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This old CollegeHumor sketch highlights an interesting phenomenon: it's often frowned upon or disapproved of, at least in the US and England, to pronounce a loanword according to the phonetics of the language it was borrowed from. For example, anecdotally in the UK, an English speaker would probably think it strange if I pronounced "karaoke" according to the Japanese カラオケ pronunciation, as opposed to the pronunciation common in the US/UK: /ˌkæriˈoʊki/.

I think that in this case, this is because the different phonetics of the Japanese word make the "native" pronunciation jarring in the middle of a sentence. Having to modify the intonation to match Japanese pitch-accent for example, and using sounds such as the alveolar flap in ラ which aren't found in English, would probably not be what the listener was expecting to hear unless the conversation was about the Japanese language or pronunciation. So using the "native" pronunciation might be frowned upon/disapproved of simply because it is unexpected in the linguistic context.

The "point" that the video makes is that doing this is considered "over-pronouncing", and is considered either funny or embarrassing in contexts of two or more native speakers of a language (such as English) where one of them "over-pronounces" a loanword from another language. Presumably again it would not be frowned upon if (e.g.) English speakers were talking to Japanese natives about "karaoke" and used the Japanese pronunciation.

So my question is this:

  • Does the disapproval towards approximating foreign loanword pronunciations occur at all outside of the context of English speakers using a non-English loanword?
  • If so, is it common to disapprove of foreign loanword pronunciations? Or conversely, is it common in many other parts of the world to emulate foreign loanword pronunciations to the best of the speaker's ability?
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  • 7
    I don't think this is necessarily true in the UK. Loads of people use French-like pronunciations for French words like croissant, for example. I think it depends quite a lot on the word and how many other native speakers use that pronunciation. The karaoke example might be found odd, basically because few people have ever heard that pronunciation or know it sounds like that in Japanese. Aug 23, 2022 at 13:28
  • 10
    I think [OPINION ONLY] that this could be frame-challenged; anecdotally, it appears to me to depend on several factors, including but not necessarily limited to socioeconomic class of the speaker, origin language of the word, and "degree of uptake" in the borrowing language (i.e., is it still perceived as a 'foreign' word, or has it been fully assimilated into the borrowing language). Aug 23, 2022 at 13:28
  • 5
    @JanusBahsJacquet We must be in very different parts of the UK, then — I can't recall ever hearing anyone pronounce the ‘t’ in croisssant! Brits may not manage an authentic native French pronunciation, but they generally get a reasonable approximation; certainly much closer to that than how it'd be pronounced as a native English word.
    – gidds
    Aug 23, 2022 at 22:40
  • 3
    I'm not entirely sure that this comes up in most other languages, since they have more a more rigid correlation between spelling and pronunciation. The loan word will thus be spelled the way it is pronounced in that language most of the time, with minor exceptions.
    – trlkly
    Aug 23, 2022 at 23:33
  • 2
    @AzorAhai The question touches on both aspects. The reason "karaoke" is spelled the way it is in English is that it follows an official romanization of the Japanese, even though said romanization does not corresponds the usual English pronunciation. It is only because of this that the situation comes up where someone might try to pronounce the Japanese phonemes. The same is true of most loan words in English (they use the original spelling or an official transliteration) , unless they are so old they predate spelling standardization.
    – trlkly
    Aug 23, 2022 at 23:51

10 Answers 10

27

I'm not familiar enough with other cultures to answer the question but I have a perspective that I haven't seen expressed in the comments or answers. The other answer also proposed a predictive system rather than providing direct answers1, so I thought I'd weigh in.

Stigmatizing an honest attempt to use original-language pronunciation can be a reaction against prescriptivism motivated by reverse-classism/anti-elitism. The prevalence of this phenomenon will, I suspect, be primarily affected by a given society's attitude to class. However, I don't believe that this is precisely what's being portrayed in this video.

There is a reasonable argument in support of Mike Trapp's (the "over-pronouncer") actions. He claims that "he's not imposing his Anglicized pronunciations on these foreign words.".

If you believe that the English word "café" and the French word "café" are one and the same word rather than cognates2, then it's not unreasonable to claim that "the language that invented this word should be the authority on how it's pronounced". His claim that it's "less racist" might be supported or disputed by the actual speakers of that language (especially - see my aside, below). However, "embarrassment at being adjacent to a racist action" is not the only consideration of why a bystander might react negatively to using original pronunciations.

