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January 7, 2008 7:44 PM   Subscribe

In a conversation consisting entirely of English speakers, how should I pronounce the name Jorge Luis Borges?

I skimmed this previous thread, but it was hard to find a consensus there, and this particular case wasn't mentioned but comes up frequently for me.

I tend to pronounce it like the Spanish (I speak Spanish decently), but I sometimes feel awkward doing so. But pronouncing Borges so it rhymes with "gorgeous" sounds really goofy to me, and I don't know how else one could pronounce Jorge.

Is there a standard English pronunciation for his name?
posted by ludwig_van to Writing & Language (47 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
For famous enough people, you can look in an English dictionary. Merriam-Webster says "BOR-hays," which is how I would do it, pronouncing the vowels and the "g" like one would in Spanish, but otherwise pronounced as one would those letters in English.
posted by grouse at 7:48 PM on January 7, 2008


I'd say BOR-haze
posted by mattbucher at 7:53 PM on January 7, 2008


M-W also lists Jorge as "HOR-hay" and Luis as "loo-EES." To me you would only sound silly/awkward/pretentious if you started trying to pronounce sounds that mainly don't exist in English, such as pronouncing the Rs as flaps rather than approximants.
posted by grouse at 7:55 PM on January 7, 2008


Yes, Bor-hays will get you ver close. Although I would suggest dropping the English-speaker tendency to pronounce "e" as "ay". An "eh" sound is a lot more accurate. So something like BOR-hehs.

Jorge is pronounced similarly - HOR-heh
posted by DrGirlfriend at 7:56 PM on January 7, 2008


yeah: HOR-hay Loo-EES BOR-haze.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:06 PM on January 7, 2008


I'd say Hor'-hay Loo-ees ' Bor'-haze in English. (pardon my made-up phonetic transcription) . I also speak Spanish; just anglicize the vowels. I don't think you should try and attempt any form of a full-on native-speaker-esque accent beyond the g and the j becoming more like an English h in this case.

Say no to the "rhymes with gorgeous" thing. I've never heard anyone pronounce it like that.
posted by Stewriffic at 8:08 PM on January 7, 2008


Pronounce it as it feels most natural to you. But I'd tend to pronounce it properly, no matter what the company.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:13 PM on January 7, 2008


Since I speak both English and Spanish, it can be hard for me to flatten out the proper accent on words. I'm a Hispanic native English speaker, but sometimes I've been asked to "say that like a white person" (even though I am a white person) in the name of being more clearly understood, so YMMV. The authenticity when it comes to proper names is important to me though.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:20 PM on January 7, 2008


Every American I've ever discussed him with pronounces it with some approximation of the Spanish pronunciation. Sometimes they'll tend to pronounce it bore-hees rather than bore-haze, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:20 PM on January 7, 2008


Getting peoples names right in other languages is good form. Lobster Mitten has it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:45 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've no idea what the correct pronunciation is but as a braindead hispanophile twat I pronounce it 'Jor-ghay Loo-ees Bor-ghess' with the gh somewhere between a soft G and and an H.

I'll pronounce it differently from now on but now you have the view from White Bread.
posted by unSane at 8:46 PM on January 7, 2008


Actually, Lobster Mitten is off.

It's more like Hor-heh Loo-ees Bor-Hehss. Closer to what DrGirlfriend wrote.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:21 PM on January 7, 2008


HOR-hay lew-EESE BOR-hess
(Then pull a tarp in front of you to shield you from the vomit that will rocket toward you)
posted by squirrel at 10:11 PM on January 7, 2008


I know some people think it's pretentious to pronounce words like you're a native when you're speaking with non-natives, but for people's personal names, I try really hard to say it the way they would have. I mean, it's what they say if they introduce themselves, so why modify it for them?
posted by oneirodynia at 10:54 PM on January 7, 2008


My last name is Borges. I'm Portuguese, though, so I pronounce it like "gorgeous."

I still find it weird that some people insist on pronouncing my name "Borhaze" when they read it (ie: a teacher or professor reading a roll call). The polite ones always ask "how do you pronounce your name?"

Unfortunately you can't do the polite thing and ask Jorge Luis how to pronounce his name, but the Spanish-speaking Borgeses that I've met have always pronounced it Borhaze, while the Portuguese ones have always pronounced it "Borgjess."
posted by MiG at 11:10 PM on January 7, 2008


J.L. Borges was Argentinian. I didn't know that about Portugese, though.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:20 PM on January 7, 2008


That's interesting about the Portuguese pronunciation.

