05 August 2006

tonguing

On an NPR news report today, the correspondent was reporting about something newsworthy in Columbia. She tackled a few Spanish names with such aplomb that it sent my brain on a tangent about diction, (hence my only being able to tell you the report was about "something newsworthy.")

She sounded like a native English speaker, but she seemed to lapse into fluent Spanish when pronouncing the Spanish words. Ok, fine, she probably knows the language fluently.

But the sharp juxtaposition of fluid Spanish words plopped into clunky English made me think. Is it more appropriate to correctly pronounce a foreign word/name, if you know how, or stick with conventional, Americanized pronunication?

Proper pronunciation of foreign words can imply fluency in that language—or at least that word. But it can be potentially alienating. Hey, look at me, I know the right way to say this word, you honkies can bite me.

However, even if there are not native speakers of whatever language around, proper pronunciation validates that language and its speakers. The significance of which intensifies if you have ever been to a foreign country in which citizens speak fluent English (and how many other languages) and you can barely muster "please show me the bathroom" in their native tongue.

It's all about audience, I suppose. It seems perfectly standard for NPR to correctly pronounce foreign words, and perfectly standard for Fox News to not. Similarly, when I'm with my friends, I would say "I have the Croque Monsieur. But if I was with my dad's family, I'll say "Gimme the Crock Mister, please." Because I'm an outcast enough in that family.

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