Familiarity with foreign languages is a privilege - one usually granted by education, itself often (not always) an indicator of wealth. Using original-language pronunciations can therefore be seen as an arrogant demonstration of privilege and/or an effort to differentiate oneself from the uneducated. "I'm better than you because I know another language <because I am wealthy enough to have been educated enough to learn it>". This is similar to the single-language case of prescriptivism being used as a tool of classism - "I'm better than you because I employ the Subjective Subjunctive mood 'correctly' <because I am wealthy enough to have been educated enough to learn it>" isn't the same assertion, but it rhymes.

Bystanders to an original-language pronunciation might be embarrassed or hostile towards it not because it's seen as racist (though - again - see below), but because it is perceived (accurately or not) as an insulting attempt to "claim class". Assuming that the listeners consider themselves of a similar class to the speaker, they may be insulted that the speaker thinks themself superior, or (in groups that have strong negative feelings towards the upper class) they may be hostile to someone attempting to enter the upper class.3


As an aside, though, I do not believe that "Using original-language pronunciations is either funny or embarrassing" is "The 'point' that the video makes". Go watch the video again. Notice the stereotypical Italian "finger purse" on "Linguiiiiiiine", or the exaggeration of the rolled-"R" (a stereotypically Spanish sound) on "Conquistadorrrrrr".

Mike's pronunciation here could be seen as offensive4 because it reduces a language to stereotypical traits. His friends are here embarrassed because they guess that other guests might be offended by this exaggeration of stereotypical accents, not because they guess that other guests might take offense at his social climbing or bragging about education.

If you use the actual foreign language pronunciation of a word, in a moderate approximation of the original accent, you're taking a gamble - you might be seen (as Mike hopes to be) as open-minded, humble, and respectful, or you might be seen as a social climber. But if you demonstrate disrespect for a culture by caricaturing its accent - if you "over-pronounce" - you're always an asshole.


1: I'm new to this particular site, so I'm not sure of the answering-etiquette. Apologies if I slipped up!

2: An interesting philosophical tangent, especially when they start being used with different referents: "Nirvana is an English band, but it's a Hindi word

3: There's an alternative case where the speaker attempts to ingratiate themselves with a person of a higher class by using "hypercorrect" language. If the higher-class person does not themself use that pronounciation, it might be seen as gauche or embarrassing to have "tried and failed" to claim class. I suspect, though, that this case is much rarer, and is not what's being portrayed in the video.

4: Note the intentional use of "Could be", not "Is". I'm not going to speak for what's offensive to anyone else, of any culture.

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12

The linguistic phenomenon that you are speaking of is in large part due to English spelling conventions being so far off from normal phonetic values for the Latin alphabet, and secondarily is due to a dearth of attention being paid to actual pronunciation in the original language (often, no experience at all with the original language). An English speaker therefore has a greatly reduced probability at guessing at an indigenous pronunciation of a orthographic loan, compared to speakers of other languages (whose Latin-based spelling systems are less confusing and who are afforded greater opportunities to hear pronunciations in the donor language, and to learn from native speakers). The "carry oakie" pronunciation is most widespread at least in the US so there may be some surprise value in a person saying [kaɾaoke] and on some social circles people may feel that a person is "putting on airs" if they pronounce it that way, but it is not generally a stigmatized pronunciation. On the contrary, in my experience the popular pronunciation [fɔu] for Vietnamese phở is more stigmatized than [fʌ] (which is closer to native).

Whether or not a person has a strong view as to what constitutes proper pronunciation in their language is a highly individual matter, and has little to do with loanwords vs. native words. If there is a strong central authority in a society (a king, a ruling class or ethnicity, an academy) you are more likely to get attitude about "incorrect" pronunciation.

3
  • Do you have a reference to support your orthography points? It seems plausible enough, but to me it would seem like many other factors would be more relevant. Aug 23, 2022 at 23:23
  • @ orthography: If people don't know or don't care about the original pronunciation, they will apply the rules of their own language. Even though modern transliteration is based on English and not on Latin the resulting pronunciation can be far off. This is not only because the English orthography reflects the medieval state of the language (which is also true for French), but the English pronunciation is very "ambiguous", there is no strict one-to-one correlation between a single / a certain group of letter(s) and a certain sound.
    – Shakesbeer
    Aug 24, 2022 at 21:12
  • IME, people tend to pronounce unfamiliar foreign words as if they were Spanish (at least for the vowels), rather than following English's rather inconsistent conventions.
    – dan04
    Aug 24, 2022 at 23:43
11

No, it isn't a cross-linguistic phenomenon.

For example in German language, people are expected to use foreign pronunciations for foreign words from English and (less so) French. These languages are seen as "superior", or more precisely, more prestigious than the native German language. Foreign words from other languages are more or less brutally Germanised.

