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Discover the World with Mispronunciations

People mispronounce words all the time, don’t they? And not only when it is according to accent, e.g, American English, British English. The old you say tomat(e)o, I say tomotto. That is not really a mispronunciation. It is a matter style, if you will. High time some folks come to grips with that. Never mind.

Anyhow, I am talking about words whether in English, French or Spanish and so on, that have the same pronunciation – most of them proper nouns, of course.

The ‘s’ in words such as Cannes or even Paris is silent, for example. But who is to know this unless they really know the cities, right, or the language. Wrong, the most savvy of travellers don’t always get it, right. I should know.

So when someone gets it wrong, what then? A) Ignore the faux pas, while feeling embarrassed for their ignorance, B) Correct them promptly, at the risk of being rude, C) Weave the correct pronunciation into conversation, quite politely.

I have been on both ends of all three answers and in the middle, too, watching on during such slip-ups. But in an early experience with this sort of thing years ago, not having been too far outside of Georgia, I mispronounced, okay I botched the word Bethesda, as in Maryland, only in the company of one friend, and her blunt correction left me marred until this day. Her voice, the weight of a strict teacher’s is still in my head. Needless to say, B is the wrong answer.

Then what about A? Wouldn’t it be best not to say anything? Your friend or associate will stumble upon the truth, sooner or later. Not necessarily. A few years ago, still a green expat, if you will, I pronounced Newcastle, as in England, New Castle, as in New York, time and again, until one bold person resorted to B, in a rather hit me over the head sort of a way. Shocked that A, no one had told me politely after all that time and miffed that B, when they did, they were rude, I refrained from pronouncing strange words, so I thought until recently.

In a casual conversation, I chatted easily about something I thought I knew about. After we had changed the subject, my associate so very cleverly and graciously weaved back to it, asking a question about the town/city I spoke of, pronouncing it correctly. So what do you think of Mar-baya, she said as in Marbella, Spain?

The rule here is that the two ll’s in some Spanish words such as Marbella, sound a bit like a ‘y’. Ok, how is an English speaking person to know that unless they have studied Spanish? Actually, though true, it is irrelevant to the point, which is well summed up in an apropos James Joyce quote.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”

As for me, best get on with discovering, with a view that some tactful person will help me see (C) my way through it.






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