Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How Correct Pronunciation Can Make You Sound Pretentious

For those who speak more than one language or are monolingual but culturally aware, saying foreign words can sometimes lead to tricky situations. What do you do when you know the word is foreign? Do you pronounce it with full authenticity and seem pretentious, or do you pronounce it like the locals and die a little inside? Today we're hoping to come up with a solution.

Le Grand Foyer at Palas Garnier, used by the Paris Opera.
Authentic Pronunciation

For polyglots, this should always be the only option. You'll never get good at a language if you don't pronounce the words correctly and if you do, this will probably spill over into your mother tongue. That said, should you pronounce Paris as if it's an English word and say the last letter, or do you go all-out with a legitimate paree complete with guttural r sounds? We believe that you should consider Paris, as pronounced by the English, as the exonym for the French Paris and stick with the common usage.

Local Pronunciation

There are many words that have existed in the language for so long that we should consider them as English even though they were originally taken from another language. You wouldn't say station like the French do, would you? You'd sound ridiculous.

When it comes to brand names, this shouldn't be a problem. You should always just go with however it's said on the advertisements. It's a quick and easy solution. Except when it comes to Hyundai, which is "hun-day" in the US and "hi-un-die" in the UK, though the marketing in both countries reflects these nuances. 
 
You probably don't want to pop
an entire one of these into your mouth!
The Solution

We think the real solution is to work proactively. You can't change the way people speak because you'll look like a dick if you do. If you know a new term is a loanword, then make sure you get it right before it becomes commonplace and has been butchered beyond all recognition. It's probably too late however, for jalapeños. Perhaps the best we can do is pronounce each word slightly more authentically until people forget the old, and definitely wrong, way to say it.