Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When reading to an audience, or speaking in conversation, when is it appropriate to use the original pronunciation of a foreign word versus the English pronunciation (assuming you know the appropriate pronunciation for it)? Is it considered rude, or condescending? Or is it considered a mark of being knowledgeable?

One of the things to consider are place names. When referring to Paris, France, should it be pronounced with the silent 'S' as the French would say it, or with the 'S'? Should Hiroshima be pronounced as a Japanese speaker would pronounce it slightly more emphasis on RO, rather than the SHI? Should Mount Pinatubo be pronounced as a Filipino speaker would pronounce it with shorter stronger vowels, or the longer vowels? (e.g. Pi as is 'pick' rather than 'pea'.) Should Wichita be pronounces as the original "shi" rather than the modern "chi"?

Pronounce pesos or sombrero as a Spanish speaker 'eh' or the English 'ay'?

(I can't think of other common words right now that aren't words taken from other languages like hurricane, boondocks, tornado, etc. which I think have (correctly) changed to English pronunciations.)

share|improve this question
3  
My experience the other way round, i.e. pronouncing English words when speaking in my language (Italian), is that this is a lose-lose situation. If you pronounce the English word correctly, it sounds pretentious (plus, you risk being made fun of, if it is wrong); on the other hand, if you pronounce it "the Italian way", everybody will think that you speak really poor English. One way out you can use sometimes is to say them both the first time, thus acknowledging the existence of both versions, and go on with one of them in later occurrences. –  UncleZeiv Aug 22 '10 at 9:24
    
@Uncle: I'm italian too, every time I hear "wikipedia" mispronounced I cringe :S –  Andreas Bonini Aug 29 '10 at 17:10
    
For place names, go with the familiar. If it's not familiar, go with the most accurate. –  Armstrongest Sep 23 '10 at 17:30
3  
Half of the "English" pronunciations (HiroSHIma, pAYsos, sombrAYro) you list should probably be called American instead. –  Peter Taylor Feb 1 '11 at 13:38
4  
In the mid-western US, I hear HiROshima as often as I hear HiroSHIma. I find that the speech sounds strange when familiar, Americanized words are suddenly injected with their intended foreign pronunciation. This is especially so with trilled R's and consonants with hard stops. Notable exceptions are for foreign words or phrases that have become more commonplace, such as "gay Paris." –  oosterwal Feb 1 '11 at 19:50

14 Answers 14

Occasionally when listening to an audio book in my Spanish Classes, I would hear mispronounced English words in them occasionally. The most annoying one was when I heard Nike (the shoe manufacturer) pronounced Naik as opposed to a more correct pronunciation Naiki. My opinion on pronouncing foreign words is that to only pronounce them in the original language if you know how to correctly pronounce it in that language.

share|improve this answer
    
The only reason 'Nike' should be pronounced to rhyme with 'spiky' rather than 'bike' is because Nike chairman Philip Knight has confirmed that that's the correct way to pronounce the brand's name. If he'd said 'It's homophonous with 'luxury yacht', that would have been the correct pronunciation. –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 21 at 22:55

Personally, I think it's a shame so many wonderful words and pronunciations go unused due to fear of being viewed as "pretentious." That word should be banned from the English language altogether. When it comes to original pronunciations of foreign words, I say speak confidently, boldly and without fear. If you want to say Paree or Venezia (vs Venice) or Para-GWHY vs Para-GWAY, then do so and the heck with what the other fellow thinks!

share|improve this answer

I'm fully bilingual in English and Spanish (I grew up in both England and Spain, and I speak both with transparency).

When I speak in Spanish and mention an English word (like "iPod", "Google", "Pokémon"), I consciously dumb it down to how a Spaniard would say it. It is much easier for them to understand, as they are used to the dumbed-down pronunciation, and would perhaps not understand it if I said it to them as an Englishman would.

I'd also get an odd look, and feel like I'm being condescending if I spoke "correctly".

share|improve this answer
    
This is weird. In Latin America, some countries, try to keep it up with the original pronunciation or at least follow some kind of english way to read things. Personally I think it should be a style. If you decide to pronounce as unreal versions, then you should stick with it to be consistent and your audience will understand a pattern in your speaking skills. If you speak like it should be for a global cultured people, then try to learn how to pronounce foreigner words as the originals. In many cases, like myself, you started to learn an idiom because you wanted to pronounce it well. –  Billeeb Dec 2 '10 at 12:38
2  
I am a native Spanish speaker and my experience is that in Latin America and Portugal they will often give you the condescending look if you dumb things down when you pronounce. However, in Spain you are expected to dumb it down. –  CesarGon Jan 3 '11 at 19:56
2  
And of course, Pokémon is not even English. –  neil Feb 24 '11 at 18:30

