When only white people are around, what is the best way to pronounce Spanish words?
April 7, 2005 10:45 AM   Subscribe

When only white people are around, what is the best way to pronounce Spanish words?

I am a white man. As a result, I primarily (but not exclusively) hang out with other white people. Sometimes in conversation in which only white people are present, a topic comes up in which Spanish words are used. Why do some of these white people feel it is necessary to pronounce the Spanish words exactly the same as a Spanish or Mexican person would? At the most it is distracting to the conversation. At the least they are attempting to elevate their status among peers by implying "Hey, look at me. I know Spanish!".

For example, say I am discussing travel in Mexico with other white people. There are no native Spanish speakers in the conversation. Someone says, "I flew into Puerto Vallarta, rented a hacienda, went to a taqueria and ordered a burrito. This person makes a point of emphasizing each Spanish word by pronouncing it in Spanish. In the company of white people I would not make the unnecessary effort to do this. In conversation with a native Spanish speaker I may actually tend to pronounce Spanish words, even Americanized ones, in Spanish.

What is perplexing about this is that I hardly ever see white folks do this with other romantic languages. There is probably no answer, but I have to at least get an opinion of how white people should approach Spanish in conversational settings in which no native speakers are present.
posted by quadog to Writing & Language (88 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
this is a common problem for all languages - if you are only seeing it for spanish i think it's just because of who you speak to.

and it seems odd that you're emphasizing spanish, because spanish words are pronounced pretty much the same in both languages aren't they? i can't work out two different ways of pronouncing the sentence you give, except for the extra RR, which i can't do anyway.

so i have no idea what is going on here, but it sounds like it's much more an issue about social status and perceived ethnic group than anything to do with being "correct". in your case, you clearly think it's silly to use the "spanish" version, so don't use it. that way you'll signal that you're a member of the group of people that doesn't use it. what more do you want?
posted by andrew cooke at 10:55 AM on April 7, 2005

Ok, this totally doesn't answer your question, but first of all, lots of white people are hispanic.

In response to your actual question, it seems like a lot more trouble to have two different pronunciations for a word and have to guess at the native language of everyone present before deciding which to use. I would think if you were using any word you would pronounce it as correctly as you are able. In the case of foreign words, that would mean pronouncing it in the foreign language.

And most people I know (including myself) would pronounce French words with their french spelling except those that have been completely anglicized (can't think of any examples, right now).

Full disclosure: I'm white, hispanic, and Canadian.
posted by duck at 11:01 AM on April 7, 2005

Response by poster: because spanish words are pronounced pretty much the same in both languages aren't they?

At first glance, yes this is true. But the people I am talking to actually exaggerate the words by subtlety altering the pronunciation to conform to spanish emphasis of syllables. It is that annoying to me. For years I heard people speak these as Americanized words and now I hear people saying them these as spanish.
posted by quadog at 11:02 AM on April 7, 2005

Well assuming the white people aren't Spanish themselves -- there are lots of white people in Spain, you know -- you can follow these simple rules.

If you have some knowledge of the language, go ahead and pronounce them whichever way you want. If the Spanish pronunciation comes more naturally, pronounce it in Spanish. If you're trying to practice your Spanish, why not? If you're pronouncing the words in a special way to show how world-wise you are, then spare us. In general, simply being pretentious isn't good, so avoid it. But not everyone who does this is trying to show you they know Spanish. Even if someone is not trying to be pretentious, why worry about it? He or she has already failed to look genuine.

I have friends that pronounce words in French and Italian all the time. Crepes, creme brulee, chateau, mozzarell, Ciao, etc. Some of them are being pretentious. Some are just doing what they've been doing what comes naturally.

But I get the feeling you want to ask a different question -- is it ok for me to resent it when people pronounce these words in a Spanish accent. In which case, why spend the energy to get worked up about it one way or another?
posted by ontic at 11:02 AM on April 7, 2005

Response by poster: Ok, this totally doesn't answer your question, but first of all, lots of white people are hispanic.

I'm glad you brought this up because it is a point that I missed. I believe the people I am referring to are white in both the ethnic and cultural sense. Does this help? Perhaps I stepped into grey territory.

posted by quadog at 11:05 AM on April 7, 2005

I'd also say the characterization of this as a "white vs. Spanish" issue is somewhat inaccurate. The issue is more correctly how to render Spanish when in a predominately English environment, as the issue would be the same for a white, brown, yellow, or red person who spoke only English. More generally still, it is an issue of how properly to render foreign words when one speaks in one's native tongue. Should you, as an English speaker, call Germany "Germany" or should you call it "Deutschland", which is what the Germans call it? Should you, as an English speaker, roll your r's when you pronounce a Spanish word? Should a Spanish-speaker not roll their r's when they pronounce an English word?

As to the implied question of why "correct" (or, perhaps, overcorrected) pronunciation is more common when English speakers speak Spanish, that may be because you hear it more, and it may be a bit of political correctness, given that Spanish is the second most common native language in the US. On the other hand, have you ever heard a foreigner (or even someone who speaks British English) trying to speak like an American? They frequently overemphasize American-like pronunciations while ending up sounding silly.

Anyway, your question addresses the basic question of tones produced in one language and not in another. The u-umlaut sound in German is not present in English, for example. Take a look at a phoenetic alphabet some time, and note how MANY different ways there are to pronounce vowels and form consonants. Given the limited phonetic range of English, it's not surprising that an English speaker would sound weird when trying to pronounce a word that comes from a language with a different collection of sounds.
posted by socratic at 11:06 AM on April 7, 2005

Well, leaving aside the detail that Spanish people are predominantly "white"... I don't really agree with your apparent premise - that if no Spanish (or Spanish-speaking) people are around, you should "anglicise" Spanish words. Not if you know how they should be pronounced, anyway. It seems a bit wrong to assume ignorance of correct pronunciation on the part of your companions. I think the same goes for any other language. If you know how to pronounce the word correctly, do so.

On the other hand I know where you're coming from: I often go to liquor stores in NYC and ask for Remy Martin. I always pronounce "Martin" in the correct French way (Mar-tan) at first and they often don't get it. So then I say "MarTIN". But I do feel I should do it right first.

If a non-English word gets anglicised (as in the Brit English "fillet" for "filet"), then fair enough - pronounce it in the anglicised way. But if it really is a use of a true foreign word, pronounce it correctly if you can. And if other people are ignorant of how it should be pronounced, well... you just educated them. Result!
posted by Decani at 11:06 AM on April 7, 2005

I think there's a difference between pronouncing it correctly and saying it with an accent other than your own. Quadog, correct me if I'm wrong, but you're referring to pronouncing the words with a Spanish accent, not necessarily pronouncing them correctly, right? Any word in any language can be said in any accent. For some reason, it always bugs me when Alex Trebek does this on Jeopardy. I see newscasters do this a lot, although rarely with Spanish names. Also, I've heard it done in French and Italian (which is closer to Spanish).

There's a restaurant that my friends and I go to occasionally, and "villa" is in it's name. Some of my friends pronounce it as it's spelled, I pronouce it "vee-ya" only because that's what I was taught that a double-L sounds like and I can't help myself, but I don't change my accent when I say it.

