers, but that Chinese is grammatically easier.

    In grad school, my major Professor’s first name was “Takayuki”. Despite that his name could be said relatively easily (ta-ka-yu-kee), he shortened it to “Taka” to make it easier for Americans.

  38. Guy said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:39 pm

    @Aristotle Pogaltzis

    I don't think you actually expressed disagreement with me. Spelling pronunciations certainly do arise with English pronunciation rules other than those with Greek loanwords. I just think it's plausible that in this case the pronunciation rules for English loanwords ultimately from Ancient Greek were the ones that determined the outcome.

  39. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 1:29 am

    Nike entered the US lexicon as a missile defense system decades before it became a shoe, so I'm surprised that some commenters are surprised by the two-syllable pronunciation, which I learned in grade school during the 1960s.

  40. John said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 3:48 am

    Part of the problem is that English speakers are expecting the spelling of the word to conform to English orthography.

    However, Japanese words are transcribed into English using a systematic Romanization system, and English does not have systematic spelling.

    The same problem arises with Pinyin. If Victor Mair's late wife had been born in the PRC, Americans would pronounce her name as Lie-kwing Zzzanng. I have two friends who have taken to introducing themselves as Kwing… (maybe this is like the tourist mispronoucing nihao in the video Victor shared a few months ago)

  41. Adam F said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 4:38 am

    @J.W. Brewer

    "Pita" has the MISS vowel in British English, and it's usually "pitta". I'm not sure if there's a good explanation for the difference.

  42. RP said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 5:22 am

    @Andrew McCarthy,

    "So, for instance, Greek K sounds became hard Cs (as in Cerberus). Which in turn led to widespread mispronunciation when Classical Latin stopped being a mandatory subject in schools."

    I think this is a misleading account, as it was usual in British schools to pronounce Classical Latin in an anglicised fashion (C soft before E, I, Y) until sometime in the 20th century.

    "The Classical Association, shortly after its foundation in 1903, put forward a detailed proposal for a reconstructed classical pronunciation. This was supported by other professional and learned bodies. Finally in February 1907 their proposal was officially recommended by the Board of Education for use in schools throughout the UK. Adoption of the 'new pronunciation' was a long drawn out process, but by the mid-20th century, classroom use of the traditional pronunciation had ceased."
    ( )

  43. mollymooly said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 5:27 am

    I checked the pronunciation of "karaoke" in MW, AHD, Oxford, Cambridge, and Macmillan dictionaries; all list "carry-Okie" first or alone. Only MW lists "kara-okay" at all (last, labelled "also"). Compare also paella "pie-Ella".

    FWIW I've never heard sudoku with -duko. Is it mainly an American pronunciation?

  44. Ralph Hickok said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 7:04 am

    I first learned "Nike" as the name of the famous statue and then as the name of the goddess who inspired the statue, so I never had a problem with the brand name.

    Of course, that simply means that I'm very old :)

  45. Ferdinand Cesarano said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 7:53 am

    @Mollymooly – I first heard the "suduko" pronunciation on the podcast of the brilliant English comedian Ricky Gervais. I believe his comedy partner, the equally funny Stephen Merchant, says it that way as well.

    While this does not necessarily mean that the "suduko" pronunciation is commonplace in British English, I must admit that I think of it as an English, rather than an American, variation.

  46. Susan said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 8:06 am

    I don't like this post. "murder" is not an appropriate word for a linguist to use; that smacks of prescriptivism". And comparing "sudoku" with "karaoke" is wrong, as the later was borrowed in English many generations ago, and has become Anglicized and formalized as [ke-ri-'o-ki]. "Sudoku" is still relatively new and is pronounced as it is spelled: [su-'do-ku].

  47. January First-of-May said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 8:12 am

    I learned the shoe brand first, but only written down, and until this thread I was pretty sure it rhymed with Mike. (It doesn't?)
    For the Greek goddess, I have to consciously remember that she definitely doesn't rhyme with Mike, in which case I probably end up with "NICK-ay" or something similar.

    I thought there was a fairly common male name Nike (short for Nicholas) that rhymed with Mike, but apparently that's not actually the case – Nick is several orders of magnitude more common. (But Nike Borzov does, in fact, rhyme with Mike.)

  48. Grover Jones said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 8:28 am

    My lived-in-Indiana-her-whole-life (not that there's anything wrong with that) mother oftens says "suh-DUE-koe."

  49. Bean said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 9:13 am

    @Susan, my original question was, why ISN'T it pronounced how it's spelled? This "other" pronunciation (sah-doo-koh/suh-DUE-koe) is used by a significant proportion of the population. And the flipping-around of vowels is a bit perplexing as this usually happens with "tricky" consonant rather than vowels, and similar words (Suzuki, Subaru, sushi) seem to have made it into English OK. Perhaps it will stabilize in another decade or so… but to which pronunciation?

    I admit I hadn't really thought about karaoke and karate much before, so the comments have certainly been interesting.

    I still maintain it's hard to pronounce a foreign word "properly" in the midst of an English sentence if it contains sounds (like rolled Rs) that don't exist in English. It becomes a tongue-twister, slows you down, and will probably impair communication if the listener doesn't parse it right.

  50. Duncan said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 9:49 am

    I've rarely heard the word "sudoku" and can't be sure I've remembered what I heard correctly, let alone whether they knew (or cared) what the Japanese pronunciation is/was.

    But I know I run Linux, and while I had read about the game before, my first real exposure to /playing/ it was the kde (aka K Desktop Environment) game ksudoku.

    And I also know that the first four letters are something any self-respecting Linux/Unix geek will surely know quite well, sudo, super-user-do or switch-user-do (since it doesn't actually have to be the super-user), a distro and/or admin-configured way to allow ordinary users to run specific commands that would ordinarily require knowledge of the other user's password, because with sudo, they use their own, but with the trade-off being that they can only execute the commands allowed by the sudoers file as that other user.

    So for me as I suppose for many Unix/Linux folks, it's very much s-u-do-ku (with the last pronounced ko as in Korea, or ku as in coup, depending on mood), It's s-u-do-whatever, with the -whatever bit pretty much only there to ensure that it's obvious I'm thinking/reading about the game, not the real super-user-do, so it doesn't actually matter what it is, as long as it's there.

    Yes of course the game was first, but that doesn't matter for me, the sudo pattern is too strong for it to mean anything else.

    Tho if I were to talk about it, I'm sure I'd start to say that, and then probably hesitate about half-way thru, realizing I wasn't actually sure of a "proper" pronunciation that most would recognize, since most of the time I'm reading it, and that the only relatively sure thing I know about the pronunciation is that what I hear in my head reading it pretty certainly is /not/ what "everyone else" hears when reading it, or how they say it.

  51. Vulcan With a Mullet said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 10:09 am

    American English speaker here, from the South (but urban). I've definitely heard "suDOOku" for sudoku, but I hear the more correct pronunciation more often.

    As for "karaoke", it is always said the "American" way – I have never heard it pronounced with the Japanese vowel sounds. I agree with some commenters above in that this is probably mainly due to the "ao" combination not being found in native English words.

    It made me curious – has anyone else heard the old-fashioned slangy pronunciation of "harakiri" as "Harry-carry"? Is it only an American English remnant?

  52. Ellen Kozisek said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 10:43 am

    I certainly always pronounce, in my head, the vowels as written when I see the word sudoku. But I can imagine if I had reason to say the word from memory, I might misremember it and have it come out differently. So it doesn't seem surprising that it sometimes gets pronounced differently than spelled. I also imagine if said the word out loud, the first syllable might turn into a schwa.

    As for the word karaoke, I'm surprised no one so for (unless I missed it) has pointed out that the 2nd syllable and 4th syllables are unstressed in English and this very well might affect the word pronunciation.

  53. Ellen Kozisek said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 10:49 am

    Of course "the vowels as written" does allow for some variation, especially with the O.

  54. Anonymous Coward said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 11:28 am

    Karaoke is pronounce à la classical languages, like “aorist”.

  55. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 2:17 pm

    I'm skeptical of Susan's claim that karaoke was imported into English "many generations ago". As I recall (and as Ngram Viewer seems to confirm), karaoke was virtually unknown in the US until the 1990s.

  56. Frank L Chance said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 3:26 pm

    @Susan: Karaoke could not have been imported into English "many generations ago" as it was only created in 1971 when the technology became available. I don't know how long others think a "generation" is. but I believe the common definition is 20 years or so, meaning karaoke could have come into English no more than 2 generations ago.
    BTW I was in Japan when it became popular, and it transformed bar culture there before transforming bar culture elsewhere. Before karaoke almost all bar singing in Japan was a capella, or as Garrison Kiellor once described it, "without music."

  57. Jim said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 3:45 pm

    Years ago, there was a commercial for Isuzu where the white guy kept pronouncing is Izusu. Presumably the sudoku/suduko syllable swap is from the same root. (Darned if I can find it on YouTube, though.)

