Thursday, March 08, 2012

Why do Americans pronounce non-English words in such a pretentious way?

Everybody else in the world, including the Iraqis, puts the emphasis on the second syllable of "Baghdad". Not the Americans. They put it on the first. Where do they get that idea from?

I watched Midnight In Paris last night. This is about Americans in Paris and therefore it's full of similarly mangled versions of well-known foreign words. Parisians becomes "Pareezhuns". The painter Monet is "Moanay". The sculptor Rodin is "Row-Dan".  When the Sorbonne is first mentioned it's "Sorebone". The Boeuf Bourguignon is "Boeuf Berniown". The splendid old Peugeot which picks Owen Wilson up every night is a "Poojoe". This is not exclusively a problem with French words either. The well-known flat bread popular in Greece is "Peter Bread".

Obviously no nation is blameless in this regard but there's something about the way that many Americans - particularly sophisticated Americans, the kind you get in Woody Allen films - deliver these words that suggests that they feel that even the way the locals do it isn't sufficiently pretentious for them.


  1. Ghastly isn't it?

    I hate their pars-ta and fill-ay and even worse, fill-ay minyown, as in 'have you had the fillay minyown? It's amazing. Try the merr-low too'.

    You're right, there is a class of Americans who pronounce things in a way that they think makes them a cut above. But actually it's just daft.

    Who wants to tell them?

  2. I had a trying time when living in America emphatically attempting to instruct the natives on the correct, i.e. Italian, pronounciation of 'Oregano', they stress the second syllable which renders the word itself almost comical but also unrecognisable: 'Oh Reg oh no.'

  3. Why lever, pronounced as in leverage. But then, not for fever as 'Fever when you hold me tight'

  4. Re BAGdad I suppose it's to differentiate it from those other well known cities, Tindad, Boxdad, and Cartondad.

    Anyway it's not Paris it's Parisfrance as any fule kno.

    Wasn't there a good story about a boy nicknamed 'Baghdad' because he'd shot his father by mistake whilst out hunting, or have I dreamt that one up.

  5. I cringe when non-Geordies refer to the toon as New-CASTLE. So why don't they then say Liverpewl, Landan and Burrmingum?

  6. the american pronunciation of 'Nietzsche' always got right up my nose: they call him 'nitch'.

    i mean, honestly.

  7. And there's their spectacular mangling of the tasty French breakfast pastry, the croyzaarnt.

  8. "Oh Reg oh no"

    That's an 'erb, isn't it?

  9. It was ever thus.

    Remember the discussion in Annie Hall as to whether it was Van Goff or Van Go.

  10. I'm going to shamelessly take this thread as an opportunity to complain about the increasing adoption of U.S. date-speak by British broadcasters, wherein we now frequently hear "March Ninth" instead of "March THE Ninth" and, even more annoyingly, "Two Thousand Twelve" instead of "Two Thousand AND Twelve". These things matter.

  11. They're not all like that. Ever heard an American pronounce 'Creme De Menthe'? It's Cream De Menth. Then there's 'Notre Dame' of course.

    And is it just that I'm common but they call the place you put your car a 'Garaarje' while I say 'Garidge'

  12. There is sometimes - just sometimes - method in the madness. "Oregano" comes to us from Spanish, where the stress is indeed on the second syllable (as it is in Italian; the commenter who says it's not is mistaken). Even the Cousins' extravagant pronunciation of "Caribbean" is actually a bit closer to the original Caribe (ka-REE-beh) than ours.

    And we should be mindful of the risk of any such discussion ending up as a glasshouse-stone (sorry, "rock") interface. There is no excuse, none at all, for the now-pretty-much-standard UK pronunciations "eye-BEE-thuh" and "chuh-RITZ-oh". (Presumably people come back with churitzo on trips to Barchelona.)

  13. One noted difference between British English and American English is the pronunciation of words from French. In British English the stress typically goes on the first syllable, while in American English, the stress goes on the last syllable. In French, all syllables are equal, so neither the British nor the American pronunciation is "correct" for a French speaker.

    Another thing to remember: American English is not British English. It doesn't sound the same as British English because it is a different dialect. It's not bad or wrong for these differences to exist.

  14. re glasshouse / stones

    Lots of our top TV presenters, news readers and weather men/women insist on saying drawring, lore and order etc.

  15. "I cringe when non-Geordies refer to the toon as New-CASTLE. So why don't they then say Liverpewl, Landan and Burrmingum?"

    Because the first is a matter of syllabic stress, and the other is simply a local accent. And words are generally meant to be pronounced with the same syllabic stress regardless of your local accent.