I personally HATE when people call me Mike or Michael or even Michelle (my given name is Michel, i.e. masculine version of the French name Michelle) and I cringe when I hear English speakers pronounce Copenhagen with a Germanic aa instead of ei - I believe that particular pronunciation was a mistake perpetrated and perpetuated by a song by David Daniel Kaminsky (Danny Kaye)
As mentioned already in this question, Paris is an unfortunate example because it is spelled the same in English and French.
I work in an international environment but if the conversation is held in English I would pronounce the s and if in French I would not, regardless of the native tongue of the people at the table. If I were to converse in English about a trip from Antwerp via Cologne to Alsace I could but would never use Antwerpen via Köln to Elsass, oh pardon, Alsace, just because there were Flemish/Dutch, German and French colleagues around, unless I KNEW one of them would not recognise the English version...

share|improve this answer

I would expect (and accept) native speakers of the language in question to use the foreign pronunciation of foreign words. In other cases, I would tend to expect (and accept) the Anglicized version.

As a resident of East Africa, I often resort to Africanized pronunciations for the sake of being understood. I can use my "proper English" pronunciations until I go mad not being understood, so I find it infinitely more productive to speak in a way that will be easily understood.

For example, if I say with my most natural American accent:

I am going to take it with me to town,

I am likely to get nowhere. If I say:

I tack eet weeth me een tone,

I am instantly understood.

I have regularly agonized over whether this is a good strategy as far as raising the level of English, but ease of communication most always weens out. I say Anglicize away.

share|improve this answer

When speaking "pronounceable" foreign words, keep their foreign pronunciation. If they have sounds that do not occur in the English language, they should be pronounced as English-speakers have agreed to bastardize them. VERY common Anglicized words should take the audience into account. I'd sound like a pretentious twit talking to small children about places they don't recognize because I don't use the pronunciations they know. I'd sound like an uneducated boor using those (easier?) pronunciations in a room full of academics.

share|improve this answer

I think the appropriate degree of anglicization is highly variable and extremely arbitrary; it basically amounts to what people are used to. For instance, often when NPR mentions van Gogh, they add a disclaimer that they know that "van go" is far from the Dutch pronunciation, but that they are sticking with the familiar anglicized pronunciation.

On the other hand, it was NPR reporters like Maria Hinojosa who started a trend of maintaining the "foreign" pronunciation of their names even for American audiences. (Well, I guess Gerry Rivers went back before that, but that was before my time.)

share|improve this answer

Paris is the English word for the French city "Paris", as Florence is the English word for the Italian city "Firenze". It is the translated place name and therefore should have the English pronunciation. That is my recommendation for translated words in general, even if the spelling is the same as in the original language.

But if the word is really not English, then I'd say the speaker should use the original pronunciation.

share|improve this answer

I think it depends heavily on the word in question. Take composers' names for instance:

"Hindemith" is acceptable with a German or an English "th". "Beethoven", on the other hand, is pretty unacceptable as "bee though vehn."

share|improve this answer

This is an interesting question. I've recently been rewatching "The World At War" and one interesting feature of the programme is the care that the narrator (actor Laurence Olivier) takes with the pronunciation of foreign words. For example he correctly pronounced Japanese names like "Yamamoto" and he also pronounced names like "Soviet" as if it was Russian.

When referring to Paris, France, should it be pronounced with the silent 'S' as the French would say it, or with the 'S'?

Of course, it should be pronounced as it usually is. "Paris" is the English name. Saying "Pari" sounds affected and ridiculous.

Should Hiroshima be pronounced as a Japanese speaker would pronounce it slightly more emphasis on RO, rather than the SHI?

Japanese has no emphasis (stress) at all, only pitch accent. The Japanese pronunciation of Hiroshima would be difficult to understand for English speakers, so it would be better to use the accepted English pronunciation.

share|improve this answer

When speaking English, keep things in English. If the words were changed when "translated" to English it's because they sounded out of place.

share|improve this answer
    
Not too sure what you mean there in the second sentence. –  delete Aug 23 '10 at 2:39
    
That foreign words do not integrate well with the English language unless they're Englishized. –  user706 Aug 23 '10 at 10:25
    
I think an example here is the Filipino word for mountain: "bundok" which has been made into the English word "boondocks". –  Ants Aug 23 '10 at 11:19

For words which are commonly used in English (like "Paris") using the foreign pronunciation is guaranteed to sound pretentious.

