Monday, 17 August 2009

Liebestod

Today I’m afraid it’s another rant about people’s ignorance of how to pronounce words and names in foreign languages.
The other day the announcer on Classic FM told us that we were about to hear Wagner’s aria ˈliːbztɒd. In German Liebestod (`love death’) is pronounced ˈliːbəstoːt. German long vowels in spelling situations where they would be short in English cause particular difficulty to English learners: you hear der Mond moːnt (moon) mispronounced as mɔnd. Final obstruent devoicing, too, is a thing a lot of people don’t know about. A reasonable anglicization might ignore it. For the Wagner aria I’d be happy in English with ˈliːbəztəʊd.
Our radio and TV announcers do try. The sports commentators are used to the idea that the letter j can stand for a palatal approximant rather than — they have no difficulty with the tennis player Jelena Janković. But then they overdo it by referring to Azerbaijan as ˌæzəbaɪˈjɑːn. (In Azeri that’s Azərbaycan, with the usual Turkish spelling c =.)
They know that Polish sz can be equated to English ʃ. They make a brave attempt at Bydgoszcz. But then they turn Szeged, Hungarian ˈsɛɡɛd, into ˈʃeɡed. Just as Spanish spelling conventions don’t apply in Italian or vice versa, so it is with Polish and Hungarian.
Chinese Pinyin continues to baffle them. Most of the sports commentators know that Chinese x is to be pronounced like English ʃ (actually it’s more ɕ or even sj). But then Xie comes out as ʃaɪ instead of ʃe(ɪ). You can’t win.
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In today’s blog entry there is no font coding at all for the phonetic symbols, just colour. See how it works for you. (If necessary, play around with your browser’s font settings, and try different browsers.)

29 comments:

  1. IPA symbols look fine to me. I'm running Mac OS 10.5.7, Safari 4.0.2.

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  2. Works fine for me too, running WinXP and IE7.

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  3. I live in Szeged, but normally no foreign student calls it /ˈʃeged/ (maybe because they learn it before coming here).

    By the way it's much more like /ˈsɛgɛd/ than /ˈseged/. The letter 'e' pronounced /e/ is highly dialectal here (and sometimes denoted by 'ë').

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  4. liːbəztəʊd sounds like 'love toad'

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  5. @Custos: thanks, now corrected.

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  6. Boris Blagojević17 August 2009 19:23

    "But then they turn Szeged, Hungarian ˈseɡed, into ˈʃeɡed."
    Which is quite unfortunate, because ˈʃeɡed probably sounds more like an Anglicization of the Hungarian 'segged' (/ʃɛggɛd/), meaning 'your arse'...


    IPA looks fine to me, and I've never had problems with it before. Fonts do keep changing within words, but it's only a minor nuisance.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Boris: You're right, but I'd say that it's clearly evident whether someone wants to say Szeged /ˈsɛgɛd/ or 'segged' (your arse) /ˈʃɛgːɛd/.

    I'd never misinterpret 'How do I get to Szeged?' and 'I live in Szeged.' as 'How do I get to your arse?' and 'I live in your arse.'. Even if one said /ʃ/ instead of /s/.

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  9. IPA and regular fonts look very nice -- Windows XP and Firefox.

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  10. Custos: Why do Hungarians use the exact opposite convention as their Slavic neighbors? I'm not saying Hungarian spelling isn't cool, but it does seems strange.

    John Wells: What, Mond has a long o before two consonants? In MHG it was certainly long, the [t] is excrescent (cf. English moon), but is it still so in the modern language?

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  11. I prefered your old Lucida Sans Unicode.

    I thought that Hungarian ‘cz’/‘cs’ could equate to English [ʃ]. For example, isn’t csárdás pronounced [tʃardaʃ]?

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  12. John Cowan: Actually, I have no idea but I don't see why we should use the same conventions as "our Slavic neighbours". Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language, not Slavic. :)

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  13. John: 'cz' is simply the archaic form of 'c' which is pronounced /ʦ/. 'cs' is /ʧ/. 'Csárdás' is /ʧaːrdaːʃ/ and I can't think of environments where 'cz' or 'cs' could equate to English /ʃ/.

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  14. Finno-Ugric or not, both spelling systems were influenced by German and Latin, so the question is legitimate. This is about sounds, and there, Czech might have more in common with Hungarian than with Polish anyway, at least today.

    If I'm not mistaken, MHG /s/ and its orthographic treatment is responsible for that sz, isn't it?