The English and specially English spoken in the USA is adverse against foreign pronunciations is no surprise: The speakers think they are speaking the most prestigious language of the world and belong to the supremate super-power of the day.

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  • 3
    A prominent example in German is the pronunciation of the word "Orange", which features a nasal [ã], a sound not found in the rest of German vocabulary but still expected to be used in this one word.
    – ob-ivan
    Aug 24, 2022 at 13:22
  • 8
    As a German I'd like to add that this highly depends on the region/dialect and the "class" you are talking in/with. With the exception of English, other languages get a variety of treatments, from just "naturally" using the native pronunciation to "I don't even know that this is/was not a German word." Anecdotally I can tell that pronouncing "Orange" natively can result in others making fun of you (I moved to another place where no-one pronounced "Orange" like that), so there can be some stigma involved. Aug 24, 2022 at 15:06
  • 4
    To the "Orange"-question in the German language: The pronunciation depends on the sounds present in the local dialect. For example in Austria people say "orãʃe", while the French pronunciation is "orãʒ". There is no voiced sh [ʒ] in german, but the dialects in question do have the nasal [ã]. A more prominent example would be the word "restaurant", pronounced "restorã" in Austria. "restauraŋ", which is used in parts of Germany (due to lack of the nasal there), horrifies every Austrian. In general german pronunciation will follow the original one as close as the local sound inventory allows.
    – Shakesbeer
    Aug 24, 2022 at 20:41
  • 2
  • 2
    I'd say, it depends. Specifically, "USA" is pronounced German ("Ooh Ass Ah"), whereas "CIA" is pronounced English ("See Eye Ay"), as is "Washington" (though perhaps as if it were spelled with "V"). But indeed, we may even have a switch from English-y to French-y pronunciaton in combos such as "Hedge-Fond" Aug 26, 2022 at 11:17
7

Argentinian Spanish native here. Context is everything but as a general rule, yes, it is stigmatized here. I'd only use the original pronunciation of that word if I'm speaking to people who are fluent in that foreign language.

Even then, I'd never say foreign words like delivery (used in the context of food delivered to your door) or jeans with American/English pronunciation in causal speech. It's just unnecessarily pretentious and if it's not then it's likely to be perceived as such.

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  • 1
    Thanks for the perspective! It's helpful to know that this occurs in contexts outside of English as well.
    – Lou
    Aug 25, 2022 at 6:52
  • I think it's funny that it's pretentious to say "jeans" with an American pronunciation since it's such a basic and unpretentious word here. I'm know many Spanish speakers feel the same way about things going the other way, but it's just funny to hear that perspective
    – Kevin
    Aug 25, 2022 at 22:15
  • @Kevin: It's of course not the word that would pretentious, but the pronunciation of it. I'm having a hard time thinking of any words in north-american English that are borrowed from other languages that don't at least have some air of sophistication, like "croissant", "baguette", or "bruscetta". Although some cafes are pretty modest and it would be pretentious to give it a full French pronunciation. For clothing, closest I can think of is cami / camisole; pretty standard and mundane clothing item but the word is originally French. I see what you're saying though, on the surface it's funny Aug 25, 2022 at 23:40
  • You say /deliˈβeɾi/ and /xeˈans/ ?
    – minseong
    Aug 26, 2022 at 0:43
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    @theonlygusti It's a mixed bag. For some reason tire brands such as Firestone and Fate are pronounced /fiɾes'tone/ and /'fate/. Electric batteries brand Energizer is usually rendered /eneɾ'xiseɾ/. Newer brands and words introduced since the 90s will most definitely be approximated to their American/English pronunciations.
    – baka_toroi
    Aug 30, 2022 at 20:39
6

I'm Italian, I can say that somebody who does not pronounce English loanwords correctly is perceived as uncouth.

The same is true for French words (I've never heard anyone pronouncing the silent "e" in décolleté, crêpe or griffe, or the "t" in croissant) or for German (blitzkrieg, müsli and kitch come to mind).

Spanish poses almost no problem since its pronunciation is rather similar to Italian (tapas, siesta, gazpacho, sombrero).

One starts to sound pretentious with lesser known languages; the usual Italian pronunciation of kamikaze, ikebana or seppuku is definitely wrong, but using the correct Japanese pronounciation will probably be perceived as haughty.

NOTE: English loanwords that entered our vocabulary a few decades ago seem to be an exception. Brand names like Singer (sewing machines), Tide (detergent) or Colgate (toothpaste) are pronounced as if they were Italian words.

