Some foreign-language words were reasonably naturalised to preserve pronunciation — e.g. cañón from Spanish to canyon in English. Other words came into English retaining their original spelling and pronunciation — e.g. noir from French. However, it quickly becomes clear that for other (similar) words different conventions have been employed — e.g. guillotine is spelt the same in French as in English, but the English cognate is pronounced very differently.

Is there any reason for this? Could any such reasoning be additionally applied to derivations like English together from Old English tōgædere?

  • The phrase 'film noir' is a 20th century import to English (and derivations such as 'scandi-noir' even more recent). Many foreign imports have been in use much longer and I suppose have had more time to evolve an anglicised pronunciation. Sep 26, 2016 at 8:36
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    I am going to put on my 'thinking chapeu" and do my best with this interesting and challenging question. Stay tuned. Sep 26, 2016 at 8:39
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    One factor is the struggle most English speakers have with some pronunciations, including words with gutturals and rolling Rs. For instance, the South African word "apartheid" was widely pronounced APART-HIDE by non South Africans. In South Africa it was APARRT-HATE (rolling R) (In Afrikaans "ei" is pronounced "a" as in hay; a final "d" is often pronounced as a "t" - as in "asked".) Sep 26, 2016 at 13:31
  • @RonaldSole Please use clear IPA not "spelling pronunciations" when discussing how things are said.
    – tchrist
    Sep 26, 2016 at 14:31
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    Many foreign words were imported into English not by people who spoke those foreign languages, but by people reading books that contained the words. Since they had no guide as to the pronunciations, they interpreted the spellings using standard English phonetics, perhaps "Frencifying" an ending here and there but otherwise with no comprehension of the "correct" pronunciation.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 26, 2016 at 12:12

1 Answer 1


The answer for this varies almost with each word you look at, and many books have been written on the study of etymology.

Much of the etymology of words is migration or conquest-based (there's a lot of French words in English), or older from common root languages (Germanic, Latin). Some words have entered our vocabulary later than others - the newr ones tending to be less changes. Over longer periods of time, spellings and pronunciations evolve, change, get mistaken, and otherwise end up in common usage in their current state.

  • Yes. What the common pronunciation is is even unclear sometimes, and may differ depending on the accent of the speaker. Jan 3, 2017 at 9:33

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