Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 17:18:08 -0400
From: Wendalyn Nichols
Subject: theorizing on pronunciation

---------------------- Forwarded by Wendalyn Nichols/Trade/RandomHouse on
05/13/98 05:16 PM ---------------------------

Larry Horn on 05/13/98 02:07:09 PM

Please respond to American Dialect Society

cc: (bcc: Wendalyn Nichols/Trade/RandomHouse)
bcc: Wendalyn Nichols/Trade/RandomHouse
Subject: theorizing on pronunciation

There certainly is an element in Britain of scorn for those who try to
pronounce foreign words too exactly - it's considered show-offy, which
seemed to me to be a social crime in Britain! One is expected to
understate one's expertise there. However, a majority of the pronunciation
differences have much more to do with sheer lapse of time, and I suspect
that if you traced the reasons for the pronunciation of Beaulieu you'd
probably find why we pronounce "beauty" the way we do instead of "bowTAY" -
and that the reasons would be slightly different for each word in question.
One factor is that the contact with France goes back so far that words were
pronounced differently in French when first heard in Britain, and converted
into something approximating what an Anglo-Saxon mouth could get its tongue
round. Not to mention all the intermarriage between the two countries, the
Hanoverian influence of the Georges... It would be nice to blame it all on
bloody-mindedness, but then we'd be guilty of dismissiveness. I have
little clue as to why some American pronunciations stay closer to the
French (although not, as it happens, in the cases of "lingerie" or "chaise
longue") but it's something that my colleagues in Britain often commented
on. ("Garage" does indeed rhyme with "marriage" in Britain.) It may be
that the terms where the differences are most marked are relatively late
entries into our respective varieties of English, so that they entered our
American language separately from their entry into British speech, and,
cultural wannabes that we are, we tried to be more faithful to the original
pronunciation. Sounds like an interesting doctoral thesis, if someone
hasn't already done it.

>Interestingly enough, US English tends to be truer to the original
>French pronunciation than British English (e.g. Beaulieu, Ypres,
>lieutenant). Perhaps it is an island mentality, or a long-standing
>history of conflict which causes the Brits to differentiate their

So I've always assumed. We were just discussing variants of
"garage"--doesn't this more or less rhyme with "marriage" in Britain? At
least the latter consonant is as affricated as the former. And I've never
gotten over hearing the Brits refer to Albert Camus as KAY-muss, rhyming
with "squamous".