1
  • This only covers a very narrow definition of "correct" pronunciation. Yes, you won't say "crêpe" with the final silent E, but will you say it with a French R rather than Italian R? If you did the latter, you'd sound way pretentious to me. Same with other examples. Same with using English R in an English word, although I've noticed that after Trump became US president, news media immediately took a liking to pronouncing the name similar to "Chump" and with a very non-Italian vowel. I found it bewildering. When speaking Italian, I pronounce it as I would a hypothetical Italian word "tramp".
    – LjL
    Mar 17, 2023 at 23:03
3

I beg to differ with jk's answer concerning German.

Yes, it's true that German tries to preserve some features of the original pronunciation for loanwords — at least for some languages. There are other features, however, that are consistently not preserved, and if you stick to the original pronunciation too closely, your audience will look irritated or will not understand you at all. Here's a random collection of examples.

English: "Computer" is /kəmˈpjuːtə/ in BrE, /kəmˈpjutɚ/ in AmE, and /kɔmˈpjuːtɐ/ in German. While the /j/ in the second syllable is kept in German, the first vowel is never reduced to /ə/, and the final syllable is pronounced in the same way as the final syllable in "Vater" or "Meter", most likely as /tɐ/ (depending on the speaker's dialect). It's not /tə/, and certainly not /tɚ/, unless you try to imitate an American accent.

Dutch: "Gouda" (cheese) is /ˈɡaʊ̯da/ in German. Note that the diphthong is roughly the same as in Dutch /ˈɣɑu̯daː/, but the initial consonant is not. If you order /ˈɣɑu̯daː/ at a German cheese counter, you will not be understood.

Italian: "Gnocchi" is /ˈnjɔki/ in German, or perhaps /ˈɲɔki/. If you say /ˈgnɔki/ (or even worse /ˈgnɔtʃi/), you will be perceived as uneducated. But if you say /ˈɲɔk.ki/ with a properly geminated /k/ as in Italian, you sound like you're imitating the Italian waiter.

Swedish: Germans are fairly unaware of the fact that Swedish consonants are pronounced differently from their German counterparts. For instance, "Göteborg" (Gothenburg) is /ˈɡøːtəˌbɔʁk/ in German and "Linköping" is /linˈkøːpiŋ/. If you use the proper Swedish pronunciations /jœtɛˈbɔrj/ or /ˈlinɕøːpiŋ/, no German will understand you.

Russian: There are several things that are consistently ignored in Russian loanwords and proper names in German, for instance the stress pattern, the fact that unstressed vowels are reduced in Russian, and the difference between a Russian "hard л" /ɫ/ and a German "l" /l/. Consequently, "Wladimir"/"Владимир" is /ˈvlaːdimɪɐ̯/ in German, and "Boris"/"Борис" is /ˈbo(ː)ʁɪs/. If you say /vɫɐˈdʲimʲɪr/, people will look a bit irritated, if you say /bɐˈrʲis/, they will not understand you at all.

Thai: "Bangkok" is /ˈbaŋkɔk/ in German. The original Thai pronunciation /baːŋ˧.kɔːk̚˨˩/ has an unreleased stop at the end, but an unreleased stop is inaudible for Germans. If you pronounce "Bangkok" with an unreleased /k̚/, Germans will not understand what you mean.

The assumption that the original pronunciation of a loanword is generally perceived as correct in German is about as wrong as the assumption that the original grammatical gender of a loanword (say, from French) is perceived as correct in German.

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    At the place where I live, /ˈgnɔtʃi/ is the standard Germanisation of Italian gnocchi. There is a restaurant named /pɔrto vɛtʃio/, guess the spelling of the original name. I concur with the other observations. Aug 29, 2022 at 13:54
  • A nice link to Gnotschi, from 2012: abendblatt.de/hamburg/article108450622/… Aug 30, 2022 at 8:17
1

I think that sometimes native speakers get corrected on their pronunciation of a foreign word, and then they get defensive and say "well no, this is just how we say it. It's how it's pronounced in our dictionaries". I would assume that that is fairly common across cultures.

1
  • Some languages/cultures prefer to change the spelling of a word in order to reflect best approximation while keeping their native spelling rules. Others such as Spanish will keep the original spelling and an effort might or might not be produced to say it with the (usually approximated) original pronunciation. Einstein is usually read as-is as /'einstein/ instead of /'ainstain/.
    – baka_toroi
    Aug 30, 2022 at 20:43
1

I wanted to throw my own thoughts into the ring after reading the discussions on this question. In particular, I strongly agree with this comment from @ShadowRanger:

I find that, for Spanish, Americans generally stick to Spanish consonant rules where the sound exists in English, but apply English vowel sounds (which are admittedly quite flexible, so sometimes they get it right by accident). So "jalapeño" honors the Spanish pronunciation of the 'j' and 'ñ', the 'p' already agrees, and the 'l' is close enough. But the 'a's are pronounced by English rules (first as in "cat", second a schwa, where in Spanish they'd both match English "cot"), the 'e' is inconsistent (sometimes as in "pen", sometimes as in "cream"), and only the 'o' matches Spanish.

