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I had an argument with my friend the other day about the pronunciation of bechamel.

Everyone I know is pronouncing it like besha-mel. I've looked it up though and found out that the correct pronunciation is bay-shah-mel (according to Cambridge), which reports that the word derives from French. However, I've been told that if pronounced the English way it would sound like the former beh-shah-mel with the 'sh' sound, which I do not agree with since I'd pronounce bech- with a 'k' sound.

As far as I'm concerned there's no rule regarding this; it's one of those things you have to learn and memorise (see this thread), but I'd like to know if the English (incorrect) pronunciation of bechamel would sound like beh-cah-mel with the 'k' sound or the previously mentioned 'sh' sound.

  • I've always pronounced it the way you don't like—and that's how I've most commonly heard it pronounced. For the people living here (Canada for me—I'm not sure about Quebec, specifically), it is the "correct" pronunciation. (What's "correct" is relative.) – Jason Bassford Jul 8 '18 at 17:55
  • Pronouncing it like the name of the guy who perfected the sauce, Louis de Béchamel, could hardly be called 'incorrect'. – Michael Harvey Jul 8 '18 at 18:49
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    Where are you getting the idea of pronouncing it with a K sound in English from? German? The name is French. The French pronounce it with what's an SH sound in English. In English, I've only heard it pronounced with English's SH sound, not its K sound. Oh, and @tchrist, before you go and tell me what I can't do, note that I can because I just did, and everyone understood, including you. – Billy Jul 8 '18 at 21:01
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    @tchrist I would normally agree about phonetic notation but as the question is simply about ‘sh’ vs ‘k’ it seems unnecessary to use a notation that many may not be familiar with. Those needing the IPA representation can fund it on the Wikipedia page and elsewhere. – user184130 Jul 8 '18 at 22:49
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    As a Brit who is familiar with Jamie Oliver, I would hesitate to cite him as a pronunciation guide. – Michael Harvey Jul 9 '18 at 14:50
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According to Wikipedia it is pronounced with the sh sound in both English and French. So I don’t know where you get your k pronunciation from. I have never heard anyone (English or French) say that.

  • You can’t talk about how a word is pronounced using its spellings. You have to use phonetic notation. – tchrist Jul 8 '18 at 20:13
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    You can say we can’t but we just did. – user184130 Jul 8 '18 at 22:50
  • That they both use the sh sound is exactly what I said. But as it apparently wasn't clear, I have tried to make it clearer. – user184130 Jul 9 '18 at 8:13
  • OK. OK. :-) updated... – user184130 Jul 10 '18 at 14:43
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I actually sometimes pronounce it becka-mel, too, despite having studied French. However, my American Webster's dictionary pronounces it bɛʃ'-ə-mɛl. The ch is coded the same as in machine, and the e is shown with the short e vowel sound (as in best). Also, in my dictionary the stress is on the first syllable. It comes across as: besh'-a-mel.

  • I'll use the one that doesn't require a subscription. However, the phonetic notation used in my c.1959 Dictionary (unavailable online) is a little different, although it means exactly the same thing -- so in light of that would I also be allowed to post images of the relevant information I found there? I hesitated in my answer this time, because some people have expressed their displeasure with pictures of my dictionary pages by arbitrarily editing them out of my answers, and I'd rather avoid future power struggles if at all possible. – Bread Jul 8 '18 at 20:42
  • I wouldn't use pictures. OED has Brit. /beɪʃəˈmɛl/, /bɛʃəˈmɛl/, U.S. /ˌbeɪʃəˈmɛl/, /ˌbɛʃəˈmɛl/. The French pronunciation has no stresses: just /beʃəmɛl/. Many speakers in English just have /beʃəˈmɛl/ because they have monophthongs. – tchrist Jul 8 '18 at 20:45
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    @tchrist: When the French pronounce béchamel by itself (not in a phrase), the stress is on the last syllable. This can change in connected speech, but this is why the English pronunciations have the stress on the last syllable. – Peter Shor Jul 8 '18 at 21:15

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