Saturday, January 23, 2010

We'll always have Paris

As regular readers know, one of the enduring pleasures of my twilight years is slapping around the Associated Press Stylebook at any opportunity. A couple of days ago I posted this snark on Facebook:

AP Stylebook pronounces Port-au-Prince, port-oh-PRIHNS', for monoglots who think it effeminate to pronounce French words as the French do.

Almost immediately, one Elizabeth Herrington posted this comment:

How do you pronounce Paris?

I pronounce it after the manner of the inhabitants of Paris, Kentucky.

We’ve covered this ground before. When the Olympics went to Turin, there was agitation in the sports department over whether to use Turin, the traditional anglicized version of the name, or the Italian Torino, which the Olympics Committee was using. I asked if they intended to use Roma and Firenze or refer to the Shroud of Torino.

English has many foreign place names that have been anglicized, and which are pronounced as English words. We say Munich, not München, and that’s fine. Other languages do the same thing, and we don’t object when the French refer to us as les États-Unis.

But if a less-familiar foreign place name has not been anglicized, there is no objection to pronouncing it as it sounds in the original language, provided one avoids the finicky hyperpronunciation beloved of announcers on classical music stations.

It seems to me that

1. If you order café-au-lait as cafay-oh-lay and not cafay-oh-late, then you might want to pronounce the Prince in Port-au-Prince to rhyme (roughly) with prance.

2. If you are running the AP Stylebook, to the degree that its apparently random directives have any guidance, then you might indicate that both the French and anglicized pronunciations are acceptable. It’s not as if any hearers are likely to be confused.


  1. I, for one, would like to see cities and countries pronounced in the manner of their inhabitants. However, I can appreciate the difficulties this imposes:

    1) I look like an obnoxious New Yorker if I go around pronouncing "Paris" as "Pah-ree". This is almost the equivalent of calling "Target" "Tarj-eh", or worse, "Zagat" -> "Zah-gah".

    2) Not everyone knows Munich is really München, for example.

    3) Asian countries are a real hassle. How do you say Beijing in Mandarin? Even if I "knew", chances are I would pronounce it so poorly even Chinese friends wouldn't know what I was saying.

    While I still think it would be nice as a way of acknowledging other cultures, I realize the impracticality of it all and agree: say it so that your audience understands what you are talking about. (Unfortunately for US news, that would probably require dumbing "Port-au-Prince" down to something like, "The capital of Haiti")

  2. I asked a French colleague why the city is called Port-au-Prince in lieu of Port-du-Prince that would seem more logical. He told me it is because it is not standard French but an Haitian-creole thing.

    Nobody should be criticized for speaking English with the English sounds. In Spanish we call the city "Puerto Príncipe" and that's just fine for us. No nasal vowels that we do not have and so on...

  3. This isn't limited to foreign countries. In places where English isn't or hasn't always been the dominant language, there's plenty of consternation over pronunciation.

    I live in southern Louisiana, where "Breaux Bridge" (BroBRIDGE, one syllable) and "Baton Rouge" (BAH-ton ROOJ) are the least of my worries.

    Gueydan? Delcambre? Abbeville? Levert? Atchafalaya? Peigneur? Derouen? Portage? Opelousas? Chataignier? Prien? Grosse Tete? I rarely hear people who aren't from the area pronounce these place names correctly. And by correctly, I mean how native English-speaking locals who don't know a word of French refer to them.

    I've worked with non-natives who were administrative/assignment editors of local newspapers, even those who had lived here for five or more years, who refused to even try. (Go Team Gannett! At least until you laid me off and completely eliminated the entire copy desk at my hometown newspaper!)

    Native reporters couldn't understand her; it rested on some of us on the desk to interpret when they'd shout at each other across the newsroom.

    AE: "Are you guys covering that football game in Gwey... Guhway..."

    CE: "Gay-don?"

    Sports: "Oh, Gueydan? Yeah, Gueydan and Delcambre."

    AE: "Dale-what? Dale-cum?"

    CE: "Delcambre. Del-cam-bre."

    AE: "Oh, yeah, OK. Skybox Del-cam-bre."

    If anyone from that exchange is still there, I can't imagine how they communicate. They probably don't, at least not vocally.

  4. I have not the slightest interest in striking a blow for the AP Stylebook, but I always thought that Porteau Prince was the accepted pronunciation in English as well, and a quick look around the Net seems to confirm that. In French, you have to silence the 't' at the end of 'Port' and, of course, roll your 'r's.

  5. I don't suppose teaching geography and requiring foreign languages in schools would help. Do you?

    (Returning to my dream world now.)

  6. I first heard this discussion while training for a brief broadcasting career. The lesson followed your line of thinking. I tried to persuade a co-worker, who felt I should pronounce St. Croix in the French manner, since it was a French word. She dismissed my suggestion that she should then pronounce the capital of the Soviet Union as Moskva.

    I find a special amusement in this discussion when it applies to French words, because the French have no qualms about converting foreign names to their spelling. Having spent half my childhood in France, I was surprised, on returning to the US in 1963, to learn that Kroutcheff was the same person as Kruschev. This actually is a tradition that dates back to the poets Ronsard and Du Bellay in the 16th century in their Defense et Illustration de la Langue Francaise.

    But I guess that predates the AP Stylebook.

  7. As an 11-year-old visiting a family in Mexico City, I had my first experience with international relations. They thought Americans were incredibly insensitive to pronounce place names our own way. Why, they wondered, would we say "Mex-i-coe" instead of "Meh-hee-coh"? Even if we were in the middle of, as they said, "Nueva York" or "Santo Luis"?

  8. I agree with John when he says that those words which don't have an anglicized version should be pronounced as they sound in their original language. For example, in Spanish we've got "Estados Unidos" for "The United States", but "Washington" is still pronounced (or at least people try to pronounce it) as it is in the original English version, as no Spanish one has been stated for it yet.

  9. The purpose of language is communication. If your co-conversant understands the message, your pronunciation (or even choice of words) is interesting but not critical.

    If you are going to Europe to pick up a new Porsche, will you be travelling to Deutschland, Allemagne or Germany?

  10. The Finnish capital is "Helsinki" in Finnish, and that's used as-is in just about every other language too. But in Swedish, specifically, it becomes "Helsingfors"*.

    The Swedish capital is just plain "Stockholm" in every language. But the second city of Göteborg has the separate anglicized name of "Gothenburg" as well.

    If there is a separate name, use it. If not, do your best to adjust the local name to your own tongue, and don't fret about not getting it completely right. After all, Japanese - or Swedish, or wherever - speakers aren't pronouncing foreign place names in the native manner either.

    * The original city name is actually the Swedish "Helsingfors", with "Helsinki" being the Finnish adaptation of it.

  11. Excellent advice, although I'm curious as to how you pronounce Versailles.

    We already have indisputable documentation on how to pronounce Louisville, which apparently has not been anglicized.

  12. i find it jarring when sportscasters mix languages and say "Tour de France" with "France" rhyming with "prance." to me, one should say it in all English (Tour of France) or all French (Tour de France, pronounced "Frawnce").

  13. This is slightly off-topic, but I've always wondered why we adopted the spellings "Khrushchev" and "Gorbachev" while correctly pronouncing the final syllable of the names "-choff." I know that it has something to do with transliteration (the Cyrillic character for the vowel looks like an e with a dieresis, i.e., ë), but why did newspapers persist with something so confusing? Another arbitrary AP decision? (I remember German papers spelling the name something like "Krushtchoff.")

  14. The diaresis is only used in Russian in children's books, if at all. It's just an E (pronounced Ye or Yo depending on lots of things), which I expect is why it comes into English as E.

    Plus, of course, tons of people don't say Khrushchoff or Gorbachoff - more do say Gorbachev with the O, it's true. And most say a K for Khrushchev, which isn't right, either.

  15. I have been to Paris KY. They pronounce it "Payriss," with emphasis on the first syllable. I'm guessing that you don't say it that way. However, I agree with your larger point. Place names, particularly well-known ones, are best pronounced anglicized, lest hyperpronunciation.

    I'm old enough to remember the dispute over how to pronounce Phnom Penh. (P or not P? And which?) Awkward now to explain to children of "Ver-sales" Kentucky why daddy had to fight over a mispronounced city. But we'll always have Payriss.

  16. There's a Versailles in western Pennsylvania that's also pronounced "Ver-sales."
    I have family in Spokane, Washington. You can spot out-of-towners right off, my relatives say, because they pronounce the "e." It's "spo-can." (From the name of an Indian tribe.)
    The mountain in Washington state is Mount "ray-near." But there's a town in Maryland, just outside Washington, that's called Mount "ray-nee-ur."

  17. Old argument, and I must side with Anglicization in general. But I do wonder about the trend in recent years to abandon traditional Anglicized names in favor of something closer to (but still way off, in the typical Anglophone's mouth) the native pronunciation. Bombay -> Mumbai, Peking -> Beijing. I wonder if we won't wind up talking about Muenchen, Roma, Fierenze, Moskva, etc. in everyday English in the not-too-distant future.

    Language names are even more inconsistent than city names. I have no idea why most Anglophones insist on referring to Persian as "Farsi" but are fine referring to español as "Spanish". Of course, the fact that Persia itself has become "Iran" is probably part of that.

    Iran is something of an exception, though; the tendency has so far eluded names of entire nations. New ones might get approximations of their native names, but we still say Germany for Deutschland, Japan for Nihon, China for Zhonguo, etc.

    As for the Tour de France, it is a name, brought over in toto, not translated piecemeal. We say "Marty Graw", without the proper French pronunciation of the R's or quite the right vowels, and only rarely translate it as "Fat Tuesday". Much of the time we speak of Carnival as if it were the lowercase English word, but I'd say that's an Anglicized pronunciation, not an attempt at translation.

  18. John, good post. One question: karaoke is a Japanese word for "empty" = kara , as in kara-te, empty hand, thus karate, and we say "ka-rah-tay" in English...... and "oke" is Japanese-English for "orchestra" shortened to just "orche" or "oke" in Japlish, so we have karaoke, which is pronounced in Japanese, at least when I lived there, and Nessie3 can back me up on this, as "kara-OH-kay" more or less, but most Uhmericans pronounce it as "carry okie"..... which is way way wrong. But it is now common pronounciation usage in the USA. So what's your take on this? kara OH kay or carry-okie? .....please blog on this and dish! and remember, Sumo Do, Sumo Don't.....