English has a distinctive phonetic pattern, and switching to another phonetic system in the middle of a sentence for the purpose of pronouncing a different place name would sound odd and draw attention to yourself. Imagine an American speaker switching to a British accent every time he had to say "England". When speaking in an American accent, saying frahns instead of fraens (for France) is unbearably pretentious... even though frahns is the way it's pronounced in British English.

For more rarely used words (for example, small place names rarely mentioned in English), using foreign pronunciations won't be noticed. Nobody in America has ever heard of Ramat Gan, Israel, so pronouncing it the Israeli way (raMAT GAN) instead of the English way (RAMat GAN) won't even be noticed... but with American audiences, switching to American phonetics is always appreciated (using a hard American R instead of a gutteral or fricative will help people understand what you said).

share|improve this answer
7  
Note that in the particular case of the word 'Paris', the reason why we pronounce it as an English word is because it is an English word (and not only commonly used in English). It just happens to be spelled exactly the same as the French word with the same meaning. –  b.roth Aug 23 '10 at 11:04

If I am talking to a native French person, it may show appreciation for his language and culture to use the French pronunciation. On the other hand, there may be cases where using the French pronunciation would feel condescending.

When speaking to an audience, I think it is appropriate to use whatever you think will be the most understood. If I am talking to a group of Americans who have very little or no knowledge of French, they may not understand if I used a foreign pronunciation.

Communication is about building relationships. If I alienate someone by using a particular pronunciation, I am defeating the purpose of our interaction. To consolidate my answer to one sentence: Pronounce in whatever way will build the most solidarity between yourself and those to whom you are communicating.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 "When speaking to an audience, I think it is appropriate to use whatever you think will be the most understood." - that's right, context here is vital. –  delete Aug 23 '10 at 2:21

Personally, I always go with the English pronunciation, even when speaking to a knowledgeable audience. This is mainly for two reasons:

  • The English pronunciation is more familiar, even to knowledgeable people. They simply hear it more often. They might know how karate is pronounced in Japanese, but hearing [kəˈrɑːtiː] still makes them feel better, if only subconsciously. English and Japanese are stored in two entirely different parts of their brain, and while some people can constantly flip switches in their brain in the middle of a sentence, nobody really wants it. It is always an effort, however minor.
  • More importantly though, I just don't see any need to use the original pronunciation. When I'm speaking English, I'm speaking English. If I wanted to speak French instead, I'd be speaking French. The English pronunciation of Paris is not incorrect in any way or by any measure. Yes, it's different from the French one, but so what?

If we started pronouncing everything the same in all languages, languages as we know them would cease to exist. I don't want to live in that world.

share|improve this answer
    
Interesting, so it's polite to try pronounce people's names as close to how they grew up with their name pronounced, but place names and nouns they grew up with can pronounced at as English speaker? "Mikhail, (mik-ha-il) how was your visit to the gulag (goo-lag)?" or "Mikhail, (mik-hAYL) how was your visit to the gulag (goo-lag)?" –  Ants Aug 22 '10 at 3:19
1  
I wouldn't try to pronounce a person's name "as close" to their native language as possible. Either I can pronounce it 100% correctly, or I won't even try. A bastardization of a person's name is the exact opposite of polite. My brother's name is Mikhail and trust me, unless you are a native speaker of an East Slavic language, you should just call him Michael. After 31 years, I'm yet to meet a single non-Russian who's able to pronounce my surname the Russian way, but every bank clerk insists on trying it a dozen times. I'm not offended by that at all, but I know many, many people who would be. –  RegDwigнt Aug 22 '10 at 11:08
    
Not to argumentative, but "Pedro" should be addressed a "pay-droh", and not "peh-dro", and "Angelita" should be addressed as "ayn-gel-li-ta" rather than "an-he-li-ta"? :-) Actually, I do agree about either pronouncing it 100%, or don't even try. I remember all the media reports initially covering the Gulf War. –  Ants Aug 22 '10 at 22:04
    
On Sep 11 2001, some Brazilian journalists on TV seemed to find that the discussion on how to correctly pronounce the NY airport name "La Guardia" was more important than what had just occurred. –  b.roth Aug 23 '10 at 10:55
1  
A name should be pronounced exactly how its owner wishes. There is no rule. If there is any question of pronunciation for someone’s name, I do my best to pronounce it the way they did when they introduced themselves, and if they want to correct me or say "___ is fine" that’s their perogative. –  user77595 Aug 21 at 15:23

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.