Words & Stuff

kk: Englishizing (Reader Comments and Addenda)

(10 January 1999)

Peter Fyfe writes:

It's not hard to learn a foreign pronunciation, it just requires a little effort. It is also good manners. It also shows you think of someone other than yourself. The down side is that it requires you to listen.

How would you like the USA referred to as "mur-ka"?

Shame Jed, Shame.

I suppose this means I'll have to be serious for a moment. In 90% of my usage of foreign words and phrases, I'm careful to pronounce them as close to accurately as I can manage. I do pronounce Japanese words with Japanese pronunciation, for instance (albeit presumably with a California accent). Most of my suggestions in this week's column were at least half tongue-in-cheek.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that language changes over time, and English has assimilated an enormous number of foreign words in the past seven centuries. If we say that foreign words must always and forever retain their original pronunciations, then we must return to calling certain fungi mousseron.

Much as pronunciations like "kuh-roddy" and "hairy Carey" irritate me, I am forced to admit that they are extremely widespread among English speakers, to the point that they have (according to my dictionary, anyway) entered the English language. As English words, they are under no particular restrictions about being pronounced the way Japanese speakers would pronounce them. This week's column is in the spirit of the phrase "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Another example of a word that has changed quite a lot in the process of becoming part of English is "raccoon." It comes from Algonquian "raugroughcun"; its first appearance in English (in 1608) was when it was written by Captain John Smith. His spelling, according to The Story of English? "Raughroughouns."

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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>