I always say "Bor-jezz" and then immediately think, "No, duh, that's not how his name should be pronounced". :/
posted by hattifattener at 12:00 AM on January 8, 2008


Although I would suggest dropping the English-speaker tendency to pronounce "e" as "ay". An "eh" sound is a lot more accurate.

Bears repeating.
posted by signal at 1:23 AM on January 8, 2008


jujub: ha. wow.

yup, "boar-hays" or "boar-hez" is how it's generally pronounced in english. i had a creative writing/translation professor who got to interview him before he died, and that seemed to be good enough for him.
posted by timory at 5:37 AM on January 8, 2008


You should always go by the pronunciation of the language the name is spelled in. You will not sound pretentious if you do this. OTOH, you will usually appear dumb if you pronounce it wrong. In spoken language, spelling is immaterial. It's all about the correct sounds.

Generally in conversations where you are talking about Borges, it is not with people that are going to label you as pretentious.
posted by JJ86 at 5:58 AM on January 8, 2008


On a side note when discussing French impressionists in any context you would be labeled an idiot if you pronounced them; Soo'-ratt, Dee-gas', or Wren-oar'.
posted by JJ86 at 6:01 AM on January 8, 2008


I would be freaked out if someone in another country pronounced my name as if it weren't an English name. Yaa-mes Paht-rric An-lay would sound VERY wrong. So instead, as a general rule, pronounce foreign names (especially famous ones like Borges) in the language the person spoke. After all, Anj-ela Murk-l would sound reasonable for the German Chancellor's name, but it just isn't her name. It would be more appropriate to call her Ang-ela Merh-kl.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:10 AM on January 8, 2008


I had an 8th grade English teacher who was a native of Germany. When we read "The Diary of Anne Frank," he kept admonishing us students to pronounce her name with the "ah" sound instead of the "ay" sound.
posted by desjardins at 6:13 AM on January 8, 2008


And for the record, our Vice President grew up as Dick CHEE-nee.
posted by yeti at 7:21 AM on January 8, 2008


You should always go by the pronunciation of the language the name is spelled in. You will not sound pretentious if you do this.

Not if you just say "Whore-Hay Lou-Eece Bore-Hess" with phonemes commonly used in American English.

But if you start replacing the American English "hard" r-sounds with hispanohablante tapped-r-sounds and otherwise trying to actually pronounce the name as if you were speaking Latin American Spanish, you will sound like a pretentious twat. If you start replacing the American-English-r-sounds with *trilled* r's, you'll seem both pretentious and ignorant for not recognizing that internal trilled r's are almost always denoted by a double r. Likewise if you shift any of the s-sounds to theta-sounds.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:46 AM on January 8, 2008


I'd say Hor'-hay Loo-ees ' Bor'-haze in English.

Same here, except I end with -s rather than -z. And I speak very good Argentinean Spanish (having lived there for years and met Borges). But when I speak English, I speak English, not Spanish. I have never understood this attitude:

You should always go by the pronunciation of the language the name is spelled in. You will not sound pretentious if you do this.


For one thing, yes, you will sound pretentious. But more importantly, how can anyone know the proper pronunciation of all foreign names? Do you pronounce Khrushchev as khroo-SHCHOF (with, of course, a rolled r)? Do you pronounce Mao Tse-tung (or, if you prefer, Mao Zidong) with the correct tones and the proper vowelless rendition of tse/zi? I seriously doubt it. It seems to me the only reason to pronounce foreign names as if you were speaking that language is to show off the fact that you can (or think you can), which is pretty juvenile if you ask me. When you're speaking English, speak English.
posted by languagehat at 8:14 AM on January 8, 2008


It seems to me the only reason to pronounce foreign names as if you were speaking that language is to show off the fact that you can

I can't agree with this attitude at all. To deride others for not pronouncing names "english-enough" is simply self-centered and disrespectful to the names you're trying to pronounce. To point out that Russian and Chinese names are difficult and therefore most people don't pronounce them properly is beside the point. When someone who does speak those languages pronounces the names properly, then I certainly have no problem with it.

