Anglicisation Anxiety

Image via Akseli Koskela
Des croissants, confiture et jus d'orange.
Recently in a discussion with a friend, I got into an argument as to the correct pronunciation of “prima facie”. Having tentatively dipped my toe in the Italian language, I assumed that a Latin expression would follow Italian pronunciation, hence: “pri-ma fah-chi”. But no, apparently everyone says “preemer face-ee” as in the word “face”. Wikipedia’s IPA spelling suggested the unhappy compromise of “prima fay-shee”. I decided in the end, that however the phrase is properly pronounced in Latin, it’s best to go with the common pronunciation. But this question frequently vexes me, how much should one anglicise foreign loan words when using them in everyday sentences?

Take “croissant” for example. Is there any other word for which I exercise so much anxiety when I’m called upon to use it in conversation? Where do you draw the line when it comes to pronouncing the word properly? Do I cough-up a great big ball of phlegm when pronouncing the “r” in “cr-” and do I, like “un vrai français” pronounce the “-oi-” as “wah”? Of course I’m not going to pronounce the final “t” but should I also properly nasalize “-ssant” and thus produce a passionate and fully rounded “kr-wasson”?

No, that would sound ridiculous.

Should I instead, like every other Aussie, refer to a croissant the same way I would refer to my auntie when she’s angry about something?

Oh, if only I could just ask my whole question in French and remove any ambiguity:

Deux croissant s’il vous plaît.”

But I’m not sure the pimply apprentice at Baker’s Delight would understand what I was talking about. Looks like I’ll just have to say:

“May I have two cross aunts please.” (Although really I’d prefer it if my aunts remained their cheerful old selves).

But this is the dilemma. On the one hand, I can sound like an uneducated bogan, on the other a pretentious merchant banker. Where is the happy middle-ground?

Of course the French have no such anxiety. The resolve the question rather bluntly by simply Francifying all foreign loan words. I don’t think anyone in France would get any sort of higher esteem or caché for pronouncing “le showbiz” like some marketing executive straight off the plane from Los Angeles. Rather, my pocket Larousse’s IPA guide suggested something much more like “le chobiznès”. While it is generally a mark of intellect being able to pronounce foreign loan words correctly in English, the French have no such hang-ups. “Naples”, “Genoa”, “Moscou”; if you ever wondered why we call Florence “Florence” when the actual denizens of that city call it Firenze you can thank the French. Yes the English assiduously tried to copy the names properly - but the English copied them from the wrong language!

13 comments:

PAMO said...

WOW! What a well written post and so funny! I thoroughly enjoyed every word of it. Not that I could pronounce those words, but I sure enjoyed reading them.
If I ever go to France, I will take my cross aunt. And now, anytime I have the opportunity to say "croissant" I will laugh right out loud!

#167 Dad said...

Bravisimo!
You killed me with the description frawing up plegm balls to pronounce croissant. Funny stuff.

Akseli Koskela said...

Thanks PAMO, hopefully your aunt will cheer-up after a trip to France. I'm glad you liked the post.

Bill, yeah, the "R's" of French are one of the best parts of the language. Once you learn to do them you keep saying "r" words just because you like the sound of them. It's like whacking-out a good Spanish "Javier".

Red Nomad OZ said...

Haha! Hilarious!! I once read that the upper and lower classes were immediately identifiable by the way they pronounced 'croissant'! And this is borne out by your bogan/banker comparison!! It MUST be true!

Thanx so much for visiting my blog and your kind comment - drop back again anytime!!

Francis Hunt said...

Try some of the Slavic languages! I remember newsreaders in the 80s getting panicked as the name Lech Walesa inexorably approached on the teleprompter. They knew it wasn't pronounced the way it was written, but exactly how to pronounce it was another matter; something about Ls being pronounced as Ws, or was it the other way around, and didn't an unwritten N creep in somewhere?

Then there's Czech - a language which seems to get by for long stretches with no vowels at all ...

Anonymous said...

As you recognize in the last paragraph, words get borrowed and end up with a pronunciation appropriate for their new home. Let the French say showbusiness how they want and let us say cross aunt and everyone will be happy. It would be very strange if we pronounced all the borrowings from French with a French accent.

roxy said...

Hilarious. I'm sure I'll have a cheerful morning after reading this post, but I'm vexed that I've pronounced prima facie (as the Italians would) incorrectly for all these years. Yesterday, I was talking with friends about Victor Hugo's work, Les Miserables, and I felt very self-conscious pronouncing it as the French would. Hmm. Is it best to adjust pronunciation to the company at hand?

ISRAEL CARRASCO said...

Great post. In America I have noticed that French words are made more flamboyantly French while Spanish words are made to sound more Anglo.

Akseli Koskela said...

Red Nomad, yes, unfortunately French words can attract some real snobs (not me of course). I can imagine pronouncing croissant being used as some sort of class division down here in Oz.

Frank, yes I do remember Lech Walesa. It also reminds me of a time some years ago when there was a train crash in the Finnish town of Jyvaskyla - most readers didn't even dare, it was just "a town in central Finland". The best attempt I heard was "Jive-a-sky-la".

Anonymous, an insightful comment. I invite you to sign-up to a Google account and come back more often - your comments are much appreciated.

Roxy, I am so glad that I'm not the only one who gets anxiety about this subject. Btw, I'm still not 100% convinced that "face-ee" is the correct pronounciation, it could just be how legal eagles down under pronounce it.

Israel, that's interesting. I suppose more Spanish words are now being added to the vocabulary in American English that way, and becoming anglicised through being so commonly used.

I also kind of feel that some Americans have a particular way of pronouncing French words that isn't how French people pronounce them, but certainly isn't English either. It's like the American French accent or something.

Judie said...

People have been saying "for tay" for forte for so long, that I think it has become acceptible. No one really notices that there is not an accent mark over the "e."

I personally like the Italian for "prima facie."

Another interesting post, Akseli. Oh, and thanks for the comment on my post! I actually find BOTH Tuts to be an education!

JJ said...

Akseli: I always go with the original pronunciation, with the exception of one word: English.

Karyn said...

You are so funny. I personally think you would tread safer on the humbler ground--and avoid coughing up phlegm. Otherwise you might intimidate people like me :)

Akseli Koskela said...

Haha Judie, are you sure you want to open that can of worms regarding how to spell foreign loan-words? Whilst us Aussies share a lot with Americans, when it comes to spelling we're still firmly on the Oxford side of the Oxford-Webster divide!

JJ, now you've piqued my curiosity as to how the word "English" was originally pronounced!

Karyn, I agree that's probably the safest ground.