Unrelated, kind of: Currently, I know very, very little Spanish, but when I took it in high school, all of my thoughts were in Spanish. It was totally bizarre, but I couldn't help it. If I didn't know the real Spanish word for what I was trying to think, I'd make one up in my head. So bizarre.
posted by AlisonM at 11:08 AM on April 7, 2005

I like to pronounce all Spanish words with a Portuguese accent, just to be different.

I think if you actually know how to pronounce words in their native language, then I think you should go ahead and do it, so long as you can manage it without being smug. I do it for French. I do it for Portuguese. I do it for Spanish where I can.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:08 AM on April 7, 2005

According to your profile...
Location: San Francisco, California USA

Counting registered voters alone 15% of the population of California is latino, compare that to 7% nationally. I know that I say the words Puerto Vallarta, hacienda, taqueria, and burrito exactly the same as a native spanish speaker would, and I haven't lived in California for 15 years. I also know that I cringe when I hear someone mangle them.

My mind boggles at how you'd even begin to anglicize burrito.
posted by togdon at 11:11 AM on April 7, 2005

How would you not pronounce your examples without using Spanish? Do you pronounce jalapeno with a hard J, or Hacienda with a hard H? IMO, not pronouncing them in spanish is annoying. The rednecks i grew up with would pronounce spanish and french word how they look, which to me is like fingernails on a chalkboard. I think that as long as pretension isn't your goal, pronounce words as you see fit.

On a side note, in the college town i lived in for a while, a new mexican restaurant was opened on the main strip. The local paper advertised a naming contest to name the resaurant. "El Rancho" was the result...a nonsense word essentially...everybody would pronounce it as if it was a real spanish word.
posted by schyler523 at 11:13 AM on April 7, 2005

I don't have an answer, but I have to point out that this topic was the subject of an SNL skit starring Jimmy Smits.
posted by Galvatron at 11:15 AM on April 7, 2005

Quadog: Yeah, I figured you meant non-hispanic and I hope I didn't seem to be jumping down your throat on this point.

Distinguishing between [race] and hispanic has always seemed strange to me...Imagine distinguising between [race] and polish-/italian-/french-speaking etc. It's something that seems to have started after I was already an adult so it's always stood out to me whenever I hear people do it. After all, there are white (and black, and yes Asian) hispanic people all over the place, not just in Spain.

But that's one of those things that jumps out at me and annoys me for no particular reason that I can think of...Which I think is also the case with your annoyance over pronunciation. I don't think people do it for any particular reason, and I would ask instead why it irritates you.

But I'll back you up on different pronunciations..there's more to it than the Rs...the As would also have a different sound, and the H in hacienda would be silent, so it would be an hacienda. And the Es, too...the E in taqueria would be an *ugh* (like you just got hit in the stomach) kind of sound in english but more like "meh" in Spanish.
posted by duck at 11:15 AM on April 7, 2005

i was thinking all languages must have this problem, because they're not "constructed" knowing other languages exist. but then it struck me that something like esperanto might have rules for what to do when using foreign words. and maybe languages which are "controlled" (like spanish, by some academia) have "official rules" too?

anyway, in this case, i think it's best to just relax and not worrry too much if someone seems to be being a jerk. as someone said above, they might just be used to talking in spanish anyway (if that's what this is).

(on preview - schyler523, how do you pronounce paris? i know that's not spanish, but for me (english english) that sounds very odd as "paree" in "normal english conversation". and is it "paree hilton" for that ghastly blonde? or is she named after a greek bloke? (and if so, how is that pronounced?))
posted by andrew cooke at 11:17 AM on April 7, 2005

There are probably a couple of flavours of foreign words. Some have been taken and anglicized, usually to sell products. I would not be surprised if everything at Taco Bell is mispronounced. For other words I do my best to get the pronunciation right. This goes for peoples names too. I work with a Joel, he's from Mexico, early on his wife referred to him as Ho-el so that's what I call him. Almost nobody else does though which seems odd and disrespectful.

I still probably pronounce things incorrectly, but I try.
posted by substrate at 11:20 AM on April 7, 2005

As a side note one of the things that I hated about French class in grade school is that my given name, John, became Jean. Regardless of where I am or what language I'm speaking my name is John. If I was born in France or Quebec then it'd be Jean.
posted by substrate at 11:21 AM on April 7, 2005

Living in Southern California, I found this most annoying when getting directions.
Having someone say "Turn right on main, go down about two block, take a left on 5th, then a right on "incomprehensible spanish road name" got very aggravating.
Even after I learned the spanish pronunciation of a lot of roads, it was still difficult to make out some traffic reports on the radio. Especially when the traffic person had a clear as a bell anglo mid-western radio voice that simply disappeared when giving road names.

Personally, the fluently bilingual folk I knew in SoCal would use the anglicized version of words when speaking english and most had barely a trace of an accent while doing it.
This could have been in deference to my obviously non-spanish speaking northern europeanness though.

If I did speak Spanish, I'd probably use the Anglicized versions of words with other non-spanish speaking folks, just as I use the Anglicized version of German cities, even though I speak German. It's just polite.
posted by madajb at 11:27 AM on April 7, 2005

Sometimes people are being pretentious, sometimes they can't help it because they know how the word should sound & would feel like idiots saying it the other way. I do this somewhat with French words in English, but where I really have trouble is English words in French. I cannot say them with a French accent no matter how hard I try.
posted by dame at 11:28 AM on April 7, 2005

I think the difference between pronouncing places (Paris, Mexico), and pronouncing Spanish words (jalapeno) is important too, and now that's it's been pointed out, why don't we say "pa-ree" or "me-hi-co"? I can't imagine saying "ja-la-pen-yo".

As far as pronouncing names (substrate gave the "Joel" example), I think if you're not sure, just ask the person how they pronounce their name and use that.
posted by AlisonM at 11:31 AM on April 7, 2005

dame got it. I know a lot of people who do this with french words & I have often found it quite irritating, but I'm learning to be more forgiving of what may not even be pretentiousness - and if it is, well, people are only pretentious because they're still struggling with identity stuff, so there's no need to hate 'em for it :).
posted by mdn at 11:36 AM on April 7, 2005

Response by poster: But I get the feeling you want to ask a different question -- is it ok for me to resent it when people pronounce these words in a Spanish accent?

On closer examination of my question I think this is probably what I was asking without knowing it.

I don't go out of my way to by overly judgmental but there are certain social cues that get flagged for me while interacting with someone. The pronunciation issue is one of those. I think it boils down to the authenticity of the person speaking - their language background and motivation for talking one way or the other. If anything your responses are allowing me to be more understanding of those who I would normally perceive to be Spanish grandstanding.
posted by quadog at 11:37 AM on April 7, 2005

My mind boggles at how you'd even begin to anglicize burrito.

How about buh-REE-doh? Which is pretty much the only way I've heard it pronounced by Americans.

