The Language Snob

My sister-in-law, Kerry, wrote a blog recently about how she’s a travel snob.  In there she discussed pronunciation of foreign words as part of being that.  Her blog made me realize that–while I’m not a travel snob–I’m probably considered a language snob.

Not so much with the American language–I won’t correct between “who” and “whom”–but more about how foreign words are misspoken by American tongues.  It’s something that started out as a mild annoyance, but now drives me crazy.

My “snobbery” is very apparent with French words.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve loved everything French from an early age–starting with my crush on Pepe le Pew–so it’s always bothered me to hear a French word mispronounced.  When I was taking French class in high school, my brother would say words or phrases incorrectly on purpose just to drive me batty.  Eventually I learned to stop rising to his bait, but it still makes me cringe inside whenever I hear someone do it, intentionally or not.

One of the biggest ones that bothers me is the word crepe.  When pronounced correctly, with a French accent, it should sound like “khrehp,” but even without the accent, “krep” is perfectly acceptable.  However, I CAN NOT stand it when people say the word like “kraype.”  There’s no “a” in the spelling of that word, so why people insist on pronouncing it like there is one, I have no idea.  It also bothers me when I’m trying to tell someone how much I love the dish, and they don’t understand what I’m saying when I pronounce it “khrehp” or “krep,” but the moment I say “kraype” they nod their heads and give an “ahh” sound of comprehension.

Now it’s possible that these same people think me a snob because I prefer to say the word properly, but come on!  Why insert letters into a word’s pronunciation that don’t belong there?  Besides, I’m sure everyone has a word (their name, perhaps) that bugs them to hear it improperly said.

Speaking of names and pronunciations . . . let’s take Brett Favre’s name.  It’s always pronounced as if the “v” and “r” are switched, like “Farve,” but it shouldn’t be said that way.  It doesn’t matter that his whole family pronounces like that (which I assume they do, otherwise he’d have corrected the NFL long ago), it’s linguistically incorrect.  It should sound like “Favrah.”

Anyway, back to the foreign words . . .

Personally, I’d rather know the correct way to say a foreign word, and I appreciate when people correct my mistakes in that vein.  For instance, growing up in Michigan, I’d always heard the Mexican avocado dip pronounced “gwakamohlee.”  It wasn’t until I’d moved out to California and was visiting some relatives near LA that I was told the “g” is silent, and the word should sound like “wahkamohlay.”  Ever since then, I try my best to use the correct version.  I don’t eat the dish, so it doesn’t come up often, but still . . .

Pronunciation ignorance (like the example above) is totally acceptable at first, in my opinion.  If you’ve never heard the word spoken before–or have heard it wrong, for instance–it makes sense that you wouldn’t know how to say it right.  But once you’ve been corrected, or heard it’s correct pronunciation, to continue saying it incorrectly implies that you just don’t care to say it properly.

Another area where foreign words can be mispronounced is with the syllabic accents, which our recent trip to Greece pointed out.  Because I don’t know the rules of the Greek language, I kept putting the accents on the wrong syllables, because I was pronouncing them in a way that seemed logical to my American/English-speaking brain.  I would often get corrected by the natives, which was great, because I really do want to make sure that I pronounce words that are foreign to me in a way that a native to that language would understand.  To me, it’s a show of respect.

I will admit that my propensity for pronouncing foreign words properly has gotten me into some interesting situations.  I seem to have a knack for accents, and have been asked which area of London I’m from (by a Brit), or if I’m Belgian (by a Frenchwoman), which is cool, but the down side is that people often think I speak more of a certain tongue than I do.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done the light pleasantries (“Buenos dias.  Como esta?”  “Bien. E tu?”) with an Hispanic person, only to have them then rattle off other questions in their native language, expecting me to respond right back at them in kind.  I have to smile and say that I don’t speak much more Spanish than that, and we continue the rest of the conversation in English.  Sometimes they’ll remark how good my accent is, sometimes they won’t, but that’s not why I do it.  I do it because I love to learn languages, and want to be able to pronounce whatever I’m saying properly.  I don’t want to Americanize foreign words, because then everything would be “Americanized,” and foreign lands and languages offer new flavors and sounds to be enjoyed.

So, while my annoyance for badly-pronounced foreign words may seem like a form of snobbery, it’s really more of a desire to keep their unique articulations alive.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Camille Minichino
    Dec 14, 2012 @ 08:58:11

    Having grown up bilingual, I have mixed feelings about this. Once I moved out of my neighborhood (where everyone in my generation spoke Italian and English) I was shocked to learn that no one could pronounce my name! Even now, I’m annoyed when educated people don’t bother to try to learn it. If my name is going to be “Americanized” should I bother working on my nasal to pronounce a French word correctly? Hmmmm.


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 14, 2012 @ 10:15:31

      But your name issue is exactly the same thing to me, Camille. I think ethnic-sounding names should be said properly as well. I don’t think things like your name (or foreign words) “should” be Americanized.


  2. Terry Shames
    Dec 14, 2012 @ 10:06:13

    I’m not sure I’m as vigilant as you, Morgan, but there are certain mispronounced words that drive me crazy. “Bruschetta” is one of them. Hearing people say brewshetta makes me cringe. There’s no reason people should know that it should be pronounced brewsketta (like Minikeeno, Camille), but it still bugs me. At the very least, servers should be told how to pronounce it. Morgan you would have loved the time I heard someone order (I kid you not) a craysan. The croissant arrived anyway!


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 14, 2012 @ 10:19:05

      Bruschetta is another great example, Terry, & yes, it bugs me too to hear it mispronounced! And I also agree that it’s absolutely ridiculous that the server doesn’t pronounce it correctly. Things like that just start the vicious circle of perpetuating linguistic ignorance.

      I’m SO glad I did NOT hear that butchering of croissant! Had I been there, you would have seen my back go so rigid & my eye start twitching. That’s even worse than crepe.


  3. Dana Fredsti
    Dec 14, 2012 @ 10:10:36

    Language is a funny thing, especially once you start taking various dialects into consideration… but as far as French goes, it’s such a beautiful language; I do try and pronounce “crepe” correctly! And other words. 🙂


    • Alyx Morgan
      Dec 14, 2012 @ 10:22:00

      The dialects can definitely add a degree of difficulty to languages, Dana, so I’m sure I’ve hurt certain ears when I unknowingly mispronounce a word. And, as a francophile, I appreciate & applaud your attempts at pronouncing things correctly. 🙂


  4. kerryemckenna
    Dec 31, 2012 @ 18:56:27

    We could do a whole other blog entry on being assumed “native” when just using a good accent! It is maddening–especially when you speak a touch of the language and aaallllmmost understand what is being said at high speed. Tempting to try and engage–probably not a good idea! 🙂


    • Alyx Morgan
      Jan 01, 2013 @ 11:26:13

      LOL, Kerry. You’re right that it’s a bit maddening, mostly (for me, anyway) because I WANT to be able to understand what they’re saying & carry on a conversation as if I were fluent in the language. *sigh* Not enough hours in the year to do all the things I want to do. 😉

      Thanks for posting.


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