Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Pepper Test

A silly fun blog today.

We were discussing how English takes words from other languages and....butchers them. OK, OK, English is not the only language guilty of this, most do it (you should see what the French do, or maybe you have) but English has "borrowed" more words from other languages than any other. It's why our dictionaries are bigger, seriously.

Obviously nobody expects these words to be pronounced exactly as in the original language. That would involve affecting a foreign accent and the only people that pedantic are generally social pariahs. But we really do some strange things......

Unless you, most people manage to say jalapeƱo as hah-lah-peyn-yo. It's common enough, and well-known enough, and only the most ignorant get it wrong. Unfortunately this has led people to think that habanero should be pronounced hah-bah-nyair-ro, and it's not. So I have decided to call this entire thing the Pepper Test, that is, can you get the critical parts right without sounding like a linguistics professor? Is there a balance between ridiculously correct and making a total twat of yourself? Hmm.

Let's begin with French. French is not phonetic, I mean, it just isn't. It's even worse than English in that looking at a word does not always give you clues as to how to say it. But the one thing most people know is that the French n is nasal. Most people, even if they don't speak any French at all, know that one says pardo(n) with the n being only half there. It's impossible to explain it any further in text, so I'm resorting to this:

(Sorry, it won't embed, but please click on it, it's under a minute long)

So that was just in case anyone wasn't familiar with the sound that I'm going to write as (n) here, OK?

The first word that we play games with is restaurant. We have saved the French vowel but not the ending. Why? If we really wanted to pronounce this as if it were an English word we'd say ant at the end. But we don't, we say ont. Because we can't make our minds up.

Then there's the American way of dropping the h on herb? Why? The French word is herbe and it's pronounced airb, not erb. Again, make your mind up!

I could list a lot more butchered French words, but the winner has to be


For some absurd reason (where? when? who?) English speakers decided to pronounce this


This melts my brain. It bears no relation to the French pronunciation, but it isn't phonetic either.

The French say


In English it would be



We'll move on then to how we mess with Italian.

One of the greatest gifts to come out of Italy is Parmesan cheese. In Italy the word is Parmigiano, and it is pronounced  par-me-jahno. But for some reason, despite SPELLING it Parmesan, the Americans say par-me-zhahn. Why? Anyone know?

At the same time, lasagna, keeps its original spelling, and is usually pronounced pretty much correctly too. Pick and choose, I guess.

Spanish, oh dear.

My dear Texan friend is ready to pull her hair out over the inconsistencies she finds in local place names. For example Bexar, Texas, is pronounced bear,-texas. The Spanish would be bey-hah, tey-hahs, but that would be too simple.

(If anyone from England is laughing, consider the pronunciations of Pall Mall and The Mall, I dare you)

But it's worse than that the further we go.

In England you will normally hear paella pronounced as "pay-ella", and if I say "py-aya" my husband calls me a pedant. But if I were to say kwesa-dilla for quesadilla he'd call me a peasant. You can't win with the English.

Similarly, how many people say llama properly? It's not hard.

I think German possibly gets the worst treatment though. Being so close to English it gets "Anglicized" in surnames and place names in the New World.

I am a lover of the German language, but that isn't why I get these wrong so often. It just comes naturally. If I see a word that looks like German, I automatically pronounce it as German. OK, I learned to say liverwurst badly, to conform, but I refuse to say bockwurst with a w. It sounds ridiculous. No, it makes me sound like Elmer Fudd.

It even bothers me to to say Schwartz the American way, but I accept that if it's YOUR name, I must say it how you say it. Because your ancestors were weird.

Near me is a village called Holstein. There are also many Holstein cattle in these parts. I just cannot find it within myself to say hol-steen, because there's a little German voice in the back of my head saying SHTINE!SHTINE! And Young Frankenstein just drove me bonkers.

Of course there are dialects in German just like anywhere else, and these are legit. I must not get upset about German dialects, because I speak German with a hick accent (shh, this is one of my best kept secrets). Still it baffles me how Toews became TAYVS. But it's their name and not mine.

But I think my favourite mishmash of German has to be Volkswagen, which is all one word, but English speakers decided to Anglicize just the first letter.

I could go on, but I'd prefer this was interactive. Either here, or on Facebook, please share your favourite translated absurdity!

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