Getting back to the larger topic, though, I do find it incredibly annoying when people affect an accent in order to pronounce a foreign word. Sure, get the sounds roughly right, but don't stray so far from your usual set of phonemes that it comes of as fake. Please don't go to Taco Bell and order a boo-REE-to. Whether or not you're doing it for effect, I think it comes off as snobbish.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:43 AM on April 7, 2005

The rule is simple--if you are speaking English, and there is a standard English pronunciation of the word, you should use that, and not the Spanish pronunciation. Especially for proper names. You only use the Spanish pronunciation if the conversation is in Spanish. People who say "Mehico" and "Cooba" (for Cuba) are just being pedantic. "Hey look at me, I am culturally sensitive AND I took 8th grade Spanish!" I mean, how do they say France, or Germany?
posted by LarryC at 11:45 AM on April 7, 2005

I think you're reading a little much into it, ontic, when you use the word 'resent.' I can't speak for the questioner but I don't resent it when someone feels the need to say bu-re!-to rather than burr-ie-toe, I just think it's a little much when it's not increasing anyone's comprehension.

Rather than jumping to the conclusion that quadog is looking for permission to be snide, perhaps you could consider that s/he is asking if s/he is going to be thought less of for not employing the language-specific vowel sounds like these other jokers?
posted by phearlez at 11:47 AM on April 7, 2005

madajb: I'm in SC as well, and sometimes i feel that those road names are confusing as well, but how would you pronounce the following?
La Cienega
La Tijera

I feel that there are words you can and cannot anglicize, and finding where to draw that line is tough.

AndrewC: I think it all depends on context, obvioulsy i don't refer to Par-ee Hilton (i call her something much meaner.) I would say Par-ee while in Paris, Mehico while in Mexico, etc...
I pronounce words the way that feels right to me...and that changes given the situation I'm in.
posted by schyler523 at 11:50 AM on April 7, 2005

There's anglicizing, then there's pronouncing Guadalupe St. "Gwad-a-loop" as Austin, TX natives do. That's always perplexed me.
posted by FearTormento at 11:59 AM on April 7, 2005

On the "Paris and place names" issue, I think that these are examples of genuine anglicisation. We say "MosCO", not "Moskva" because, well, "Moscow" is the anglicised version. "Paris" just seems different because (somewhat paradoxically), it's the same - as far as spelling goes. But English-speakers should use the anglicised "ParISS" when speaking English.

Digression: why do many Americans insist on mispronouncing "Glasgow"? It's "Glas - GO", not "Glas-GOW". Unless you're Glaswegian, of course. Then it's "Glasgae, ya BASTURT". Headbutt optional.
posted by Decani at 12:04 PM on April 7, 2005

Phearlez -- good point. If it helps, I thought I recognized the symptoms from myself and my constant inability to decide whether to say "crape" or "crep". Quadog's friends have nothing on how annoying some of my french majoring friends could be in college.
posted by ontic at 12:11 PM on April 7, 2005

Another vote for dame - in most cases, its pure pretentiousness. Hardly limited to Spanish; I've actually encountered this more with people throwing over-emphasized French pronunciations into everyday conversation.
posted by googly at 12:25 PM on April 7, 2005

Huh, I've always called them boo-REE-toes. Maybe it's the SoCal background. And madajb: growing up there, I definitely learned to pronounce road names somewhere between totally Anglicized & totally Spanish: because there are so many, I think people are just used to it. Though in Montreal, I always enjoyed how the Anglos I knew gave directions by the English names for roads even though the signs are in French.
posted by dame at 12:26 PM on April 7, 2005

There's anglicizing, then there's pronouncing Guadalupe St. "Gwad-a-loop" as Austin, TX natives do. That's always perplexed me.

The same problem exists for residents of Versailles (Ver-Sales) and Bolivar (Ball-ever) in Missouri. I cringe every time.
posted by schyler523 at 12:29 PM on April 7, 2005

My Cuban ex used to go mental when people would pronounce Amarillo TX the way most people outside of Texas pronounce is which is ah-mah-rill-oh [with that nasal American ah] instead of the more Spanish ah-ma-rree-yo [with the ahhh sound]. When I went to liberal arts school in the super-PC eighties, this was a huge problem with everyone trying to be culturally sensitive, sometimes at the expense of meaning. To me it's all about your audience -- thus back to the original question -- there might be a small chance that you are being more understandable in a fast-talking-hard-to-hear-anyhow way if you use Spanish pronunciation around Spanish-speakers. However, it also seems just silly to use strongly accented Spanish pronunciation if you are conferring no such benefit.
posted by jessamyn at 12:35 PM on April 7, 2005

Hey Schyler, don't forget Ne-vay-duh (Nevada), and my personal favorite Grav-oise (Gravois) Road in St. Louis.
posted by ontic at 12:40 PM on April 7, 2005

... I can't take it anymore. For the last time, Taco Bell is not "real" Mexican food. And for that matter, neither is a "burrito". And for those of you brave enough to order a "chilito", there is a reason the latino/a behind the counter is giggling.

*deep breath*

Okay. I'm done venting.

As a latino, I have to say that I am appreciative of people who make the attempt to pronounce spanish words correctly. I dislike the anglicized pronunciations, not because they are technically "incorrect", they just feel like tin to my ear.
posted by lilnemo at 12:42 PM on April 7, 2005

I generally regard it as pretentiousness. There's no need to say "taqueria" when you're relating your trip to mexico-- say "restaurant."

The best way to deflate someone who does this is say "Oh, you're fluent in Spanish?" (eagerly with no trace of irony) If the answer is "yes," then they're pretty much entitled to do it. If they say "no..." there's generally a little awkward pause and they cut the shit.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:43 PM on April 7, 2005

How would you not pronounce your examples without using Spanish? Do you pronounce jalapeno with a hard J, or Hacienda with a hard H? IMO, not pronouncing them in spanish is annoying.

I think the pronunciations that quadog is referring to mostly involve changes in vowel sounds: Spanish has fewer vowel sounds than English, and English speakers will tend to insert English vowel sounds into Spanish words. In addition, sometimes e and i sounds are transposed. For instance, "jalapeño" would be pronounced "HA-LUH-PEE-NO" rather than "HA-LA-PAY-NYO". The "e" in "hacienda" becomes a short e sound that doesn't exist in Spanish. It becomes really obvious if you know what to listen for.

My big pet peeve with this issue is the pronunciation of the name of the country just West of Argentina and South of Peru. It's like fingernails on the blackboard to me when people refer to it as "Chilli". Of course, I realize that some people have the same response when I pronounce it (relatively) correctly.

I also have a problem in this regard to French words. I feel like an idiot pronouncing them anglicanized, and I feel like an idiot pronouncing them correctly in front of American English-speakers (Brits seem more open to this). Damned if you do, damned if you don't, I suppose...

Hey Schyler, don't forget Ne-vay-duh (Nevada)...

Remember when Bush got in trouble for this? He actually pronounced it like a Spanish word, and Nevadans got all upset with him.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2005

And Schyler:

La Cienega = La Sea-en-Ih-Guh
Cahuenga = Kuh-when-Guh
La Tijera = La Tee-herr-uh
posted by lilnemo at 12:49 PM on April 7, 2005

There's no need to say "taqueria" when you're relating your trip to mexico-- say "restaurant."

