pretentious pronunciation

it's a sign of education and culture to be able to pronounce foreign words with the 'proper' accent. i always pause when ordering a wrap: should i pronounce 'boursin' as 'boor-sin' (the americanized way), or 'boor-s[highly nasalized I]' (the french way)? i usually opt for 'cheese spread'. ditto for croissant.

but you'll never hear a professor pronounce the t in 'Foucault.' we need to know they have the education to know how it's supposed to be pronounced. some go so far as to glottalize the 'r' in 'Derrida.' and the difference between the 'a' in 'ash' and the 'a' in 'father' is very pronounced in 'Althusser'.

but it's an english speaking class. we haven't read the texts in french. we have no claim to linguistic authenticity. there are certainly enough non-english words in the language that we have no qualms about pronouncing english-ly. what gives?

i think words have always been a status symbol. the idea of 'proper' changes over time and given context. 'pronounced as in the native language of the word/name' hasn't always been the same as 'proper', i imagine. but when 'proper' (whatever it means) is linked to education, style, intelligence, the use of words takes on more meaning than simply their meaning.


Adam said...

I think we do a good service to the tongue our parents taught us by attempting to preserve some measure of variation, however slight, even if it's SO slight as "Only when we order cheese". While I don't think it's necessary, necessarily, to feel pretentious but don't we feel so much dumber intentionally mispronouncing words we know?

We don't have to go around with anything on but the costume we'd like - this is America, after all.

Adam said...


I am perfectly happy to mispronounce any word that i don't now. And if there are no speakers of that language present, you're not going to increase anyone's understanding by mispronouncing a word you all recognize from text...

I say we should do what we want (A re-iteration of some of the content of my previous reply)

Cristi said...

yeah, but in language we rarely, if ever, get to 'do what we want.' every pattern of pronunciation is based on education, status, etc. how we CHOOSE to pronounce is never just a simple choice between words: it's a choice between american/non-american, in-crowd/out-crowd, pretention/fained innocence... it's nice to know you're not being judgemental, but people in general always are.

Brett Williams said...

Opting for "Cheese spread" makes tt sounds like you're trying to make an argument for americans to speak english in the most vanilla way as possible. Or are you simply commenting on the situation of how people choose to pronounce words? Sure, everyone judges everything they perceive from another person whether they realize it or not but that's no reason to 'americanize' other languages. It's our differences that keeps the world worth living in and the more our melting pot dilutes those differences, the plainer it gets. Besides, it's fun to pronounce croissant all Monty Python style! Why do you pause? You're afraid some random stranger will think you're educated rather than ignorant? I personally opt for the former but hey, maybe it's also fun to pronounce it kro-iss-ant, I'll have to give it a shot! We don't call 'Freedom of speech' for nothing, missy.

Commenting on the phenomenon as a researcher (which is implied from your linguistics degree and the format of your site) and then formulating hypotheses is the opposite of indicating your personal preference then providing random public experiences to back up your fear of being judged. If you think it's "pretentious" to be educated, why did you get the auspicious degree? "what gives?"? Unless of course, the whole post is just part of your research and is a hook for posts! AHAHAHAHAHA!!!

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