Sunday, February 24, 2019

Dear TV News, Stop It

     Really.  Stop it.  You don't call Germany "Deutschland," do you?  Then stop trying to pronounce the names of places and people in the Americas as you and Associated Press fondly imagine they are pronounced in the original Spanish.  Especially stop it when it comes to Brazil.*  The thought behind the deed is friendly and well-meant but it's frequently cringeworthy.

     If you didn't grow up hearing and saying those phonemes, you're not going to get them right, not without years of study and immersion and even then?  You'll sound like a very fluent Anglo.  You're making elderly abuelitas frown at the TV screen, wondering if you really meant to say that word that way.

     Just to complicate matters, Spanish is at least as rich as English in national and regional accents; Cubans and Argentines can chat as readily as Americans and Australians -- and with about as much difference in vocabulary and sound.

     American English is relatively flat as accents go.  There's a reason Brits usually have better luck faking an American accent than the other way around: the majority of the sounds that comprise American English are present in most varieties of British English, while the Brit versions of our common tongue use many phonemes we do not.

     Look, if you're on TV and you grew up speaking the lingo (and no matter how you look), that's great and you should pronounce those words the way you learned at home.  But if you didn't, don't try to fake it.  It doesn't work.
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* I'll explain this later.  Some of you newspeople aren't going to believe it.

22 comments:

Bradley Pierson said...

Don't tell them. They'll just add Portuguese to their target list.

Geordie said...

I have said for years that in Canada, our news people will only attempt to pronounce your country's name if you're pretty clearly our actual civilizational enemy. Iran? All kinds of dolts trying for "eeHRAWN". Fine, you want to suck up to people, go ahead. But then I demand that you attempt to pronounce "Australia" like Steve Irwin.

But no, any country that actually doesn't specifically want us decapitated gets all the linguistic attention of a suburban concrete truck driver ordering a coffee at starbucks.

Cloudbuster said...

"But then I demand that you attempt to pronounce 'Australia' like Steve Irwin."

That would be hilarious! I want that to happen!

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Thank goodness they don't try to pronounce Israeli place names the way an Israeli would. They might chip a tooth.

Anonymous said...

This has been an issue for thirty years (see "Enchilada" from SNL) and you're just *now* asking them to stop it?

I think there has to be some sort of estoppel that the media can argue here.

Blinger2084 said...

I can't want for them to start shaming Univision for "Nueva York", etc.

autothreads said...

They'll never call Israel "Yisrael", nor will they call the Prime Minister there Binyamin Netanyahu, and for some reason, more journalists want us to know about Eid Al Fitr, than about Shavuot (aka Feast of Weeks, one of three biblical pilgrammage festivals).

Mitchell Berg said...

That's high on the list of my beeves with NPR. Every single reporter - the entire platoon of adenoidal coastal Ivy Leaguers that make up their air staff - speak like bit players on "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel", until they get to a HIspanic word. Then, they wrap their mouths around it like Ricardo Montalban (Rrrrrrrreee-CAHR-do MON-tal-BAHN) risen from the grave. "I'm Ira Rosenblatt, reporting from (Montalban on) Tay-goo-chee-GAHLP-uh Hon-DUUUUU-rrrras".

But not "Bear-LEEN DEUTSCH-land", "Var-SHAW-va POHL-ska" or "OOOO-sloh NOHR-ga".

It's even worse with local TV droogs.

Anonymous said...

I 90% agree with you, but I disagree on one point: Even if someone is a native Spanish speaker, they should pronounce names as is done in American English. Doing otherwise sounds pretentious and absurd. The Hispanic reporters on NPR used to drive me nuts pronouncing names in such a way that I couldn't even understand what they were saying (I later got smarter and just stopped listening to NPR). I mean, imagine how jolting and ridiculous it would sound if a reporter from the South suddenly broke from her reporter voice to pronounce a Southern name in a gin-u-wine ray-yed-neck dialect. Hispanic reporters don't seem to understand that they sound just as ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

The Jimmy Smits SNL skit in 1990 on NBC overpronouncing Spanish was hilarious:
https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/enchilada/n9970

Anonymous said...

Is this about, for example, the distinction between Chile in Spanish (CHEE-LAY) and Chile in English ("chilly")? That one drives me crazy. Don't tell me it's CHEE-LAY because I speak English and not Spanish. In English, it's correct to pronounce it "chilly."

Unknown said...

Nee-jer for Niger.

Also, I saw Tee-jer Woods play golf the other day. He's awesome!

Inkling said...

You might want to follow this one up with how BBC radio sends reporters, at great expense, to do on-the-scene reports from various locations. They could get the same result via telephone at far less expense. You can find that same folly where I discovered it, in BBC podcasts.

Michael said...

Somehow John Kerry was careful to say Pahkistahn but he never said Frahhnce.

Nicholas Darkwater said...

This topic can swing both ways. It's really annoying to hear some doofus actor from the Bronx trying to mock a southern accent. Is it so hard to find an actor actually from the south, or at least someone who doesn't butcher it?

I've traveled a lot in my time, spending years overseas, and I speak some other languages. I'm habituated to pronounce names 'correctly' but don't make a thing about it. The trip-up is when someone has a momentary clutch when shifting to the foreign word, a tell that they're doing it deliberately. Whether they're trying to be genuine or condescending depends upon the attitude.

'Iran' is a good example. One can say 'eh-RAWN' as long as it maintains the same meter of conversation. 'Eh-RAN' is common here, but I really draw the line at 'eye-ran'.

Some foreign words can be comfortable in English, others aren't. Being genuine is what counts.

Gamaliel said...

I stopped listening to NPR long ago, but I'll never forget how the Brit correspondents were reporting from Ni-ca-RAG-oo-ah during the Contra-Sandinista conflict. I don't think Nicaraguans themselves used that pronunciation.

benning said...

It always made me cringe to hear - and watch - Peter Jennings and his oh-so-precious pronunciations of foreign words. The little head tilt was the giveaway that a non-English word was coming! LOL

Hannio said...

It was more like Neecar AG yew ah, but yes, that was exactly what I was thinking of when reading this.

ben hunter said...

Two words: Stage Irish.

Unknown said...

Tangentially, have noticed how sports guys always say "loo-uh-vull'' for
Louisville?

Zendo Deb said...

I'll be happy when they learn how to spell Colombia (the country) as opposed to Columbia (The university in New York City).

I have seen "gun shot" and "shot gun" in print (because no self-respecting journalist knows anything about guns. Gunshot and Shotgun are both in my dictionary. I could go on....

As for pronunciation, I think Margarete Thatcher did it best. Or maybe she was using mispronunciation to piss off her enemies.

Roberta X said...

One comment axed for name-calling. Don't be jerks. Another comment is deliberate edge-play. Knock that schoolkid crap off.

I enjoy most of what I hear on NPR. I don't always agree with it -- often not -- but their reporters and commentators are bright and are often able to take more time than the commercial networks; they're also not as likely to follow only the big, attention-grabbing headlines. Mind you, their coverage of the Trump administration reminds me of an old maid using fire tongs to dispose of the body of a dead mouse, but I find that kind of amusing.

As for the BBC "sending reporters at great expense to cover things they could do over the telephone," air travel's not that expensive and sending a reporter to look at events with a reporter's eye and summarize them with a reporter's skill strikes me as a good thing -- all the better if he or she cultivates local contacts and interviews them. YMMV.

No, I was objecting to amateurishness that distracts from the job of reporting -- and even poor reporting is a job.