Homer: Hmm. I wonder why he's so eager to go the garage?

Moe: The "garage"? Hey fellas, the "garage"! Well, ooh la di da, Mr. French Man.

Homer: Well what do you call it?

Moe: A car hole!
posted by mr_roboto at 12:49 PM on April 7, 2005

As an aside, is the real sticking point that they (the "white people") are choosing the spanish word over the english equivalent, or that they are choosing to pronounce (or over-pronounce as the case may be) spanish words correctly (?).
posted by lilnemo at 12:55 PM on April 7, 2005

La Cienega = La Sea-en-Ih-Guh
Cahuenga = Kuh-when-Guh
La Tijera = La Tee-herr-uh

I would argue that this is the Spanish pronounciation. Anglicization of LA Tijera would be La Tee-Jerr-uh.

I agree with your most recent post about the overpronounciation though.
posted by schyler523 at 1:04 PM on April 7, 2005

I would argue that this is the Spanish pronounciation.
Good, cuz it is.
posted by lilnemo at 1:07 PM on April 7, 2005

This seems as good a place as any to ask: how is Pinochet's name pronounced? I grew up hearing (and saying) the bastard's name as Pee-no-SHAY. The suddenly, practically overnight (it was certainly sudden and jarring enough that several friends and I commented on it to each other), NPR started referring to him as Pee-no-CHETT. Then, just last week, he was back to being Pee-no-SHAY.
posted by scody at 1:08 PM on April 7, 2005

Though after carefully rereading, I can see that you were asking how one would anglicize these words.
posted by lilnemo at 1:09 PM on April 7, 2005

scody: Pinochet = Pee-noh-CHAY (no "t" at the end, I'm Chilean and grew up under the bastard, so trust me on this)

white in both the ethnic and cultural sense

I know you're not trying to be insensitive, but that is just so wrong. Many, many Spanish and Latinamericans are " white in both the ethnic and cultural sense" and speak Spanish, white!= english speaking.

When I first moved to California, I had a hard time learning how to pronounce spanish place-names in english. Vallejo was particularly hard, as they say "Vah-ley-oh", instead of "Va-yeh-hoe".

My pet peeve is english speaking people who (mis-) use spanish words instead of the exactly equivalent english one: "sombrero" for hat, "burro" for donkey, etc. If I'm talking in english to a german speaking person, I don't say "hauptbahnhoff" (sp?) instead of train station, right?
posted by signal at 1:27 PM on April 7, 2005

Here in Portland, gyro sandwiches are pronounced "hero" sandwiches, which is I guess how they say it in Greece. But I can't make myself say it. Where I grew up, back east, it was said like it's spelled -- "jie-roh."

I also learned to pronounce "coupon" as "que-pon" as opposed to "coo-pon," thanks to the Detroit influence of my mom's family.

I always screw up and pronounce the football-playin' university as "Notre Dahm" ever since I visited Notre Dame in Paree.

Ever since having a roommate who had traveled widely in South America, I've struggled everytime I talk about the nation Chile. Is it "CHIL-lee" or "chil-LAY"?

As an English major at an American university, I was taught that we were supposed to pronounce "Don Quixote" like the British -- as "Don Kwik-zote," not "Don Kee-ho-tay."

When I say something the way I want to say it, because that's how I was raised, sometimes I feel like I'm being pretentious. It's not that I think "que-pon" is better than "coo-pon," it's just that I think I should be allowed to talk the way I talk instead of the way the generic TV people talk. Pronounciation is funny. I think a lot of it is cultural. Saying something a certain way can be making a cultural statement -- that you are culturally enlightened, the you come from a certain background, or that you wish you were more sophisticated. I'd guess the last of those three is what you're Spanish-pronouncing friends are going for, quadog.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:30 PM on April 7, 2005

croutonsupafreak: CHEEL-ay, in spanish.
posted by signal at 1:34 PM on April 7, 2005

or, acutally, CHEE-lay.
posted by signal at 1:36 PM on April 7, 2005

After years of French class, I have big, involuntary problems not pronouncing the word "crêpe" with an aspirated c and throaty R -- KHREPP -- as opposed to the anglicization -- KRAYP. I also feel stupid going to Spanish restaurants and ordering an enchillotta, only to have the waiter repeat my order -- So you'd like one en-CHEE-lah-dah?
posted by grrarrgh00 at 1:46 PM on April 7, 2005

Pronounciation is funny. I think a lot of it is cultural. Saying something a certain way can be making a cultural statement... I think I should be allowed to talk the way I talk instead of the way the generic TV people talk.

Absolutely. Regional dialect is beautiful. New Englanders with otherwise neutral diction never pronounce "aunt" as a homonym for "ant," and Philadelphians shouldn't be ashamed to ask for "werter" when they want water. But someone who is a native speaker of American english shouldn't pull an Alex Trebek and trill and aspirate the hell out of "Arc de Triumph."

It's nearly as pretentious as americans using british terms or (shudder) accents. I should be allowed to assault you if you're from Massachusetts and you refer to "bangers" when you mean "sausages".
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:49 PM on April 7, 2005

I've found [the English-French equivalent of this] to be interesting here in Montreal. I'm sort of bilingual, having learned French fairly early on as a second language, but go to a very predominantly English school, where most of my friends are Americans who speak very little French.

For the most part, English-speakers in Montreal seem to settle on a happy medium, learning not to pronounce the t's in Saint-Laurent, but, say in the French name of a business, if a word, like "restaurant" or "club" is spelled the same in English, using the English pronunciation around other native anglophones.

Obviously, as an anglophone living in Quebec, I feel this to be a political issue, and it's something that I try to pay attention to. It's also interesting to hear how badly someone with very little knowledge of French can screw up pronunciations ("Wow, who knew you didn't have to pronounce all those letters in there?")
posted by ITheCosmos at 1:55 PM on April 7, 2005

Digression: why do many Americans insist on mispronouncing "Glasgow"? It's "Glas - GO", not "Glas-GOW". Unless you're Glaswegian, of course. Then it's "Glasgae, ya BASTURT". Headbutt optional.

Heh. Too true, though I'm tempted to take issue with the "optional" part.

(I studied in Glasgow for a while, ages ago, and my mother never did learn to pronounce the name of the place correctly. Drives me right up the wall to this day.)
posted by Vervain at 2:01 PM on April 7, 2005

Response by poster: white= english speaking

Ah, yes. I wish I could repost the question framing it in this context rather than a racial one as I now see that the same thing has the potential to happen in English to French, etc. But that's why we ask questions – in hopes of being informed, right?
posted by quadog at 2:08 PM on April 7, 2005

I'm surprised no one has brought up the legendary "Saturday Night Live" skit featuring Jimmy Smits and Bob Costas overstressing Spanish names to riotous effect. I would err on the side of your native tongue--otherwise, frankly, you're trying too hard, in much the same (and more appropriate) way that you would try to use the Spanish inflection in proper context. When in Rome and all.

This page on 'mock Spanish' gives a nice overview of the pros and cons of the inflection, and it uses the SNL skit as a good example to boot. If I may quote the page at length:

My final example for the strategy of hyperanglicization is a video of a very complex and ambivalent skit from the television program ``Saturday Night Live'. The skit features the well-known Latino actor Jimmy Smits, a role model for youth who is frequently featured in literacy and anti-drug campaigns. The skit opens in a conference room where a television news program is finishing up; the reporter closes her story with the words, ``This is Robin Fletcher, reporting live from Managua, Nicaragua'. ``Robin Fletcher' pronounces the place name in a reasonable approximation of educated second-language Spanish.

This line, however, opens the way for an increasingly absurd performance, in which members of the cast pronounce everyday names for places and people that have standard Anglicizations in exaggeratedly phony Spanish accents. For instance, one character uses [horr'Tega] for ``Ortega'. Into the middle of this absurdity comes Jimmy Smits, who is introduced as ``Antonio Mendoza' an economics correspondent. One male cast member shows off his Spanish expertise, asking the new arrival whether he should pronounce his name [men'dosa] or as Castilian [men'dotha]. Smits replies mildly that [mEn'dowsdh@] (the normal Anglicization) would be fine, or even [mEn'dowz@]. Mexican food is delivered, yielding another round of absurd pronunciations. ``Mendoza' observes that the others present really like Latino food; one character proudly announces that his taste for such food was developed growing up in [loh 'hangeles].

Next, the famous sportscaster Bob Costas appears in a cameo role, introduced as ``Bob' ['kosTas]. He is briefly quizzed about his predictions for the coming Sunday's football games, with absurd pronunciations of team and place names ([brrronkos], [Tampa] Bay, [san frrran'siysko]), until he is called out of the room because he has left the lights on in his car, a [ka'mahrrro]. ``Antonio Mendoza' listens to these performances with increasing consternation, finally volunteering, ``You guys really seem to be up on your Spanish pronunciation. But if you don't mind my saying, sometimes when you take Spanish words and kind of over-pronounce them, well, it's kind of annoying'.

Stunned, one offender asks him to explain what he means. ``Well', says ``Mendoza', ``you know that kind of storm that has winds that whirl round and round?' ``Of course', answers the butt, ``a [torrrr'na:ddho]'. ``Mendoza' shrugs his shoulders and gives up. Then another actor offers him Mexican food. Mendoza has declined before, but he says, ``OK, I guess I'll have an [EnchI'laDdh@]' (in the normal Anglicization). The other actor says, ``What?' Mendoza repeats, still mildly and politely: ``An [EnchI'laDdh@]. I said, I'll have an [EnchI'laDdh@]'. The other actor still refuses to understand him, and ``Mendoza' loses it finally, leaping to his feet and shouting, ``An [e:nchi'la:dha]! [an:'to:nyo men'do:sa] would like an [e:nchi'la dha]! It would be very muy bueno because [an:'to:nyo is very ['ha:ngri:]! It would make him feel really good to have an [e:nchi'ladha]!' The other actors nod approvingly at one another, observing ``Hey, this guy's all right!'. The skit ends.

I have played this video clip several times to academic audiences consisting largely of Anglos, and it never fails to get huge laughs -- indeed, the hilarity from the early examples makes many of the later ones inaudible. I think the skit permits the release in laughter of some of the discomfort such people feel about Spanish. Hyperanglicization in Mock Spanish can be partly explained as expressing this discomfort, and as constructing a ``distance' between the pronouncer and the language that is endowed with low status by repeated parody. The ambivalence is especially acute for academics, who may not want to seem ignorant about Spanish pronunciation.

The skit also seems to imply that Anglos who try for a correct pronunciation, like the ``Robin Fletcher' television reporter who opens the skit, are out of line and should stick to good all-American Anglicized versions of place names and personal names. Under this interpretation, Jimmy Smits is in fact playing into the hands of anti-Spanish sentiment. However, I am told by Spanish-speaking Americans that the skit has, for them, quite different readings. The ``Antonio Mendoza' character expresses for them their own negative feelings about English accents in Spanish, which they find grating. Further, they understand the character as sharing their resentment at the fact that Anglos with even moderate skills in Spanish are admired as highly educated, and are clearly proud of their linguistic sophistication, while their own greatly superior knowledge of the language is suspected of being ``Unamerican', or taken as a mark of inferiority.

Finally, the Smits character expresses exasperation that he cannot be an ordinary ``economics consultant', but has to play out an image of being ``Chicano' that will satisfy Anglos. On any reading, the skit captures the extreme ambivalence and complexity of ideologies about Spanish in the United States.

Hyperanglicized examples of Mock Spanish are nearly always interpretable only under the analysis of split indexicality developed above. However, they add an additional dimension to the indirect indexicality: hyperanglicized pronunciation expresses iconically the extreme social distance of the speaker, and of Mock Spanish itself, from actual Spanish and any possible negative contamination that a speaker might acquire by being erroneously heard as a real speaker of Spanish.

posted by werty at 2:10 PM on April 7, 2005

Ah, yes. I wish I could repost the question framing it in this context rather than a racial one as I now see that the same thing has the potential to happen in English to French, etc. But that's why we ask questions – in hopes of being informed, right?

Quadog: I think you're missing the point that people are trying to get across to you. It's not that there are similar pronunciation issues with languages that other "white" people speak (e.g. French); it's that the majority (possibly the vast majority) of native Spanish speakers self-identify as "white". This is certainly true for most Spaniards; it's also true for many, many Central and South Americans. There are non-white "Indian" communities in Central and South America: people closely related to the indigenous populations, many of whom speak minority languages and exist as marginalized rural groups, but these groups don't represent the majority in most countries. There are also tens of millions of "mestizo" people who recognize a mixed indigenous and Spanish heritage. But I would guess that through the Spanish-speaking Americas, "white" would be the most common racial self-identifier. Racial identity is a complicated thing, of course, and I don't pretend to understand all the ins and outs (Mexico, in particular, confuses me, and things seem to get awfully complicated in the U.S.), but you seem to be assuming that most Spanish-speakers are nonwhite, which simply isn't the case.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:00 PM on April 7, 2005

after reading other people's replies, i think part of my first comment was wrong. all the english speaking people i know either speak spanish most of the time, or don't know it at all. either way, they pronounce spanish words as spanish words (or make some horrible mess that sounds like nothing). in your case it seems (as i should have guessed, given what i know about america) that a lot of spanish words are used in american english and have their own recognised pronunciation. it never occurred to me that anyone would pronounce the H in hacienda or say "jalapeno" with a "Jay".

so ignore the bit about me saying there doesn't seem to be much difference. sorry.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:27 PM on April 7, 2005

it never occurred to me that anyone would pronounce the H in hacienda or say "jalapeno" with a "Jay".

I've never heard anyone pronounce "jalapeno" with a "Jay", and I've been talking mostly to native speakers of American English my whole life. Pronouncing the silent H is common, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:33 PM on April 7, 2005

Response by poster: it's that the majority (possibly the vast majority) of native Spanish speakers self-identify as "white"

Admittedly, this blows my mind. I've always understood that Spaniards identify as white. I've always assumed that the majority of people in Latin America are Hispanic and/or would not identify themselves as white. I think part of my misunderstanding stems from thinking that Latin American equals hispanic.

I'm still a little confused about this. How can someone from Argentina who has spanish/indigenous blood in their veins check themselves off as white? Is this a bad example?

Anyway, I'm derailing my own thread but my motivation is to be educated. Feel free to use my email to pick up the conversation as long as you don't flame me ;-)
posted by quadog at 3:43 PM on April 7, 2005

spanish/indigenous blood

These are not the same thing. There were Spaniards who arrived in Argentina, and there were indigenous people who already lived there. (There were also lots of Germans who came along later, I believe, among many other things.)

How can someone from Argentina who has [non-white] blood in their veins check themselves off as white?

Why shouldn't they? Consider this question another way around: "How can someone in the United States who has white blood in their veins check themselves off as black?" (The "blood in their veins" metaphor is also somewhat problematic, but I think, for now, beside the larger point.)
posted by redfoxtail at 3:56 PM on April 7, 2005

well, it's your thread... here in chile, and i suspect elsewhere in latin america (perhaps moreso, since here things are pretty racially integrated) it's considered "upper class" to be white. so i guess some richer chileans - people who live in las condes, drive big suvs, the women are "blonde" and thin, etc - might self-identify as "white".

however, i, too, would assume that the majority of spanish speakers would self-identify as hispanic. where the confusion comes from, in my opinion (apart from the broader issue of this not being what you were talking about anyway) is that "white" isn't the same kind of thing as "hispanic". the word you want to use is "caucasian".

so i guess people might say they are both white and hispanic, but not caucasian. therefore, in my opinion, you should have said "caucasian" rather than "white" (and, of course, you're still ignoring spaniards).

and finally, since no group is homogenous anyway, and since what you care about is how they talk and not what they look like, it would have simpler and more correct to have just said "no native spanish speakers" or similar.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:59 PM on April 7, 2005

There's a Berlin in Texas. Pronounced BEAR-line. There's a Boston, Louisiana. Pronounced BO-STAWn. Go figure. My dad once told me a bunch of one-horse towns along old French trade and trapping routes were named Purgatoire, which in time became...Picketwire.
posted by atchafalaya at 4:17 PM on April 7, 2005

actually, i think i'm wrong again, now about caucasian/hispanic. see, for example, the section "What is race" in that link.

but my final point remains - it would have been much simpler to just talk about what you really wanted to talk about - whether people were native spanish speakers or not - rather than using vague labels.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:25 PM on April 7, 2005

Please keep in mind that racial politics and taxonomies aren't the same the world over. In Chile, to keep up the example, most of the people don't think of themselves as being any race at all. What you have is a broad spectrum going from "almost all indian blood" to "almost no indian blood", dark to light, but we don't have racial check boxes in our public documents.
Which is not to say we don't have racism, as your income and social standing in inversely proportional to how much indian blood you have, but it's a continuous sort of discrimination, not a discrete one like in the U.S. "Gringos" (any blonde, non-iberian european language speaker), "chinos" (any asian person), "negros" (blacks), etc. are a statistical anomaly and most people feel free to gawk and/or discriminate them, as they are seen as "other".
And "hispanic" is not a race, "latino" isn't one either.
Mapuches (the majority indigenous people) make a distinction between themselves and "Chilenos", and most non-Mapuches would probably self identify as "Chilenos" and not much else.
posted by signal at 4:32 PM on April 7, 2005

What people need to understand that Hispanic is an essentially meaningless word, because it encompasses so many different peoples as to be rather useless as an ethnic signifier. Stop and consider the different types of peoples you will find throughout the Carribean, Central America and South America. People of European ancestry, African ancestry , Asian ancestry, indigenous ancestry all thrown together under that silly word, Hispanic. Lumping Spain into this made up category is even more absurd. I think you should do a road trip through the Americas to give yourself a better idea about the diversity that exists South of the border.
posted by sic at 4:57 PM on April 7, 2005

All sorts of hot-button issues with annoying knee-jerk responses in this thread. My favorite comment so far:

The rule is simple--if you are speaking English, and there is a standard English pronunciation of the word, you should use that, and not the Spanish pronunciation. Especially for proper names. You only use the Spanish pronunciation if the conversation is in Spanish. People who say "Mehico" and "Cooba" (for Cuba) are just being pedantic. "Hey look at me, I am culturally sensitive AND I took 8th grade Spanish!" I mean, how do they say France, or Germany?
posted by LarryC at 11:45 AM PST on April 7

Yup. For an extended rant on this subject, see here:
Yes, OK, but don't you think it's important to say things the way the locals do?

Ah, what a tempting notion that is. Who among us has not come back from some foreign trip intent on saying "yama" for llama, or "Nee-kar-agggh-wa" for Nicaragua, or "Mong-rrrhay-al" for Montreal? (I confess to a dangerous flirtation with "Budapesht" myself.) And who among us was not then kindly mocked by our friends, who pointed out jeeringly (but caringly) that such words were pronounced differently in English, and, since English was the language we had chosen to speak, could we not just speak it properly? Or were we planning on spending the rest of our lives saying "Paree" for Paris?

So to answer your question - no, I think it's sad and silly to say things the way the locals do if there's an accepted English pronunciation.
How can someone from Argentina who has spanish/indigenous blood in their veins check themselves off as white? Is this a bad example?

It's a particularly bad example. The Argentines are notorious for claiming they're the only truly white Latin Americans, somehow having occupied a land without indigenous inhabitants and without contamination from black, uh, immigrants. Both assertions are nonsense -- the indigenous inhabitants were killed, assimilated, or driven into the mountains, and the blacks (slaves in the 19th century) were assimilated or ignored (though the tango they invented was eagerly accepted) -- but the fact is that most Argentines today look distinctly "white" and are pround of their "white," "European" "civilization." (If I sound like I have an animus against Argentines, that's a false impression -- I love the place and had a great time, not to mention the best pizza of my life, there, but I can't stand pretention and hypocrisy, especially when liberally salted with racism.)

Oh, and there's nothing wrong with anglicized place names, for pete's sake. People who claim to be horrified by them are just nervous about their own claims to cultural superiority -- "I know how Athens is pronounced, and it's not "AY-thinz"!" Oh yeah? 'Cause the Greeks say ah-THEE-neh. So what makes A-thinz so much better than AY-thinz? Nothing, that's what. The former is how we pronounce the capital of Greece in English, the latter is how we pronounce the names of several American cities, unless we're too ignorant to know the difference or too pretentious to learn. And Chile is pronounced exactly like chilly in English; if you have a burning desire to say "CHEE-lay," speak Spanish.

And to those who claim they pronounce "burrito" EXACTLY as in Spanish: what, pure vowels, rolled r, and all? Oy vay. If so, you must be a trial to everyone you converse with.
posted by languagehat at 5:22 PM on April 7, 2005

I'm fluent in French and am British, and generally anglicise French words when speaking English, for convenience' sake - I have a Finnish friend moved to London aged 18 to study Italian, and when I go to a bar with her and she orders Pinot Grigio wine, I usually have to repeat the order for her in an English accent so that the barperson understands her... it's just not usual to adopt native pronunciation for most things here.
posted by altolinguistic at 5:27 PM on April 7, 2005

LH: There's something in between totally Anglicized and totally foreign, like giving a nod to the native pronunciation. See the California street name example.
posted by dame at 7:12 PM on April 7, 2005

LarryC nailed it. If there is an English pronunciation, use it. Why is it that I hear the hyper-pronunciation of Spanish words more than any other language? Is Spanish so superior or something that its pronunciation should take over even when the person is speaking English? Seems silly. We don't do this for French or German or anything else... so why do it for Spanish?

