09 April 2006

Pronunciation of Foreign Names

When I was at school (a long time ago!) I was taught that the correct pronunciation for Majorca was Ma-jaw-ka, and not something approximating to the Spanish pronunciation Ma-yor-ka. I imagine the Spanish pronunciation became common in the UK because it is a very popular holiday destinantion for people in Britain and they heard the way it was pronounced by locals. We do not, however, do the same for most other Anglicised names: Germany and Spain for example, where we have universally used English spelling and pronunciation. In Spanish and Catalan the island is called Mallorca, and that is increasingly becoming the accepted spelling in English, which at least makes it consistent with the common pronunciation. The rule (if it is a rule) that if you anglicise a foreign name you should pronounce it as if were English, does not really help for places such as Paris. This is spelt the same way in both languages, but no English speaker says Pa-ree.

Most people I know would try and pronounce someone's name as the person would themselves, but this is done inconsistently even on the BBC which used to have high standards in this area. Sports commentators seem to be the worst offenders, and they often have a lot of foreign names to to get their heads round. I am reliably informed by my tennis doubles partner (a Russion born and brought up in Moscow) that Maria Sharapova's family name should be pronounced SHA-RAP-ova and not Sharra-pova, as it commonly is in the UK. The footballer Thierry Henry's name however is always pronounced as it would be in French, or as close to French as most English native speakers can manage. I now say Ma-yor-ka and Sharaa-pova because otherwise people think I don't know the correct pronunciation!

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