Having to correct several non-English speakers (and quite a few Americans) as regards the pronunciation of Leicester Square (LES-ter), Gloucester Road (GLOS-ter) or Greenwich (GREN-ich) in London, I thought I’d get this post off my chest.
Queen of mispronounced locations is Davos in Switzerland that suffers from looking like a Greek resort such as Kavos. Every January BBC announcers say DAH-vos instead of the correct Dah-FOS. Not only is the German ‘v’ pronounced ‘F’ as in Father (Vater), but the accent is on the last syllable as well. The name incidentally means ‘Alp’ in Romansch.
Spanish place names suffer the most in the lips of English speakers who insist on accenting always the last but one syllable. San Sebastian (Se-bas-TIAN) is a perennial correction (everyone says Se-BA-stian) as is San Salvador (Sal-va-DOR instead of SAL-va-dor). Spain’s Mediterranean islands come next: Mallorca or Majorca is Ma-YOR-ca not Ma-JOR-ca (as in “major”). For Ibiza, Ee-BEE-Tha or Ee-BEE-sa will do, but not Ay-BEE-tha. As for Spanish-speaking America, please notice that there are two C’s in the second word in Machu Picchu which is pronounced MA-chu PIK-chu by everyone who’s been there and heard it.
When we come to Portugal and Brazil, people get confused, perhaps rightly, with the Portuguese double-R or initial R of place names. The Spanish roll it (Torremolinos, Costa Rica) but the Portuguese pronounce it like ‘H’. Rio’s Barra district, where the 2016 Olympics were held, sounds like BA-ha, not BA-ra. Now that I mention it, Rio de Janeiro itself is pronounced in Brazil Hio de Janeiro; that initial R again.
My American friends can get their own back with Arkansas (AR-kan-saw), but they should also take heed of the African country of Niger which has nothing to do with the way we say Nigel, or, God forbid, THAT word, but should be pronounced in the French way, Nee-ZHER.
Talking of France, remember that the final x is silent for French Speakers. So please pronounce correctly the French Swiss towns of Bex and, more importantly, Scex.
I’m often asked how to pronounced the Cyclades in Greece. The Greeks will understand them as Ky-KLA-des with a hard K, not a soft c. I also raise a flag about the wonderful beaches near Salonika: they are in the peninsula of Chalkidiki (Khal-kee-dee-KEE) with the accent on the last syllable (not Khal-kee-DEE-kee).
Still, I believe that New Zealand takes the top spot in confusing pronunciation. Many Kiwi towns start with Wh which is pronounced as F like Frodo (to be topical) and not Wh like whopper, so Whakatane and Whangarei are Fa-ka-TA-ne and Fah-na-REY. Blame the nineteenth-century Victorian missionaries who, faced with the Maori Whakapapa, couldn’t even say Fak-a-Papa let alone write it down.
Finally, don’t even mention place names in South Africa that involve Zulu clicks. Just say KO-sa for Xhosa and don’t bother with the voiceless lateral fricative. I certainly don’t.
It would be a mercy if you would explain to our American friends why Worcestershire Sauce is pronounced Wooster.
Thanks for that. Something to bear in mind when I next serve Bloody Marys!
…and don’t forget METZ in Lorraine, (North-Eastern part of France) to be pronounced MESS!
Indeeed. I only learned to pronounce it correctly from you, Sandrine!
Some good advice and well noted! I have mispronounced the first two on several occasions so thanks for clarifying. Oh and one more i couldn’t seem to get my head around in London is “Chiswick” (Chiz-ik)
Indeed, I should have added first-time Aussies to the list of English speakers who stumble upon the hurdles of English placenames.
You’re not entirely right about the silent X in French place names, John. I’ve lost track of the number of people who can’t pronounce Aix-en-Provence. It’s pronounced Ex, not Ayx. Then again, French place names are a minefield, even among French people.
You are right, of course, about Aix-en-Provence, Mary. Maybe I need a special post about French and, someone said on Twitter, Irish place names. Metz, Lens in one corner and Cobh, Dún Laoghaire in the other.
My mom and I used to call “No Through Road” … “NAW THROFF ROAD”. We crack ourselves up.
Hello, interesting read, I’m from “Whangarei” or as you write it “Fan-ga-REY”
Obviously hard to Pronounce because you got it wrong too 😛 lol
the correct pronounciation is more like this
WHA = “Far” with the R removed
NGA = “Na” but when saying the (N) subtly block your throat with the back of your tounge and open it for the (A)
REI = almost like the name “Ray” but you need to roll your tounge when saying the (R)
Hope this helps
Oh it’s most definitely not FANgarei, the first syllable ends at the (A)
Thanks for that 🙂