Oh, and I live just off Guadalupe (gwadaloop) in Austin. I correct people when they say "gwadaloopay".
posted by beth at 7:29 PM on April 7, 2005

i just wanted to confirm what signal said. i've been round to some (chilean) friends and i asked them "what race are you?" and they looked at my like i was from mars. someone said "well, i guess maybe we're white" and then someone else said that since they were half-mapuche they couldn't be white. and no-one knew what race mapuche was. in the end "mestizo" was the only word that came out. and when i then suggested "hispanic" no-one seemed to think it relevant at all.

so there you go. apologies for thinking hispanic was a racial group (i plead ignorance - it's not used in the uk as far as i remember; pauli was always "south american") and for thinking i knew what peope here would say. in chile, it seems, people really don't think about race much (or, at least, not in the way i think n. americans do).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:35 PM on April 7, 2005

I had a giy-row tonight for dinner, and felt funny ordering it that way, until I realized that the slacker high-school student taking my order would have looked at me funny if I had ordered a hero.

My rule of thumb? Pronounce words "American" (if you're USAIN). Anything else is fussy and pretentious.
posted by grateful at 7:54 PM on April 7, 2005

Another data point checking in (from FL). I'm part hispanic and work with several people who are fully hispanic, as well as fluent in Spanish. If we're using a Spanish word in passing while speaking English, we tend to anglicize it. If we're speaking in English exclusively about hispanic topics (usually traditional food), then the Spanish pronunciation is more common.

I am not very fluent in Spanish and while my co-workers are, they do not actively code-switch between the languages. So, the pitch and cadence of our voices are noticeably different depending on which language we are using. That's probably why we just anglicize certain Spanish words - we're just in "English mode". It's even gone so far that my coworkers anglicize the pronunciation of their names.

So, if I were you, just use the English version.

As for "jalepeno," it seems every non-hispanic I encounter pronounces it "hal-ay-PEE-no." Drives me crazy.
posted by Sangre Azul at 9:17 PM on April 7, 2005

someone who is a native speaker of American english shouldn't pull an Alex Trebek and trill and aspirate the hell out of "Arc de Triumph."

I'm bilingual and have a horrible time with this. "Ark duh try-umph" just sounds awful to me but when I say it right, "arrrc de tree-omph," I sound pretentious to myself. (I end up saying it right anyway. I mean, if you are going to Americanize it, why not just say "Arch of Triumph" and be done with it?) I don't speak Spanish but I've always heard it as "ha-la-pay-nyo" and "chee-lay" so that's how I say them. Though for years I thought there were two different places, la joe-la and la hoya.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:10 PM on April 7, 2005

When I first moved to California, I had a hard time learning how to pronounce spanish place-names in english. Vallejo was particularly hard, as they say "Vah-ley-oh", instead of "Va-yeh-hoe".

I'm a bit late to the party, but the most funny pronunciation I can remember is when a friend of my father's pronounced it "Valley Joe."

I speak French almost fluently (I was fluent a few years ago but haven't used it much), so sometimes I can't help but say French words using French pronunciation. I agree though that using the English pronunciation when there is a standard one is a good rule of thumb... I say "Mon-tree-all" and "Pariss" when speaking English. I too struggle with the pronunciation of crepe. Usually I say it the French way first, at which point my friends give me a puzzled look and I repeat it as kraype. Saying kraype is really weird for me.
posted by swank6 at 11:16 PM on April 7, 2005

This is all very interesting, but really I want to know how the fuck I'm supposed to pronounce the 'v' in 'caveat emptor' if I want to impress the NPR crowd. Should I go with the voiced labiodental fricative so I don't sound like a pretentious ass? Or should I go with the voiced labial-velar approximant in hopes of being overheard by some especially erudite individual who will be duly impressed?
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:19 PM on April 7, 2005

"Get off it, Napoleon! Just make yourself a dang quesadiLLa!"
posted by spinifex23 at 12:00 AM on April 8, 2005

Cairo (KAY-row), Illinois
posted by kirkaracha at 12:04 AM on April 8, 2005

Regarding the gyro - it's not pronounced "hero" here, it's pronounced more like "YEEroh" with a tiny "gh" sound on the "y" and a soft, short-rolling "r". But when I go to the U.S., if want to get a gyro, I will pronounce it jie-row.

Anyway, this brings up a funny thought - if we were really to try to pronounce all the English words that have been borrowed from foreign languages in their original pronunciation, the language would sound completely different — like gibberish, in fact; just imagine the Greek and Latin alone!

That said, my feeling is that if something just really feels like fingernails on a chalkboard when pronouncing it the Anglicized way, go ahead and use the proper pronunciation. Swank6's "crepe" example is good.
posted by taz at 12:52 AM on April 8, 2005

I'm very late to the party, but add these two thoughts:
I used to work as an assistant for a Mexican Irish sculptor (Chico MacMurtrie- no kidding) who was fluent in both spanish and english, with nary an accent in either. He made excellent quesadillas for snacks, but only referred to them in my presence as "Cheese Crisps" If I said quesadilla, anglicized or not, he'd simply respond with "cheese crisps" until I gave in.

There's a story about the Richard Feynman running into Murray Gell-Mann (both Nobel laureate physicists, in case ya didn't know) after the latter had been on a trip. When Feynman asked Gell-Mann where he had been, he was told "Mohn TRAY ahl" in heavily accented french.
Feynman supposedly paused for a few seconds, parsed what was said, took in the information, and said back-
"Isn't the purpose of language... communication?"

Fantastic analysis of the SNL skit. I was wondering when that would show up in this debate.
posted by asavage at 2:52 AM on April 8, 2005

This been a topic of disussion recently on the email list of the American Dialect Society.

My opinion, which echos others offered here, is that if you know the proper prounciation you should use it. Dumbing down the pronunciation is, to me, just another small example of the anti-education, anti-intellectual, and anti-worldliness attitudes that marble the meat of American culture.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:18 AM on April 8, 2005

ok, my mind is now boggled. how can someone who reads a dialect list talk about proper pronunciation? do you just post flames?

i thought (after misunderstanding at least once) that the point here was what to do about words that already have an accepted pronunciation within the english-speaking culture. is there some subtle distinction between that kind of appropriation of words, which will be specific to certain regions, and dialect, that i'm missing?
posted by andrew cooke at 7:31 AM on April 8, 2005

Mo Nickels, it's not just a question of American culture; there's a larger social question. I've mentioned this once elsewhere on the Filter, so I feel I'm repeating myself, but never mind:

I've noticed that my Greek husband always pronounces English words with a strong Greek accent when speaking with other Greeks, but with a "regular" (in this case, American, because that's where he lived) accent when speaking to me, or any other non-Greek, English-speaking person. I once asked him about it — like, why would he say "cleek" instead of "click" when it must seem so much more normal for him to say "click"? and he basically told me that it would make him feel like an asshole to speak with other Greeks this way. I understand exactly what he means.

