The Corner

Anglicize, Anglicize

Mark (Krikorian):  I’ve pointed this out before, and it’s just Phonetics 101 if you stop to think about it for a minute, but we can’t pronounce foreign words and names as natives pronounce them. As a wise Anglo has pointed out:

Each language has its own repertoire of sounds, that cannot be matched up exactly with those of any other language. The human vocal tract — throat, nose, tongue, teeth, lips, cheeks — can make sounds in an infinity of ways; or if not an infinity, certainly a much larger number than any one language needs. Each language picks a selection from all possible sounds, and builds its spoken words around that selection. No two languages use the same selection. A French “t” is by no means the same as an English “t.” English people make vowels with the throat only, and use the nose for nothing but “m,” “n,” and the “ng” of words like “singer.” French people can use both the throat and the nose simultaneously to make a “nasalized vowel,” as in vin. In the case of languages much further apart than French and English, you must expect to encounter some very odd sounds indeed, sounds that you can’t accomplish properly without special voice training. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language asserts that every possible method for making sound using the mouth, nose and throat is employed in a regular way by some language somewhere — including even the “Donald Duck” sound made by squirting air between the cheeks and gums, known technically as “buccal” sounds. (I can’t help thinking this really should be “duckal.”) …

Four Chinese consonants — including the “zh” in the name of (sinogynephile alert!Zhang Ziyi  (sigh) — are made by curling up the tip of the tongue and pulling it right back along the roof of the mouth. You have to think hard about this the first few hundred times you do it, like learning to drive — unless, of course, you acquired the skill in early childhood. And that’s just four consonants in one language.

Anyone who tries to put a foreign spin on his pronunciation of some word or name from another language, unless it’s a language to which he has given over years of study and voice training, is just making a fool of himself. Anglicize, anglicize.

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