(As a side note, think of all the ways Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had his name pronounced in the past months/years. I know it's hard, but you would think that reporters and newscasters at least would have the courtesy to ask someone and get it right.)

There's never anything wrong with trying to pronounce people's names in the way they themselves said it. Say Borges the Spanish way. If someone thinks you're doing it just to be pretentious, well, that's their problem. I don't think there's anything to gain by changing your behavior to suit those who might think you're pretentious. They're the ones who need to get over themselves, not you.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:10 AM on January 8, 2008


Uh, it's kind of weird that I had a comment deleted from my own question.

Anyway, it seems like I should say it approximately like the Spanish but using English sounds. Makes sense to me. Thanks for the responses.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:13 AM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is important to get right generally, but not when it comes to Argentinians. After all, they speak Spanish like Super Mario, they have no right to correct anyone else's pronounciation.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:45 AM on January 8, 2008


kiltedtaco writes "Say Borges the Spanish way."

If you're such a stickler for accuracy, you should at least pronounce it the Argentinian way.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:01 AM on January 8, 2008


When you're speaking English, speak English.

But Khrushchev and Mao Tse-tung aren't English any more than Jorge Luis Borges. I'd say if you can, pronounce the name correctly.

Although my Parisian friends can continue calling me Zharéd as long as they please.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:05 AM on January 8, 2008


But Khrushchev and Mao Tse-tung aren't English any more than Jorge Luis Borges. I'd say if you can, pronounce the name correctly.

So do you say "pah-RREE" for Paris when you're speaking English? If not, why not? Besides, you didn't answer my question. Do you pronounce those names "correctly"? If not, why not?

Although my Parisian friends can continue calling me Zharéd as long as they please.


This is another thing that gets me about the "authenticity" people—it only seems to go one way. The people who get upset about saying Peking instead of Beijing never seem to expect the Chinese to say English names "correctly." If it's so all-fired important to pronounce things the way native speakers do, why does it only hold for English-speakers? And why isn't everyone industriously learning foreign languages as fast as possible so they'll never make mistakes? If you give the issue thirty seconds' thought, it's apparent that it doesn't make sense to insist on "correctness." English speakers adapt foreign proper names to their own speech patterns, just as do the speakers of all other languages, and that's the way it is and should be.
posted by languagehat at 10:39 AM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


If someone thinks you're doing it just to be pretentious, well, that's their problem.

If your boss thinks you're a prig because you do that and (s)he interprets it as a rebuke to his or her own use of English phonemes to speak English to English-speakers, it's your problem.

Ditto if it's a client you're trying to sell something to.

Ditto if you're a boss and you're trying to keep a valuable employee who thinks you're an ass.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:01 AM on January 8, 2008


On a side note when discussing French impressionists in any context you would be labeled an idiot if you pronounced them; Soo'-ratt, Dee-gas', or Wren-oar'.

And yet, 'Van Go', a man who probably spent most of his own life having his surname 'mispronounced', since the /ɣɔx/ doesn't cross many borders.

With this particular example, your linguistic nous warns you that a straight if-it-were-English pronunciation of Jorge Luis Borges (Georgie Borgie, pudding and pie) is not going to be right. That doesn't always apply: 'Gabriel Garcia Marquez' spares the anglophone the internal-g; 'Mario Vargas Llosa' taps on the head of the BritEnglish speaker and says, as a false friend: 'no, he's Welsh, really he's Welsh, there are Welsh settlers in Latin America, aren't there?'

So you modify and approximate, and it's not going to be 'correct', but it'll do. Because, as ROU_X notes, your linguistic nous also warns you that someone dramatically switching accent in mid-sentence for namedrops... is a bit of a tool.
posted by holgate at 11:07 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Languagehat - you aren't actually addressing the issue when you bring up location names, since many locations have different names in different languages. I say Germany, not Alemania or Deutschland. Simply because Paris is not spelled "Paree" in English, I do not pronounce it "Par-ee" unless I'm speaking French.

