Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Pinochet to transfer to Whitehart Lane?

If that crossword clue is too easy, how about this: What do Augusto  Pinochet and Louis Armstrong have in common? (This post might give you a clue.)

<thinking_time background_music="Hello Dolly">
Look, if you haven't got it yet listen to that music (the cover by Louis Armstrong):
Hello Dolly
This is Louis (/lu:wɪs/) Dolly ...

Their names are frequently subjected to hypercorrection. English commentators often give Pinochet's name as /'pɪnɒʃeɪ/, presumably assuming that there is some French background to the name (as if it should rhyme with piquet) [mistreating ,the while, the vowels and stress as only the British can]. For all I know there was considerable influence on Chile from France. While in Valparaíso {and you can make an old man very happy by giving that place-name five syllables} he studied at the French Fathers' School, and he was the son of a Breton immigrant (from Lamballe, according to Wikipedia) with a Basque mother.

But his family and countrymen pronounce the name fully hispanized: [pino'ʧɛt]

In Argentina, meanwhile, many of the influences are Italian (although France obviously figured in its history – the Falkland Islands owing their Argentine name to the French town of St Malo). So I was hoist with my own petard when Mauricio Pochettino appeared in the news earlier this week. The double T in the name marks it out as of Italian descent; double Ts are vanishingly rare  in Spanish (I'm inclined to say 'non-existent', but there may be the odd borrowed exception.)

Which led me to assume that he was Italian and should be pronounced with a [k]. But, not being a denizen of the sports pages, I didn't know he was from Argentina. And, like Pinochet adopting a Spanish [t] in spite of its absence in French, Pochettino adopted a Spanish [ʧ] in spite of the Italian [k].

This confirms what I have long been aware of: the [mis]pronunciation of borrowed names is one of the hardest things to learn about foreign languages.

<autobiographical_note date_range=1971>
In my youth I spent a few months selling magazine subscriptions, as mentioned in a previous post. The publishers bolstered the advertising sales of lesser-known titles by bundling them with big names. So Caza y Pesca and Blanco y Negro were thrown in when you bought a subscription to Newsweek.

One of the English titles that I had for sale was Motor Sport. So  into my fairly competent spiel (I had learned the necessary Spanish off pat) I dropped these three totally unrecognizable syllables: /məʊtəspɔ:t/. The Spanish for 'Motor Sport' included an /r/ sounded before the epenthetic vowel that precedes the outlandish consonant cluster /sp/.
At the 2012 Language Show I came across an interesting confirmation of this point, but from the other point-of-view. I was at a Czech taster session. It will not be news to everyone that the word robot is borrowed from Czech, specifically Karel Čapek's play RUR. It may be news, though, that – predictably – Czech nationals pronounce it wrong! I noticed this particularly because the teacher's pronunciation made it sound like my name: /'rɒbət/.

But, unseasonally late (after the late-Spring Bank Holiday, or 'Whitsun' as it's known to right-thinking God-fearers) I must go and chop wood.

PS Did I say the subject line's a crossword clue?

Update 2014.05.28.18:25 – Added these notes:

An obvious candidate is falsetto. I'd have to look that up; I know the little high twiddly notes characteristic of flamenco guitar music are called falsetas (with a single T).
Outlandish, that is, at the beginning of a word. 

Update 2015.01.28.14:55 – Added (embedded) PPS.

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