Saturday, June 07, 2014

A rant on pronunciation

WE'VE BEEN ON the road for nearly two weeks, and blogging has suffered — both here and over at Eating Every Day. Most of my jotting has been longhand on scraps of paper, or short comments on Facebook.

But the other day The Huffington Post ran a blog post, "30 Commonly Mispronounced Food Words (and How to Say Them Correctly)," by Alessandra Bulow, which was mentioned by a friend on Facebook, leading to some contemplation on my part. 

(The article can be found at )

My first remarks as posted to Facebook:

I find 7 of 30 agree with me, two more but only in one of two alternative, and one more I simply don't know the correct pronunciation: Huffington may well be right. 

Twenty, though, I think either wrong or misleading: I show my versions below. 

Note that no syllables should end with the usual (American) English "ee" diphthong, and that û is the French "u" (say "ooh" with mouth set for "ee", that "nh" stands for the French nasalization, not used in English except occasionally to express distaste, and that French almost NEVer stresses SYLlables as ENglish does. 

Lindsey says CARE-uh-mul, I say CAHR…

A) ree-SOUGHT-toh

1. Aïoli : eye-oh-LEE

2. Ambrosia : ahm-BROH-zyah

3. Ancho ("AHN-choh")*. ok

4. Anise ("AN-ihss")*  ok

5. Boudin : boo-DANNH

6. Bouillabaisse : bwee-yah-bess

7. Caramel : "KAR-ah-mehl" ok

8. Charcuterie : shar-kû-tree

9. Croissant : krwahss-sanh

10. Crudités : krû-dee-tay

11. Edamame ("eh-dah-MAH-meh")

12. Foie gras : fwah grah

13. Haricot vert ("ah-ree-koh VEHR") ok

14. Hummus ("HOOM-uhs") (oo as in book, not booze)

15. Jicama ("HEE-kah-mah") ok

16. Lichen : LIE-kun

17. Macaron : mah-kah-RONH

18. Mascarpone ("mas-kar-POH-nay; mas-kahr-POH-nay") ok

19. Muffuletta ("moof-fuh-LEHT-tuh") ok

20. Parmesan : PAR-muh-zun (it's English)

21. Prosciutto : pro-SHOOT-toe

22. Radicchio : rah-DEEK-k'yo

23. Rillettes ("ree-YEHT"; "rih-LEHTS") only the first

24. Raita : RYE-ita, where the "i" of the second syllable is slid past quickly

25. Restaurateur : ress-torah-TEUR, where the second syllable is slid past quickly

26. Sake ("SAH-kee"; "SAH-kay")* only the second

27. Sherbet : SHER-but

28. Tzatziki ("dzah-DZEE-kee") perhaps. I don't know. 

29. Vinaigrette : van-eh-GRETT

30. Worcestershire : WUS-ter-shear

After another person commented on the open Italian O in "risotto," and on English final diphthongs — or, if you prefer, diphthong finals — I added:

Savio's exactly right about the diphthong and I should have stressed the point more. And of course he's right about English lacking certain sounds extant in other languages (and vice versa).

"Risotto" is a great practice word. Being Italian, it should begin with a slightly trilled "r": say "HREE " and gently flip the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth just after the "h." 

The English word "sought" is almost exactly right as it lacks the diphthong, at least to my ear, probably because the "t" cuts it off. 

You pronounce both letters of a double consonant in Italian, so the final syllable is "toe." Pure "O": no slide into the W of "tow"!

By the way my daughter Giovanna hears her name mispronounced far too often : it's jo-VAHN-nah, not jee-o-va-nuh. 

Mispronunciation is mostly the result of inattention and, I think, a mark of laziness (unless impacted by genuine physical problems with hearing, or with palate, tongue, teeth, or lips —gosh, it's complicated!).

During her long tenure at Chez Panisse, one of Lindsey's jobs was to prepare pronunciation guides to certain food terms and menu items, so that floor staff might be saved from error. I don't know if that's still being done; perhaps it's no longer needed. 

My own pronunciation is of course far from perfect, so if you have corrections to make, they're welcome…

1 comment:

Curtis Faville said...

American mispronunciation is a subject that interests me, and I've been meaning to write a blog about it.

Right off the top of my head, I've been hearing a lot of weird pronunciations of the word students.

My parents were Midwesterners, but I never encountered any challenge to the way we pronounced this word at home,

It went this way: STU-dnts, with the "d" sound created at the back of the tongue, cutting the second syllable off short (with a kind of die-off at the end).

Today, I've been hearing people increasingly employ a Germanic accent. They will say STOO-DENTS or STOO-dunts, and even SHTOO-dnts (like a German speaker).

The use of the hard -DENT or -DUNT sounds quirky to my ears.

We say ree-SOTE-oh
We say eye-OH-lee
We say AN-izz
We say BOO-ya-baze
We say CARE-a-mell
We say char-KOOT-eree
We say kwah-sanht (this is a French sound, neither a vowel nor a consonant that buries the vowel inside the nasal cavity)
We say PAR-ma-zan
We say RES-ter-a-TER
We say WOR-ses-te-sure

Some pronunciations are family-specific. Pronunciation, like language itself, is subject to continual permutation and gradual mutation. Cross fertilizations among languages produce amusing hybrid forms and sounds, usually as a result of ignorance, which then become insistent, determined grotesqueries.