However, if the other Greeks are for some reason all speaking English, then he speaks English normally (almost zero accent); this also makes perfect sense to me.
posted by taz at 7:46 AM on April 8, 2005

I agree with those who think it's pretentious -- if you're speaking English, the correct pronunciation is the Anglicized pronunciation. When I'm having dinner with my American husband, the chicken is on the table. When I'm having dinner with my Bengali parents, [the] CHEE-ken [is on the] TEH-beel.

The talk about place names reminds me of my first trip to Montpelier, Vermont. "Where's downtown moh-puhl-YAY?" "What?" "Um, the capital?" "Oh, mont-PEEL-yer. It's down this way." Oops.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:52 AM on April 8, 2005

Like Beth, I live not far from Gwadaloop St in Austin, TX.

Despite assaults on Spanish pronunciation like that, I do think there are different ambient levels of Spanish fidelity among different anglophone communities. Among my crowd in Texas, it's a little higher than among my crowd in Chicago, where I grew up. Back there, I had a girlfriend whose innocence of Spanish pronunciation extended to pronouncing the Spanish word for "chicken" exactly the same as name for the aristocratic sport involving ponies and mallets. Although my own knowledge of the language is derived primarily from the study of menus in Mexican restaurants, I couldn't help but cringe at that.

Down here, my friends all pronounce Chile as "CHEE-lay." It's not pretentious. But a friend who lived in El Salvador for a year, and speaks Spanish well, pronounces that country's name anglo-style.

OTOH, I would enjoy watching snippets of Spanish-language TV in Chicago and hearing local advertisers pronounce street names like Pulaski with a flat Midwestern accent in the middle of Spanish.
posted by adamrice at 8:15 AM on April 8, 2005

Pretentious is in the eye of the beholder. It's all context, depending on who your talking to, what languages they speak, shared history, etc. It's usage and idiolects all the way down.
posted by signal at 8:58 AM on April 8, 2005

There's a Berlin in Texas. Pronounced BEAR-line. There's a Boston, Louisiana. Pronounced BO-STAWn. Go figure.

There's also Houston street in NYC, pronounced house-tun.

I think calling it "pulling an alex trebek" is actually quite perfect. It feels like an attempt to look intellectual - not be, but look - "I'm not an intellectual, but I play one on TV..."

Usually I say it the French way first, at which point my friends give me a puzzled look and I repeat it as kraype. Saying kraype is really weird for me.

For me it isn't the crepp/craype part that makes a difference - it's what you do with the R (and to a lesser extent the P). What is irritating is when people translate their entire pronunciation scheme - basically, when they fake an accent. If you are speaking the language, the accent may be a natural part of it, but if you are just speaking a couple words, then I do not believe the accent is natural (unless you're a fluent speaker slipping between languages, which is different), and it just seems like you're trying to prove your knowledge rather than simply communicate. And why not call it the arch of triumph? Do you talk about la tour eiffel? I think arc d'triumph in anglicanized pronounciation is simply easier to say...
posted by mdn at 9:35 AM on April 8, 2005

There's something in between totally Anglicized and totally foreign, like giving a nod to the native pronunciation. See the California street name example.

But those California street names aren't some compromise between A and B -- they're the name of the street. There's a street in Santa Barbara called Canon Perdido, 'lost cannon' (and yes, there's a long and doubtless unhistorical local story about it). In Spanish the word for 'cannon' is cañón, pronounced kah-NYOHN, but that's irrelevant -- the street name is kuh-NOWN pur-DEE-doh. Anyone who said "kah-NYOHN" would get looked at funny, and quite rightly, too. Do you bristle when out-of-towners talk about "HEW-ston" Street? Of course you do, because that's not the name of the street. Would you change your usage if you were told that the street was named after somebody who pronounced their name HEW-ston or HOO-ston (the Scottish original)? No, of course not. That's irrelevant. The name of the street is HOW-ston. As I never tire of saying, you don't need to know any other languages (or, for that matter, any history) to speak English correctly.

Mo: You astonish me. You're the last person I would have expected to take a purist attitude here. Are you seriously recommending that people ignore local/anglicized pronunciations and say every word or name as it would be in the source language? Do you realize this implies learning every language from which words or names have been borrowed? Do you say "Jebel at-Tariq" for Gibraltar? My mind is officially boggled.
posted by languagehat at 11:07 AM on April 8, 2005

As a rule, since I had no idea how to actually pronounce them, I avoided saying them as much as possible. heh.

When I was forced to give directions using them, I used a mangled Anglicized version and most people picked up on it and/or politely ignored my tortured attempt at Spanish.
posted by madajb at 5:20 PM on April 8, 2005

Andrew and Languagehat: "Proper pronunciation." I've seen this debate many times so I'm not surprised that you might assume that, particularly given my complaints about anti-pointyheadedness and dumbing things down, that I meant that foreign place names should be pronounced other than the way the locals pronounce them, or that I meant Paris should be pronunced "PAH-ree" when speaking English. I don't. My words were badly chosen, though.

The "dumbing down" comment was not quite right. I probably should have written, "pronouncing based upon your own assumptions of language" or "pronouncing based upon the perceived ignorance of your audience." That's the kind of dumb work I hate.

The proper pronunciation is, of course, dependent upon who you are talking to. So that means that those knuckleheads that stick to, for example, the Hispanophone pronunciation of certain California place names in spite of all evidence that they should be pronounced in an Anglophone manner, are pronouncing them wrongly. The reverse is also true: Those knuckleheads who pronounce certain Spanish words in an Anglophone manner, despite all evidence that they should be pronounced in a Hispanophone manner, are also pronouncing them wrongly. This is not to say that the "Thames" should ever be pronounced as it looks by anyone.

I've skipped much of this debate because it's old hat, but my answer is still simple (though better put this time): the correct pronunciations of words, as determined by the in-group, should be used if at all possible, and this pronunciation is always determined on a case-by-case basis, as there is no one rule which governs nor guides the rules of proper Anglophone pronunciation of words of foreign origin.

That said, I have the same unreconciliable conflicts as others above: words that I learned first or know best in French or Spanish are likely to come out with the proper French or Spanish pronunciation, even if they already have a different accepted standard pronunciation in English. This is particularly true for proper nouns: I cannot help but pronounce "Bastille" in the French manner. The double-ell in Spanish, too, is often different for me: there's an echo one of my first Spanish teachers, who was from Chile (which, too, I cannot help but pronounce as Chileans do), which means it often comes out in that "j" or "dj" kind of way.

But I don't spend my life correcting people who say "Cay-roh" when referring to the city in Illinois, nor those who say "Ver-sales" when referring to Versailles, Mo. That's how the locals do it; that's how I do it.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:47 AM on April 9, 2005

I should add: the pronunciation of a word should change, even when spoken by the same individual, depending upon whom they are speaking to.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:51 AM on April 9, 2005

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