The truth is that "dj-or-dj loois bor-djis" sounds like you don't know what you are talking about, pronouncing his name as if it were English - and not as good an approximation as you can muster to the person's name is offensive. Americans tend to permit people from other cultures to get away with approximate pronounciations more than many other cultures. But that doesn't mean we're wrong for doing it. In fact, I think it facilitates communication rather than stifles it. How many American tourists are terrified to try to communicate while in France for fear that they will be deported for forgetting the silent "h"? How is that productive?
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:50 PM on January 8, 2008


The truth is that "dj-or-dj loois bor-djis" sounds like you don't know what you are talking about

Of course not, that's not how it's pronounced in English. Just because you shouldn't affect a full Spanish pronunciation for a widely-used name, doesn't mean you can make up any pronunciation that fits some arbitrary set of English pronunciation rules. I seriously doubt languagehat was arguing this.
posted by grouse at 1:00 PM on January 8, 2008


Let me put it this way, the word is pronounced PEHR-is, not pehr-ICE, or PAHR-ees or anything else. Just because the English pronunciation isn't the same as the native pronunciation, that doesn't mean that there isn't a specific English pronunciation.
posted by grouse at 1:08 PM on January 8, 2008


What grouse said, both comments.
posted by languagehat at 1:22 PM on January 8, 2008


languagehat said: So do you say "pah-RREE" for Paris when you're speaking English? If not, why not? Besides, you didn't answer my question. Do you pronounce those names "correctly"? If not, why not?

There are often anglicized names like Paris, Moscow, Cristopher Columbus. Where those exist, they should be used. It is improper form for anyone to anglicize that which is not anglicized already. TV reporters are looked down upon when they try to anglicize names.

If we are "speaking english", as you say, then the pronounciation should follow the rules across the board. That means no pretenshus bushwah speaking allowed.
posted by JJ86 at 2:44 PM on January 8, 2008


Cities don't care what you call them, and moreover have been called many different things by many different peoples throughout history. Somebody's individual name is entirely different. I don't care if people fumble in their efforts to pronounce my name, but I appreciate them not calling me something else like "onoyudynit" just because they'd rather say something familiar. That's not my name.*

*Neither is oneirodynia.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:36 PM on January 8, 2008


languagehat said: So do you say "pah-RREE" for Paris when you're speaking English? If not, why not?

Do French people pronounce Paris Hilton's name "pah-RREE"? No, they don't.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:48 PM on January 8, 2008


Do French people pronounce Paris Hilton's name "pah-RREE"? No, they don't.

This is missing the point a bit: they'd likely say "Pa'riz 'il'ton", in a similar kind of approximation that retains basic French phonology, including the silent aitch. Which lines me up with ROU_X.
posted by holgate at 9:20 PM on January 8, 2008


"The author George Lewis Bor-jezz, I'm not sure how his name's pronounced, wrote a number of fascinating stories ..."

On the subject of names generally, I had a job some years ago in a government department where I would have to call clients by name to be interviewed. It was the department's general practice to note unusual pronunciations on the person's record (eg: "Pronounced Loo-ee-gee-ahna"), but my job at that time was new claims. If I knew how the last person with a name somewhat like that pronounced it, I'd use that, but otherwise, I'd use standard English pronunciation. Even if it is wrong, that is what the person is most likely used to hearing English-speakers say. They're in the waiting room listening for that. I would read the name aloud to myself a few times, so that I could say it without stumbling over it, and then I would go out and announce it. When we sat down, I would say "Sorry if I mispronounced your name. How do you prefer to pronounce it?" and I would write it down phonetically on the notes page. So long as one of first or last names worked, it was fine.

A few times though, the name was for me, unpronounceable. So I would go to the door and look for people who fit the age and gender and what seems to be the ethnicity of the name, glance at them to get their attention, and ask for "Mr C-Z-E-V-N (pause) S-N-E-D-L-D-I-T-E-T-I-K-A-S-I" Saying it with neither humor nor self-consciousness, as though this were the most natural thing in the world. In those cases, Czevn was well-used to this, and was expecting it, and responded before I finished spelling his first name.

Which really seems to me to be the point of the exercise. I wasn't calling for Czevn because I wanted to talk to him; he wasn't there because he wanted to talk to me. We had business to conduct. I didn't really care if I got his name right the first time; he could, and would, correct me. If he cared, my asking him how he wanted it pronounced ensured, as far as I could tell, that his hurt feelings were salved. (As I recall, it was "Seven like the number, and just say Sneddle." Not the real guy's real surname, but the real guy did abbreviate it.)

