take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Pronounciation [sic] 

A friend of mine, knowing I was a stickler for saying things correctly, once added to his attempt at saying a foreign word: "I hope I got the pronounciation [sic] right". My friend and I both said, in unison, "pronunciation". Fortunately for us, he saw the funny side…

I’m not sure where my pedantic streak came from. Such a stickler am I that I will avoid saying a word if I’m not sure how to pronounce it. One example that springs to mind is the brand of cigarettes called "Peter Stuyvesant". Luckily, I am not often called upon to say it out loud…

When I go to a coffee bar and order a latte, I get extremely annoyed when the "barista" replies: "a larrr-tay?" I have to bite my tongue to prevent myself from snapping: "No, I'd like a latte please..." I don't think they'd "get" it. If they refuse to describe their products in English (now there’s another post right there), they could at least attempt to pronounce them correctly in their native language.

Another, coincidentally Italian, example is "bruschetta". I know it looks to an Anglophone eye as if this should be pronounced with a "sh" sound, but it’s not an English word, it’s an Italian word, and as such should be pronounced as "bru-sket-ta". The "ch" construction results in a hard c sound when followed by e or i. The rules of Italian pronunciation are extremely clear and consistent in this regard, unlike English! Unfortunately, Italian isn’t taught as a matter of course in this country, so how are people to know? It would help if the people serving the food would pronounce it correctly, for starters. Or just call it "baked bread with stuff on it", thus avoiding any slip-ups.

The latest example I’ve noticed is the French term "coup de grâce". On a number of occasions recently I’ve heard it pronounced, on television and in films, as "coup de grar…". Hello? What happened to the other two letters? And what’s with the r? I guess this stems from a vaguely held notion that often, the endings of French words are not "sounded", like in "coup d’état". The English girl with whom I shared accommodation on our year in France suffered from this same affliction. She would say "tout le mon…" as she believed that the "d" and "e" were not to be pronounced. She was supposed to be three years into a French degree; it would have felt "impolite" to correct her.

Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen – there’s another one. Just listen to the way he says: "trompe l’oeil" (and he does say it surprisingly often…) as if the "p" and the "e" were merely figments of someone’s imagination. As a general rule, if there’s a vowel at the end of a French word, you can be pretty sure that any consonants before it will be pronounced.

I can anticipate people’s response. Why does any of this matter? If you can get your message across, who cares?

I guess there are more important issues in this world to worry about (and believe me, I worry about those too). But since this is the one (the only?) area of study at which I’ve managed to excel, I *do* care. To me, it’s not enough just to say the foreign words, you have to say them like a native would, including all the gesticulations, flourishes and facial expressions. Only then can you come across as being fluent.

I'll shut up now...

Pick o' the pod, take two

And in a new series, I bore you with the tracks I enjoyed most on my journey to work:

A Forest - The Cure
Living on the ceiling - Blancmange

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