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  15. Lipman: You're right but I must admit that I'm an English major and Hungarian is only my native language (that is, I was never taught its phonetics), so I'm not conversant with all the fields of Hungarian (e.g. its history of orthography).

    Maybe I could answer your question if I knew what MHG stands for... :S

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  16. Middle High German would be my guess.

    And IPA looks fine to me - XP + Opera. I can even tell ɪ and ː apart.

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  17. Yes, Middle High German. (Sorry.)

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  18. I just wrote a response, pressed preview, and it disappeared! (It didn't reappear when I pressed "back" either.)

    Concerning bastandardisations of foreign words, I don't get why /əʊ/ is better than /ɒ/ for German /oː/. In fact, the form given could easily be what German [liːbəstoːt] sounds like to an English speaker. This is unlikely to be apply generally (I doubt Hungarian /s/ ever sounds like Engish /ʃ/), but just in general given that most people have better things to do than learn the orthographies of every single language, I think it's better to just pronounce words in a recognisable way (this isn't just a problem that can be solved by consulting the BBC guide, because the audience needs to be able to recognise that the spoken and written forms relate). Maybe we should change the spelling when borrowing words instead, so that the intuitive English pronunciation of a word corresponds to the spelling.

    Concerning Hungarian sz vs s, I gather it comes from an earlier form of German where there was two pronunciations of /s/, one often used before consonants, where it eventually merged with [ʃ], but also between vowels and another used only before/between vowels/finally where it was usually spelt sz. This eventually became the letter ß. But the Hungarians borrowed it and heard German /s1/ as their [ʃ] and German /s2/ as [s]. So the Hungarian situation is logical in historic context. But it doesn't explain why Polish has it backwards...

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  19. The nearest to German /oː/ would be English /ɔ(ː)/ if you want to keep the monophthongal nature or /əʊ/ if you want to keep the closeness. The latter is also conventional. /ɒ/ is a monophthong and usually corresponds to a written o, but is farther away in articulation and sound.

    Hungarian vs Polish (and older Czech &c.) spelling: MHG vs later German, I suppose, and happenstance.

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  20. One does hear the mispronunciation [mɔnd] certainly, but isn't the vowel more half long [moˑnt] than long [moːnt]? Not that half length is phonemic in German, but I'd expect some shortening before the consonant cluster.

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  21. Alexander: '...most people have better things to do than learn the orthographies of every single language'. Actually, all the European languages (except Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, English and Irish) are mostly (the right stress is something more complicated) predictable and easy once you know the orthographic conventions. Probably most people don't have the duty, but broadcaster do, they have to illustrate the audience about the right pronunciation of foreign names.

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  22. Mond is tricky, even for people who know some German, because the pronunciation is irregular. Single vowels followed by consonant clusters are nearly always short, so you would (mistakenly) expect it to be pronounced [mɔnt].

    Hindovic: Wouldn't you add French to the list? With pairs like fille/ville, les hommes/les homards, l'ours/les ours, il est/l'est, lac/estomac -- it's pretty hard to claim the pronunciation is predictable.

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  23. IPA works fine on Windows Vista and Google Chrome. And thanks for the new system to post comments.

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  24. AndyB: I agree that although French is not as bad as English, but it definitely has plenty of irregularities. Consider the number of ways the sequence CenC can be pronounced:

    cent
    agenda
    viennENt
    penne
    décennie

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  25. I'm reading this on a public PC in reception at a hotel in Austria, and all 'odd' symbols appear as a square, including the stress mark.

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  26. "I'm reading this on a public PC in reception at a hotel in Austria, and all 'odd' symbols appear as a square, including the stress mark."

    Most probably font coding in the HTML or CSS wouldn't have made any difference.

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  27. David Marjanović3 October 2009 21:36

    Fun fact: the Azəri letter Əə is pronounced [æ]. For six months, Ää was official, but then they noticed how tedious it was in handwriting to put on average six dots on every word (it's the most common phoneme in the language), so they reverted to the letter they had used in Cyrillic, boldly adding a letter to the Latin alphabet.

    I belatedly confirm that Mond has [oː], and that this contradicts the rules of German spelling (as do a few other words, like Ostern but not Osten...).

    Some Britons nowadays use a cardinal [o] for their /ɔː/, the former /oʊ/ having drifted beyond [əʊ] to become fronted phenomena like [ɵʉ].

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  28. If you live in the area and need area dentists then this is where you’ve got to go.

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