How to pronounce foreign words in English
Posted on 21 July 2015 by Lucy Gregory
What to do with a sausage
On my way to a meeting last week, I wandered into an irresistible shop on the Strand selling all sorts of Iberian cured meat. Once at the meeting, I couldn’t help enthusing about the shop and how much I love chorizo.
‘Aha!’ my client cried. ‘You say cho-ree-so! My friend and I had an argument about this at the pub last week. He thinks it should be cho-ree-tho because of the Spanish lisp.’
And so started a lengthy discussion on how to pronounce foreign words in English.
FACT: English has borrowed words from over 350 languages worldwide
Foreign words have been wending their way into English for centuries. They mostly relate to food, but we all might experience a moment of schadenfreude if a macho bon vivant were caught al fresco in his pyjamas by paparazzi waiting to turn him into a cause célèbre.
OK, that was a little contrived. But you see my point.
The question is not whether to put on a foreign accent when saying these words in an English context (unless you want everyone to laugh at you) but rather how to sound the letters correctly. Are some pronunciations correct and others wrong? Which ones are considered pretentious?
Back to our chorizo example. Is it cho-ree-so or cho-ree-tho?
As it happens, the Spanish say both. Phew. Although I have it on good authority that in South America you’re more likely to hear it pronounced cho-ri-tso, like the double z in pizza.
While we’re on the subject of Italian, what about bruschetta and macchiato? In Italian, the h is hard and they would pronounce the words broo-skeh-ta and mack-ee-ah-to. Most people use a hard h for macchiato, but don’t apply the same principle to bruschetta (which is often pronounced with a sh in the middle).
And what if you ordered a glass of chablis in Paris? If you were speaking French, the two words would rhyme. In English they don’t – most people say sha-blee and Pa-riss.
Think up a list of foreign words used in English and you’ll find some retain elements of their native pronunciation while others have been completely anglicised. As far as I can tell, there’s no logical rule to explain which are which.
At this point I should confess my own embarrassing pronunciation story (everyone has one). I’m still mocked by friends from university for my pronunciation of rocket salad. Or should I say row-ket. I swear till then all the lettuce I’d seen was spelt roquette, but no one believes me. As uni stories go, it’s not exactly horrifying, and I take comfort that someone else came to uni pronouncing aubergine as or-ba-jinny.
In conclusion, there’s no way to tell whether you’re making a pronunciation faux pas (not fox-pass). If in doubt, sprinkle the word into conversation with friends and hope someone sets you straight – or take a hint from their stifled laughter.