Cultural Misappropriation

I notice that for some years now a linguistic plague has come upon us, and it irritates me more than Nancy Pelosi’s goggle-eyes.

I’m talking about people who pronounce city names according to the local idiom, e.g. “Barcelona” becomes “Barthelona” (probably the most egregious one, by the way). I think people are trying to fool others into thinking they speak the language, or trying to impress / over-awe their audience, or maybe it’s a “we’ve been there and this is how the locals pronounce it” piece of nonsense.

Stop it.

Here’s a clue: we’re speaking English, and English has a long and proud tradition of changing furrin names to suit our language — yea, even unto spelling, sometimes. “Köln” is pronounced (and spelled) “Cologne” (which is the French name for the place) but FFS at least pronounce it Coll-ohn and not Colloña (which is how the French pronounce it).

And let’s be consistent: for example, unless you also say “Moskva” (Moscow), “Praha” (Prague), “Firenze” (Florence), or “Wien” (Vienna) when you say those cities’ names, use the fucking Anglicism, because otherwise you sound like a pretentious tool.

And by the way, for that idiot I overhead in the airport the other day: the pronunciation of “Bruxelles” is “Brussels” and not “Bruxx-ellas”.

Also, to those TV newsreaders / reporters on U.S. TV stations: you may think it sounds cool to roll off a name or place-name which sounds like someone clearing their throat (e.g. Los Ancheles or Mechico Seety), but here’s the (real) news: you’re speaking to Americans who mostly don’t speak Spanish and therefore have no fucking clue what you’re saying. Save the linguistic purity for UniVision.


  1. I more or less agree with you with the exception of someone who speaks the language in question in which case it is an easy habit to say it the “normal” way for the speaker. So if a native Spanish speaker was pronouncing LA as “Los Ancheles” – then all good; I would figure they are just saying it the way they are used to and I would not assume any pretension.

    I am not a native German speaker, and if fact my German is not particularly good. However, I grew up with a German father so Cologne was Köln [kœln],etc… This habit is mostly still with me to this day (along with other random German words (or even German style pronunciations of English words) I use for no good reason other than my father used them a lot). Meh, it is what it is.

    1. Vonz,
      I agree, but sheesh. I’m fluent in French, but unless I’m actually IN France (or Quebec, don’t get me started) and speaking French, I say “Paris” and not “Parree” (with the glottal French “r”).
      If I were asking for directions to Barcelona in my guidebook Spanish (oy, I suck at Spanish), I’d say “Barthelona” because I’m speaking to a Spaniard (or Catalan, don’t get me started on that either). But if I’m speaking English, I say “Barcelona”.
      Ditto “Munich” (München) and “The Hague” (Den Haag) in their respective countries.

  2. You know what gets me? The newsreaders’ ongoing pandering to meskin names. Some talking head will prattle on about a meeting between Donald Trump, Angela Merkle, Theresa May, and Enrique Peña Nieto. The first three will be rendered in typical midwestern-ish TV speak, but once they get to the meskin name the “jounalist” turns into Jose Jimenez.

    And don’t get me started on Elena DelBarco…

    1. LOL there’s a Hispanic TV newsreader here on one of the DFW stations whose name, as she pronounces it, sounds like a retard puking. (Cynthia Izaguirre; I can’t even begin to imitate her.)

  3. A former girlfriend used to do this. She even pronounced Notre Dame in French when she was talking about the American university. Pretentious horse squeeze if you want my opinion, one of many reasons she’s a former girlfriend (she also had an AA degree in Women’s Studies and insisted the only reason I made more money than her was because of my reproductive plumbing).

  4. You’d love Missouri town names and pronunciations, then. We steal city names from Europe and pronounce them as if we’d never heard of any other language. New Madrid (emphasis on first syllable, “a” as in cat), Versailles (ver-sails), Nevada (nuh-vay-duh), etc.

    1. There was an interesting article I saw awhile ago about the French place names in St. Louis and how modern French speakers are aghast at how we pronounce them here. However, it featured a discussion with a linguist who said that while we do not pronounce them the way the modern French do, we actual say them about the same as the original French settlers did because of the region of France they came to combined with the French pronunciation has shift that occurred in the19th century.

  5. Back during my anime nerd days, I was rather amused when American weaboos would insist on using the Japanese pronunciation of what were obviously English names. E.g., “Riato” instead of “Light”, “Nia” instead of “Near”, ect.

    1. That is because it is full of Queenslanders, who nearly have a dialect of their own (and end many spoken sentences with the word “but”.
      And in Western Australia there is the town of Derby (pronounced normally, not the toffee pommy ‘Dah-be’; likewise Albany is Al-ban-ee to the locals, not pommy toffee ‘Awl-ban-ee’.

  6. Had an hispanic guy in my unit whose name tape spelled out Delamadrid. Asked him once if it was more properly De La Madrid? He just looked at me like I had antennae sprouting outa my forehead, so Delamadrid it was.

  7. Why does this whole discussion remind me of those scenes from ‘Inglourious Basterds’, with Brad Pitt’s character horribly mangling the Italian hello?

  8. No apologies here. I am just a local yokel kadiddlehopper and if I mispronounce something, I have to rely on the kindness of strangers to set me straight. I haven’t even travelled far enough to put on phony airs of cosmopolitan sophistication.

    How many languages do you speak, Kim?

    1. Ferg,
      There are scales of fluency:
      1. academic/technical
      2. conversational speech
      3. reading and writing
      4. guidebook/dictionary-assisted

      I’m 1. in English, 2. and 3. in Afrikaans, 3. in French and German, and 4. in German and Latin.
      Ignoring the first two, then: I can hold basic conversations in French and German, can read novels and newspapers in French, can read classical texts in Latin (with occasional dictionary assistance), but can barely read German beyond newspaper articles without assistance.
      The key is usage. Living in Murka, I barely use anything other than English, so my other languages are sadly falling apart through unuse. Were I to live in France, I’d be as fluent in French as I am in Afrikaans inside about six months; in Germany, it would take me about a year to 18 months to reach the same level. Certainly, when we were traveling in France, Germany and Austria, I found myself perfectly comfortable understanding TV news and reading newspapers after only about a week. Reading and listening comprehension, however, are several steps below speaking a language.
      Which is why I want to have a sabbatical in continental Europe one day — except that I don’t have any close friends who could house me à la Mr. Free Market or The Englishman.
      (Don’t ask me about Latin; where I could once read Livy or Cicero almost as quickly as I could read (say) French, nowadays I can barely translate inscriptions on buildings.)

  9. But, but, all the folks from Louisiana keep telling me it’s pronounced MON-roe, not Monroe… 🙂

  10. Condescending to the audience is the main point of the exercise.
    The secondary point is to make History inaccessible. This drove me up the wall when Afghanistan was in the nightly news, and when there were terrorist attacks in Bombay.

  11. I think this loathsome trend got a real boost during the 2006 Winter Olympics, held in some place Bob Costas kept calling “Torino.”

  12. I have a list somewhere of placenames where the anglicized form is very differently spelled from the native form. Nearly all are in Italy or Germany; almost none in France, despite the very different spelling rules in French. It’s interesting to note which names have anglicized forms and which don’t. is

    Another annoying trend is “reformed transliteration”. Is there any real need to change Kiev to Kyiv?

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