With greater literacy in the past 100 years, most English speakers are also proficient at writing. Sometimes due to the great divide between English spellings and the true pronunciation, people will say words phonetically if they haven't heard them in speech before (particularly foreigners, but native speakers too).

Where words aren't often used in speech but people know how to spell them English speakers pronounce the word phonetically, even though it's technically "wrong".

My question has 2 parts. The first refers to words like cache, where the majority of people will read it as "kashé" (IPA symbols too much effort to insert), when it's actually meant to be read as "kash" due to its spelling. But, because of the sheer number of speakers that don't say it correctly, it becomes part of the language, and the original pronunciation seems incorrect. What is this phenomenon referred to? An example of other words are here http://www.vocabulary.com/lists/432678#view=notes. None of these are "mispronunciations" in modern English, which is why I'm adamant that the answer isn't just "mispronunciation".

The next part is for words that English imports from other languages, then mispronounces. In particular, words such as Qatar (which is a bad transcription of Katur), but also words like sudoku, which English speakers usually read as "suduku" rather than sudoku. What is this phenomenon called?

  • Pronounciation changes: vocabulary.com/lists/432678#view=notes
    – user66974
    Jul 29, 2015 at 9:00
  • 4
    So anyway. I think this really is two unrelated questions in one. The first one is about simple unfamiliarity with strange words. We have a whole list of those. I don't think there's a specific name for them. You can call it mispronunciation, and it is, but that's not specific enough. And the second question is about borrowing. Borrowed words always change their pronunciation, in all languages. That is not mispronunciation. Calling that mispronunciation is wrong.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 29, 2015 at 9:06
  • 1) I don't pronounce cache either of those ways. 2) What does "meant to be read...due to its spelling" mean anyway? Aug 2, 2015 at 23:00

4 Answers 4


...Spelling-pronounciation, the tendency to allow or encourage the way a word is spelt to influence the way it is spoken, must be as old as the first attempts to commit speech-sounds to paper. In English at least it is traceably very old."

From Kingsley Amis's The King's English. (The section goes on for several pages. Tell me if you want some interesting tidbits or a synopsis of it.)

Also, on the second part of your question, I think you have two competing tendencies. On the one hand, to pronounce things exactly as they are spelled is a kind of pedantry that runs counter to the domestic evolution of language... on the other, to try to pronounce all imported or foreign words (probably most words in the English language) according to the language of their originals is equally pedantic.

Put another way, I think that the kind of people who scold spelling-pronouncers are the same kind to scold or roll their eyes at lingustic pronunciation purists. "It should be this way because it looks like that on paper!" For the most part the same tendency.


Sound change, or more specifically phonetic change:

  • includes any processes of language change that affect pronunciation (phonetic change) or sound system structures (phonological change). Sound change can consist of the replacement of one speech sound (or, more generally, one phonetic feature) by another, the complete loss of the affected sound, or even the introduction of a new sound in a place where there previously was none.



Spelling pronunciation.

Obviously, the words most susceptible to spelling-pronunciations are rare words that people see more often than they hear, or foreign terms that have sounds that don't exist in English.


This may seem like a get-out but isn't it just called mispronunciation?

By the way a lot of people read 'mishap' as 'mish-app' instead of the correct 'miss-happ'.


In response to comments, I would point to the pismronunciation of jalapeño by many English speakers. I've certainly heard it pronounced 'Halapino' on some British adverts for fast food. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSaEU7wBJok - 0.07

If, heaven forbid, this became the standard pronunciation for non-Spanish-speakers, I think it could perhaps be described as a naturalised pronunciation.

  • I'm not referring to the pronunciation itself. I'm wondering what to call the integration of the mispronunciation into the language which a majority of speakers use such that it becomes "correct" (so to say).
    – sqrtbottle
    Jul 29, 2015 at 9:05
  • Also, it still wouldn't explain what the adaptation of foreign words to English pronunciation is called. Sudoku is definitely not read the same way in English as Japanese regardless of who you're talking to
    – sqrtbottle
    Jul 29, 2015 at 9:06
  • 1
    Then you call it a common mispronunciation. But it's still a mispronunciation. Jul 29, 2015 at 9:07
  • Was pismronunciation a deliberate "typo" :) Made me giggle in any case.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2015 at 21:34
  • Unfortunately, there are already lots of words like "jalapeño" where the pronunciation has been "nativized": piña colada, piranha, Angeleno... (there is also the "hyper-foreignized" habañero)
    – herisson
    Jan 17, 2016 at 8:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

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