Since Jorge Luis Borges is long dead, he isn't going to care much how anyone pronounces his name, and as others have pointed out, two people with that exact name may choose to pronounce it differently. If what you say clearly identifies the author, and you admit that you don't know how it's pronounced, and you pause for a moment for those who do know (or at least, have a strong opinion) to correct you, then no reasonable person should be offended. Unless you're trying to present yourself as an expert in his literary genre, or otherwise indicate that you should know. And in that case, you're at risk of confusing, and possibly even annoying, people who have read a story or two by "George Lewis Bor-jezz" and have no idea who this "Hor-hay Loo-ey Bor-yay" person is. But either way, explaining who he is in the context of the sentence covers all bases.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:56 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


"The author George Lewis Bor-jezz, I'm not sure how his name's pronounced, wrote a number of fascinating stories ..."

I know perfectly well how his name is pronounced -- my question was about etiquette, really. And it would be tough not to wince in embarrassment for anyone who said the above.

It seems to me on reflection and reading the arguments that there's a definite middleground between pronouncing something as if you're completely ignorant of its linguistic origins (for instance, a friend of mine pronouncing the word Tillamook as "tee-ya-mook," not realizing it was Native American and not Spanish) and sounding as if you're switching to another language in mid-sentence. I (and most English speakers I've heard) wouldn't pronounce Johann Sebastian Bach as "Joe-han," but also don't say Ludwig Van Beethoven as "Lood-veeg von." It seems like the best bet is to get as close to the original as you can without drastically altering your accent. So I'm going to keep saying Hore-hay Loo-ees Bore-hess.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:13 PM on January 9, 2008


I'll say this again in stronger terms as most people seem to have missed. The best way to find out how a word is pronounced in English is to look in an English dictionary. This includes even words and proper nouns of foreign origin.

Jorge, Luis, Borges, Tillamook, Johann, Sebastian, Bach, Ludwig, and Beethoven are all in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and they're all pronounced the way I think you would pronounce them, because the dictionary tries to report the most common pronunciation of English speakers. If you try to make rules about English pronunciation you're just going to run into an exception eventually because English pronunciation didn't evolve according to your rules.

Now how to pronounce the names that aren't in the dictionary is a horse of a different color.
posted by grouse at 1:27 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


The really weird part is that Pierre Menard is gonna write out this whole thread, right down to the time stamps, without ever having actually read it.
posted by signal at 2:28 PM on January 9, 2008


pronouncing something as if you're completely ignorant of its linguistic origins

Whatever we pronounce, we pronounce for other people. I realize that a lot of communication is all about status, and I do take your point about "wincing", and were the company at hand all familiar with the man's work and frequent users of his name, then the way to go is: pronounce it how the most learned among them pronounce it. Scholarly pronunciation of words is often "wrong" (defining wrong as different from how the native speakers pronounced them). Bring an educated Roman forward in time to listen to Latin scholars and he'd probably burst out laughing at their bizarre mispronunciation of the language. There's an important legal native title case in Australia where the plaintiff's name was Eddie Mabo. The man himself pronounced it "May-bo". But legal scholars, students, even lecturers, generally pronounce it "Mah-bo", because that's the way, in English, that the word would be phonetically pronounced.

Lots of people see words written hundreds of times, even use them extensively in writing, before ever hearing them correctly pronounced. "Genre" and "ennui" are typical examples.

If you were, say, lecturing on mystical realist literature, you could have his name up on a powerpoint slide. But if you're talking to people who may or may not have ever heard the name said, but probably have seen it written (or will see it written if you're telling them about a book they might be interested in reading), and the name's correct pronunciation noticeably differs from its phonetic pronunciation, then it would be appropriate to pronounce it correctly, and then follow up with "which is spelled like ..." and pronounce it phonetically, or "which is spelled B-O-R-G-E-S". If they express great interest--and the author in question is one who pretty much exemplifies the concept of an author who most people will not have heard of but after being told about, very much want to read--I think it's appropriate to offer to write the name down.

In the end it's a matter of culture and context. I read a lot more than I talk. Most of my social circle do the same. I even think of my own given name as a kind of "citation" to my identity, more than my identity as such, and internet aliases even more so. So I care about spelling--which is looked up in databases and catalogues, and if it's wrong, often gives no result at all--about ten times as much as I care about pronunciation, which is used in conversation and can be easily corrected. YMMV.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:52 PM on January 9, 2008


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