Pronouncing loanwords

There seems to be a kind of rule that certain loanwords must be pronounced according to some kind of byzantine logic that has never been clearly set down. This post is inspired by beer.

I can see two sensible ways for an English speaker to pronounce Hefeweizen: 1) say it in German, exactly as a German person would; 2) HEEFweezen, making a perfect rhyme with “beef season”.

The same thing happens with many words; right now I can think of hors d’oeuvres either in legitimate French or as “HORZ doovers”.

Many words are already done in one of the ways I hope for. Pizza is pronounced as in Italian (not perfectly, but recognizably – nobody rhymes the last word with the previous two in “get Liz a pizza”). Smorgasbord ignores Swedish and is pronounced as English – works for me. The ones I don’t get the point of are the ones with a pronunciation that ruins the original but isn’t English either. Such as orDURVE and HEFFawyzen. What for? It seems to me that the pretentious pronunciation in each case is the one with an invented compromise, and there’s no better way to combat pretentiousness than to loudly say “heefweezen” in a bar.

Oh wait, maybe there is: Budweezer. Or if you don’t enjoy beer, I’ll go find that bottle of MURlett. (We ran out of Gewürztraminer; nobody gets embarrassed because the original is the only convenient way to say it. Oh no – we’re almost out of burban, too.)

After our little drink, we can go and see the old-fashioned ventilation equipment at the Musée du Louver.

All it takes is a modicum of forbearance for those lucky people who were born with infused knowledge: if they run into something they don’t recognize, there’s obviously a mistake.
Let’s have a closer look at “hors d’oeuvres”, for example: notoriously those crazy French have a penchant for decorating words with useless frills, so let’s stick to the essential - orduvre *). Mmmh… that doesn’t look very pronounceable, there must be an error somewhere… sure, v and r were evidently switched! Et walah a beautiful “orDURVE” any facebooker can easily utter without twisting his tongue.

Things may get a little more complicated in multilingual environments such as for instance the research asylum I used to work for, where the inmates had to come to terms with two or three languages or die of loneliness. There the pronunciation problems became infinitesimal compared to those concerning the overall structure of the phrase: switching language in midsentence was commonplace whereas adjusting the syntax was regarded as pointlessly sophisticated.
No one there would object to a “Weißt du, wer mein Oszilloskope geliftet has, without me for permission to ask?” (possibly with a hint of Spanish accent), and once the culprit was located the legitimate owner could be confronted with a broad apologetic Oriental smile and a “Solly solly, it was shust fo a minit!”

Still, being in Bavaria, no one had problems with the correct pronunciation of beer names. Not before the third bottle, anyway.


*) Not to be confused with “ordure”, except in some restaurants.

I guess “geliftet hat” was already reserved, to describe a chapeau

You’re certainly right that as long as everyone understands where the wobblegraph has gone and what to do better next time, we are all going to be OK.

Er… perhaps I omitted to mention that verbs of any possible origin were conjugated à l’allemande with admirable nonchalance, thus producing priceless pearls like ‘geresettet’ (reset, restarted), ‘mañanieren’ (postpone indefinitely), ‘fumiert’ ([chip] destroyed by excess of current or stupidity), and countless others.
The faces of the occasional bystanders were priceless too :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

You’re hitting a weak spot: one was free to understand only what he wanted to, and even that required a pinch of hermeneutics. But our project is still flying among the stars, thus in some mysterious way most communication glitches must have cancelled each other… :thinking:

Look on the bright side: if it seems as if something was indefinitely postponed but now it seems as if it has been brought back (but none of this is necessarily as it seems), then might that elusive, exclusive German quality of Entmañanierungenheitigkeit become geworden.

(I quite like “mañanieren” – it seems to fit in very nicely.)

(Remembering now one day when my German professor was puzzled over one of those truly odd constructions in English that make it tricky to learn, wondering whether her own use of English was correct: “Does that ging? I think that ging…”) :slightly_smiling_face:

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the recent discussion here about how best to pronounce english words borrowed from foreign languages reminds me of the curious case of the word woodchuck which
per etymonline
was mistakenly borrowed from a word not meaning woodchuck at all
but rather actually meaning marten
that is found in a range of algonquian dialects
& it appears to have been badly & widely mispronounced to boot
insofar as native speakers tended to say something like otchig or otchek etc
depending on who they were or where they were from

but i would also just like to suggest that it hardly matters whether & how foreign words get fractured &or misconstrued when drawn into english since thats precisely how the linguistic cookie has been crumbling through all the millennia of gyrations & evolutions that have produced speech such as it is in all its splendid variety

as my grandmother from latvia used to say
whats the different

Then you might also appreciate “bürokretinisch” (time-consuming and completely useless), “wikipedisch” (pedantic, humorless and unreasonably complicated), and “tekitihsen” (work without haste) :wink:

I think it should be “Will that gegangen?” :slightly_smiling_face:

I see no reason to flog the way real loanwords are pronounced: once a word has been adopted into another language it assumes an individuality of its own and as such its connection with its parent thins drastically or may even get forgotten.
It’s another story though when a foreign word is just momentarily borrowed and squeezed into a text where it wouldn’t belong naturally: in this case I’d rather side with David’s option 1) and use its native pronunciation, both out of a funny sort of respect and to avoid becoming the laughing stock of the bystanders.

But what if I have no idea about its proper pronunciation?
Well, that’s embarrassing: I could pretend I’m familiar with the original language and improvise (thus accepting the risk of making a monkey of myself, should someone nearby know better) or I could implicitly admit ignorance by speaking it out as if it were a legitimate English word. The latter (David’s option 2) looks to me considerably more dignified, although the former is probably the way in which most loanwords were adopted…

I had to say “tekitihsen” out loud to discover its true nature. :grin: Thanks!

“Do I want to pronounce this word wrong and sound ignorant, or do I want to pronounce it right and sound pretentious?”


Exactly! – but then muddied by “… Or do I want to create a third version that is both pretentious AND ignorant?” :upside_down_face: