Does anyone know what the etiquette and usages are when two heads of state, both non-native English speakers, talk to each other in English during an official meeting?

E.g. when an Italian head of state meets officially a non-English head of state and mentions an historic Italian figure like Michelangelo during their conversation in English, would he have to pronounce the word 'Michelangelo' the Italian way or the English way?

closed as off-topic by tchrist, choster, anongoodnurse, Misti, TimLymington Aug 7 '15 at 13:26

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  • I very much doubt there is any such specific etiquette. He's likely to have an Italian accent to begin with, so saying Italian names in the Italian way, even if there is a commonly used Anglicised version, would probably not raise any eyebrows. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 '15 at 11:23
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    The problem arises for names such as Andrea, Nicola, Mattia which are usually male names in Italian and are pronounced quite differently in English. In similar cases, I would insist on the correct Italian pronunciation, to avoid confusion. – Mari-Lou A Jul 23 '15 at 12:09
  • Mainly, you follows the rules and suggestions established by your specialist in diplomatic etiquette. Any head of state would have at least one, and that specialist would know not only the general rules, but those applying to the individual being addressed, and his country and language. – Hot Licks Jul 23 '15 at 12:53
  • There's not really a rule on this. His name is Italian so it would be correct to pronounce it the way it is pronounced in Italian. Conversely, if your audience is English, and you want them to understand you, you should cater to their pronunciation. – Alex W Jul 23 '15 at 13:32
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about the existence or non-existence of a diplomatic protocol, not about the mechanics of the English language. – choster Jul 23 '15 at 13:54

If an English diplomat spoke to an Italian diplomat in Italian, then I would expect to hear them both talk about "Londra" rather than "London". However, if they were talking together in English, I would expect them both to say "London".


If a French diplomat speaks to an Italian diplomat in English, as your question allows, then surely they should both talk about "Michael-angelo" rather than "Michel-Ange" or "Michelangelo."

It is the diplomatic language being spoken that dictates the pronunciation of the name - otherwise confusion reigns,


When it comes to names of noteworthy people, we should follow the same procedure as above, provided that the language already has a well-established pronunciation.

For example, both parties should say "Christopher Columbus" when speaking in English, "Christophe Colomb" when speaking in French and of course "Cristoforo Colombo" when speaking Italian. There is a reason for this. There may be others listening or taking part in the conversation. They could be of any nation. If they all speak 'diplomatic' English then that is the language they understand. So, the Chinese ambassador would understand Columbus but perhaps not Colomb.

The same rule should apply for other names. However when the pronunciation is very similar then I don't think it would be a faux-pas for the Italian diplomat, for example, to pronounce 'Michelangelo' in the Italian way when speaking in English. Both parties would understand and that is what is important. However if the Italian speaker insisted on using the Italian pronunciation in an exaggerated way when speaking English, it would surely come across as a criticism and even be rather rude.

When it comes to names that have no accepted equivalent in the language being spoken then I think the diplomat whose language is being spoken should make some attempt to use the pronunciation of the language of origin. If this proves difficult, for example with the African click-languages, the diplomat should make his or her best attempt. Where this could cause most problems would be in respect of a tonal language such as Mandarin. In those tongues, the meaning of a word can be totally changed by its 'melody'. It would pay dividends for a diplomat to take professional advice before attempting some Chinese or some other Eastern Asian names.


Speakers from the USA often don't know how to pronounce British place names. So, for instance, as a Brit, I pronounce "Worcester" as "Wooster". If an American spoke to me about the English city of "Wor-sester", I would excuse it for the first few times but it would become rude and an implied criticism if he or she insisted on doing so for evermore.

  • I don't really think tones are more problematic than any other unfamiliar part of phonology in this respect. Saying the wrong tone in Mandarin can change the meaning of a word, but so can saying the wrong click sound in !Xóõ, saying [ɕ] instead of [ʂ] in Polish, or saying [l] instead of [ɬ] in Welsh. Every foreign language has its pitfalls like that. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 '15 at 15:18
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - I just think that the problem is more acute in some cases than others. I added that paragraph to flag up the matter rather than to comprehensively cover it. You are right though and I accept your point. – chasly from UK Jul 23 '15 at 16:27

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