We often see peculiar names being given to titles and fictional characters, such as Wolfenstein (which protagonist does also have a weird name: Blazkowicz).

I would spend long times trying to figure out how I should pronounce these, but when I see a video of someone pronouncing it "correctly" (in the original language), I find out I were saying it very differently! However, these names are anglicized, as in used in English language fiction, such that the pronounce might not be the original one either.

Is there any consensus as to whether we should pronounce these names as if they were from their original language, or any standard to pronounce their anglicized forms?

closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, AndyT, user240918, Nigel J, jimm101 Feb 24 '18 at 3:12

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  • It's worth noting that Wolfenstein is a game released in English and Blazkowicz is "an American spy of Polish and Jewish descent" (Wikipedia). As such, it's a little confusing to talk about "the original language". Is the name pronounced at any point in the games themselves? – Laurel Feb 19 '18 at 19:18
  • Slavic and/or Polish names are one thing; and the issue exists in any language. Wolfenstein is, however, not anything other than invention, and easy to pronounce. – Lambie Feb 19 '18 at 19:28
  • @Lambie it's easy to pronounce in at least two ways: as if it started with the English word wolf and carried on as English, and something approximating Volfenshtein (pseudo-German; IPA on my phone isn't going to happen). – Chris H Feb 19 '18 at 22:30
  • @ChrisH Easier is Wolf+ en+ stein, isn't it? See, Mommy, no IPA [snigger, snigger]. [joke] – Lambie Feb 20 '18 at 0:50
  • Surely it depends whether the fictional character is from another country, or an English-speaking person whose forebears happened to come from overseas? – Kate Bunting Feb 20 '18 at 9:27

The Law of Hobson-Jobson maintains that words borrowed from another language will be conformed to the sound set of the borrowing language. I would add two corollaries:

  • Even if the original has no sounds foreign to English, if the original spelling suggests an English pronunciation, then English will likely win the day
  • unless elite speakers approximating the original pronunciation manage to convince others to pronounce it their way.

Most Americans pronounce the German car Volkswagen as VOKES-wagon, although the German FOLKS-vahgen contains no sounds not present in English. The spelling wins out. The television show Grimm overflows with mangled German that's been thoroughly "englished."

Elite speakers will pronounce the names of composers as closely to the original as they can, so the composer Wagner (VAHG-ner) is pronounced differently then someone named Wagner they happen to know. There are, however, limits. The ř in Dvořák is a rare and difficult sound, so most approximate it with a zh-sound. French nasalized vowels also are readily jettisoned.

This means that the gaming community can basically pronounce names as they see fit. Wolfenstein looks German, so you can pronounce it as VOLF'n-shtine if you like, or like a VW, go for pronouncing it as if it were an English name. Polish orthography is rather daunting, but as a last resort, ask someone from Chicago. The Windy City has a high concentration of Polish-Americans. Plus you can get into an argument about pizza.

  • In British English, Volkswagen usually has an audible L and a short O but we pronounce the V and W as in English. We don't have many Wagners, and tend to pronounce the composer reasonably correctly, as with Bach. In that case though, there are people with that surname who pronounce it to rhyme with aitch. – Chris H Feb 19 '18 at 22:35
  • @ChrisH Speak for yourself! Volkswagen is pronounced with a v in the middle. And Porsche does (but not often) have the terminal -e pronounced as well. – Andrew Leach Feb 19 '18 at 23:43
  • I'm personally slightly inconsistent with Volkswagen, preferring the v sound for the w but preferring to avoid funny looks. And the e of Porsche seems more common than not. – Chris H Feb 20 '18 at 6:57
  • Except family and brand names are not strictly borrowings, are they? – Lambie Feb 20 '18 at 15:35
  • @Lambie: Proper names have their own Hobson-Jobson problems. It was imperative that Vicks Vaporub change its name to market to German-speaking countries: leave it and it's way to close to the German cognate to the English f-word. Change the V to a W to preserve the voiced consonant (Wicks) and it sounds like the second person informal imperative of 'masturbate.' The product is thus called "Wick," like Vic. – KarlG Feb 20 '18 at 16:19

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