  58. Franklin Southworth said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 4:02 pm

    I haven't read all these comments, but as a teacher of Hindi I constantly had to remind students that unstressed vowels in Hindi words have their written vowel quality and are not reduced to a schwa-like vowel, as is normal in many English words–such as English mulatto (often pronounced muh-LAH-toe in casual speech). Thus for example, English-speaking learners of Hindi tend to reduce the /u/ in sukhaanaa 'to dry' (causative)–which is accented on the second syllable– to schwa. This would explain the pronunciation suh-DOUGH-coo for sudoku, if accented on the second syllable. The pronunciation CARRY-OKAY/OKIE for karaoke is a mystery to me. (By the way, there exists a popular American song in which this pronunciation occurs repeatedly.)

  59. RP said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 4:52 pm

    To pick up Adrian's point, I often wonder where the oft-heard pronunciation of "lingerie" originates.

    It's not too surprising that English speakers would find it hard to know which vowel to use in the first syllable (such confusion is not uncommon even among those Anglophones who have had French lessons up to a certain level), but why would a final "ie" (which French and English both normally pronounce as "ee" /i/) become "ay" /eı/? I suppose a possible hypothesis would be that speakers unfamiliar with French misinterpreted the final "e" as a Spanish style /e/ (or an "e" like in Fr "café", "fiancé(e)") and then dropped or ignored the "i" as being too hard to combine with it.

  60. J. Goard said,

    March 15, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

    " My daughter once had a chihuahua she named "Gari." We pronounced his name just as you would in Japanese. I can't tell you how many AmE speakers had no idea what we were saying. "Did you say Gah-Dee?" "


    It took me a long several seconds to process the guffawing of my niece and nephew upon learning that the Korean word for 'fly' (the insect) was "pari". A combination of our different perceptions of the flap, and probably also the very different prominence in a 40yo bachelor versus 5-7yo kid's lexicon of the word "potty".

    In a related vein, for those who can appreciate it, by far my most common lingering phonological error in Korean is treating word-final /r/ as a present consonant in borrowings from English, when adding particles/suffixes. For example, 'computer' => 컴퓨터, but 'computer-SUBJ' =>"컴퓨털이" instead of "컴퓨터가".

  61. George said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 7:49 am


    Late to the party but re 'lingerie' as LAWN-ZHEH-RAY, the same thing happens with the first vowel of a word like 'impasse' and, like all forms of hypercorrection, I consider it to be fair game for mockery. With 'impasse' we have a choice: either pronounce it as if it was English (with the vowel from 'him') or get the French vowel sound right. Both are perfectly acceptable. AWM-pass makes you sound like an idiot and a pretentious one at that. With 'lingerie' we also have a few options. Simplest option: call it underwear. If that doesn't capture quite the degree of ooh-laa-laa-lity desired, say 'frilly knickers'. But for God's sake don't say LAWN-ZHEH-RAY unless your trying to come across as Hyacinth Bouquet meets Ann Summers. Rant over.

  62. George said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 7:50 am

    That should have been "you're", obviously. Ranting does that to me.

  63. Robert Coren said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 9:29 am

    And then there's "chaise lounge".

  64. Kate Bunting said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 10:25 am

    I too was puzzled by Susan's comment. I expect I'm not the only British person to have first heard of karaoke in Michael Palin's TV series "Around the world in 80 days", filmed in 1988. He tried it in Tokyo and had to explain it to the viewer, as it was then unknown in the West.

  65. Peter Hankins said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 5:59 am

    The Metro newspaper in London ran its own version of Sudoku called 'Metroku' which made French-speakers laugh.

  66. Bob Ladd said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 12:43 pm

    I don't think the "carry okie" pronunciation is particularly puzzling. Assuming that the nativised target vowel for the second A of kara- would be a schwa, there is a problem getting from schwa to a stressed vowel without anything in between. Non-rhotic speakers could put in a linking R, but that's inhibited by the immediately preceding R. So the schwa is replaced by /-i/ (the "HAPPY vowel"). Or perhaps the target is /ej/ ("long A"), in which case the reduction to /-i/ is even more natural – there's precedent for this in words like Judaism, which in ordinary speech tends to sound a lot like Judyism. There are probably other examples as well (pharaonic? Malayalam?). A web search just now yields made-up names like cataotic and naraosis, which I'd be willing to bet are pronounced with the "HAPPY" vowel in the second syllable.

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