I've already ranted about the stupidity of inventing words, especially if they're supposed to fit into English and are invented by people with the lack of understanding and influence of an Australian bureaucrat. I'm reminded of this xkcd cartoon:
Of course, I rant on lots of things, one of them being the abysmal way announcers on ABC radio pronounce foreign words, notably (because of what I listen to) musical terms and names. If there's one rule in pronouncing French, for example, it's that the emphasis is always on the last syllable. I've been looking for an exception to this rule, but I haven't found it yet. But ABC almost invariably puts the emphasis in the same place it would be in English. That's so wrong that Yvonne frequently doesn't understand what they mean.
Then one day Peter Jeremy mentioned the ABC SCOSE, a term which sounds like a British dialect, but which apparently stands for the Standing Committee on Spoken English. Given the way people pronounce things, I was surprised that there was such a group. I went looking and found the usual haphazard collection of references, notably an undated document titled “Inside the ABC - Issue 1”, which appears to be about 10 years old. Much of it is revealing. I'm not so worried about their charter, spoken English, which they seem to address well. But they also seem to feel responsible for the way Australians pronounce words of non-English origin, referring to “the recent report on the anglicisation of foreign words.” They developed a “house style” about how to anglicize words.
But why anglicize? Why a house style?
When speaking English to an Australian audience, broadcasters should be thinking of the audience rather than the original ‘owners’ of the foreign words. Other language speakers do this. Irene Poinkin cites Russian speakers who place the stress in English words where they do in their own language so Clinton becomes [klin-TON], lemon, [li-MON] and telephone, [te-le FON].
And yes, the punctuation is original.
OK, who's the audience? The Australian public, of course. But how many people in Australia today are of British descent? It may be a majority, but not a very big one. I've had difficulty finding accurate data from the 2006 census, but this map shows that the states of Victoria and New South Wales have between 16% and 26% non-English speakers. For many of them, hearing the words mispronounced may cause mirth or anger, or, as in my case, cause me to doubt the quality of their education.
Then what about the Russian? I don't know how they pronounce Clinton, but the Russian Wikipedia page disagrees with Irene: Би́лл Кли́нтон, stressed on the first syllable, exactly as in English. And to suggest that “lemon” and “telephone” are of English origin is ridiculous. The OED states that the word “lemon” is probably of Oriental origin, and the vowel change from “limon” to “lemon” appears to be an anglicization not found elsewhere. And from my own experience, the word Russian word Телефо́н, also not of English origin, is not pronounced [te-le FON]: the e is Russian е, not э, and it's pronouced more like “yeh”. In addition, the t (in this position) is a sound that is difficult for English speakers to pronounce, somewhere between ch and t, so the word is pronounced more like tjelyefón.
But it seems the real issue is that newsreaders might have problems pronouncing the words:
The Spanish town Bilbao can be taken as an example. ... The Spaniards pronounce the town as [bil-BAH-o]. As the third syllable is practically imperceptible to the non-native ear it sounds like [bil-BOW]. Australian speakers do not generally cope well with the [AH-oh] combination.
[bil-BOW] could be BOW as in “rainbow” or BOW as in “bough”, but it becomes clear that they mean the latter. But things get worse:
So, the accepted Australian usage for words borrowed from the Spanish is to make the Spanish [AH] sound [AY] in English. Thus accepted anglicisations are: Bilbao [bil-BAY-oh], cacao [kuh-KAY-oh], curacao [kyooh-ruh-SAY-oh].
It's hardly worth mentioning that the word Curaçao is Portuguese, not Spanish, and of course they had to drop this horrible non-English cedilla. The Macquarie dictionary in particular just doesn't want to know:
But who accepts this? I most certainly reject it out of hand. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn't mention any such barbarity, only a rather strange /kjʊərəˈsəʊ/ for Curaçao, which I have never heard before either. And why this choice? It appears to be unknown outside Australia, and it completely changes the vowels. If I understand this correctly, this would be spelt Bilbeo, Caqueo and Curaseo in Spanish—pronunciations that I would not recognize at all. And all this in the name of uniformity. What uniformity? Should “Mao Zedong” be pronounced like an abbreviation for mayonnaise?
She goes on to say that this reflects the usage in the Macquarie dictionary, but even that's not correct. Macquarie gives two pronunciations:
/bɪlʼbaʊ/ (say bil'bow), /bɪlʼbeɪoʊ/ (say bil'bayoh)
The first is almost acceptable. The second shows an attempt to reapply a vowel shift that occurred to English centuries ago, and then only in certain cases.
Audiences will receive information in a more uniform way so they are not distracted by the delivery but can focus on the content.
This is, of course, nonsense. The delivery does distract me from the content, and presumably up to a quarter of the population.
But the real issue is that this approach belongs to a time when countries were more insular, before the days of globalization, when people regularly changed pronunciations from one country to another. Napoleone di Buonaparte became Napoléon Bonaparte, Wilhelm Triebert became Guillaume Triébert, Georg Friedrich Händel became George Frederick Handel—and most Australian newsreaders would be incapable of making clear what large difference in pronunciation these changes involved.
Nowadays, though, things are different. Many people have non-English names. Why should they be forced to change them? Our friend Chris Yeardley is really Christiane, a name that most Australians can't pronounce, let alone accept that it has 4 syllables. The masculine version Christian regularly gets mutilated to the English word Christian, one syllable shorter (/ˈxrɪstɪan/ → /ˈkrɪstʃɘn/). Changing these names in an arbitrary manner doesn't help understanding.
Still, there are many legacy pronunciations, like the one cited (Paris). In English it's pronounced completely differently from the French, and the Germans pronounce the same spelling differently again. I don't expect those exceptions to go away any time soon. But that's the exception: the rule is that most French place names don't have an agreed different pronunciation in other languages. Why try to create a new pronunciation? How would you pronounce Lannemézan or Lauraguel? And why?
Apart from that, they're not consistent. Forty years ago people referred to the capital of China as “Peking”. Now it's the relatively correct “Beijing”. If SCOSE had their way, I suppose they would have reverted to “Peking”.
One reason given in the article is that it's too difficult to do it right. How many sins have been committed in the name of that assertion? And is it really too difficult? Is putting the accent on the right syllable so difficult that a professional newsreader can't learn it? Is Macquarie's first pronunciation of Bilbao so much more difficult than the second that they should recommend massacring it? Is “Iraq” so much more difficult than “eye rack”, or “Afghanistan” so much more difficult than “Æfgænistæn”? Well, yes, they are, but not the way most people think: the q in “Iraq” and the gh in “Afghanistan” are sounds that most English-speaking people find difficult, like the u in “Debussy”. But they can be practiced, and even if you substitute k for q and g for gh, they're relatively intelligible and show that at least people are trying. What I see here is that they don't even want to try.
For what it's worth, the SCOSE does seem to have sensible ideas when it comes to their real charter, spoken English, as this page shows (apart from the insistence on changing Degas' name). But why do does their attitude to foreign languages have to remain in the 19th century?
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