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18 January 2010

You Say Paree and I Say Paris

There was a piece in today's Evening Standard about the fuss over the BBC's pronunciation of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in "the English way" (rhyming Prince with wince) rather than the Haitian way (rhyming Prince with the way someone from Yorkshire with a cold might say dance). I was surprised to hear the city pronounced to rhyme with wince on the Today Programme today--in fact, I did wince--but it really shouldn't come as a surprise.

After all, radio presenters don't talk about the wonderful bike rental scheme in Paree or the football team Bayern München and for good reason--different languages have different sets of phonemes and so international pronunciations help non-polyglots to understand the places people are talking about.

It's not just us lazy, self-centred English that do this either. The French enjoy the cheap shopping available in Londres and might go for a weekend break in Cornouailles--these are even spelled differently. And there's the schoolboy's favourite, Sussex, which, when pronounced en français, is homophonic with a certain way of expressing oneself orally.

My favourite was always the admittedly rarely used Nouveau York, Frenchifying the "New" but not taking the Latin for York (Eboracum) and carrying out 2000-odd years worth of sound changes (producing something like Eboraque). The Italians, meanwhile, call the Germans i Tedeschi, which requires some serious historical knowledge to work out.

In fact, given that Paris, Brussels, Milan and other commonly used place names always get Anglicised pronunciations in this country, it seems that people who only use the non-Anglicised versions for more unusual place names are clearly only showing off. So, I don't think English radio and TV presenters do need to nasalise their Princes unless they are also going to pronounce --or Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch at all, for that matter.

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