This has been an observation I've made in England as well. We tend to respect the consonants in loanwords more than the vowels - so long as the consonant is something in our sound inventory or close enough. It's typical for an English speaker to say "genre" with the voiced postalveolar fricative, but probably they would never use the French vowel. Ditto "croissant", as several people in the replies to this question noted. But I've noticed that we struggle with pronouncing the voiceless velar fricative /x/, for example in Loch, Bach, or even names like Khalid. Some might attempt the pronunciation but because it's not in our sound inventory (in England at least, it will be in Scotland,) it's "easier" to fall back on the /k/ sound.

The vowel thing is interesting though. To speculate, I would say that this might be due to sonority - vowels are louder than consonants and so more salient in speech. The difference between /dʒ/ and /ʒ/ in "genre" is slighter compared to the difference between the French and English vowel equivalent /ɑ̃/ and /ɔ/. Using a non-native vowel sound therefore marks the speech as distinctive, and may trigger negative reactions in the vein "Oh, that person is trying to show how educated / fancy they are by using an 'authentic' pronunciation".

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  • 1
    I think the most common pronunciation of jalapeño that I hear in the US does not honor the sound of "ñ" even approximately. It's more like "hall-uh-peen-o". Aug 25, 2022 at 13:19
1

In Russian and in Georgian, for example, grammar dictates such a hopeless distortion of the word that authentic pronunciation becomes simply impossible.

For example with a word in plural it is obligatory to add a plural indicating suffix, while in many cases it is impossible to remove the native suffix.

The word "jeans" is, I believe, a good example for Russian. The Russian word is джинсы, which consists of джинс (jeens, although "j" is pronounced as "dzh") and the suffix ы (y, for plural), so it sounds approximately like dzheensy. All this is really hardwired, there is simply no way to pronounce it differently.

-3

Question: Is pronouncing loanwords according to their "native" pronunciation stigmatised across most cultures and languages?

This is a leading question. The assumption is that all cultures frown on pronunciations that are NOT accurate in the language of origin. This cannot be determined and is not even a valid linguistics question.

Also, stigmatize is not the right word here. A much better term, even though it does not change the fact this is a leading question would be: frowned upon.

Generally, people are stigmatized, not their behaviors.

Finally, no question about pronunciation can be answered "across all cultures". A best one could design a survey in and for a particular language but even then it would not provide an answer for, say, all the French speakers in France.

My conclusion is that this is not a valid linguistics question. All that can be provided are opinions and clichés that people might have in their heads about a particular way of pronouncing a loanword in a particular language.

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    The question is asking whether most cultures frown on pronunciations that are accurate in the language of origin or not. That's not an assumption made by OP at all that's literally what OP wants to find out.
    – minseong
    Aug 26, 2022 at 0:47
  • 1
    I think that there is a possibility that this is more pedantic than precise, but for clearness of communication I have edited the "stigmatised" term in the question. I also agree that the question as it stood could not be answered "across all cultures". Really what I was getting at was: I have observed this phenomenon in English-speaking contexts. Does this occur outside of English-speaking contexts, yes or no? And does it occur commonly, or is it more usual in non-English speaking contexts to emulate foreign loanword pronunciation? So thanks for the feedback.
    – Lou
    Aug 26, 2022 at 9:38
  • 1
    @theonlygusti That is inaccurate. Do most people like red balloons? is a leading question. Not leading is: What color balloons do most people like? Non-leading: How do people who speak x in their native country view the pronunciation of loanwords? Still impossible to answer without a survey which still would only be an indicator.
    – Lambie
    Aug 26, 2022 at 15:08
  • I think this is important point: there is the native pronunciation (as natives pronounce it) and an attempt at native pronunciation, that is how, e.g., an American speaker pronounces a Japanese word. The latter is not necessarily even close to the former, and the listeners are usually not qualified to judge its quality - so it is treated as pretentious.
    – Roger V.
    Aug 26, 2022 at 16:33
  • 1
    @RogerVadim None of this can be measured anyway.
    – Lambie
    Aug 27, 2022 at 15:31

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