Paul Frank paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU
Sun Apr 3 06:46:15 UTC 2005

Listening to an NPR piece on John Paul II a few minutes ago, I was struck by Silvia Pogglioli’s
pronunciation of “Nicaragua.” In the middle of an English sentence with suitably English sounds, she
pronounced Nicaragua as if it weren’t an English word. NPR talking heads often pronounce Spanish
names the way one would pronounce them in Spanish. This is odd. After all, no English speaker in his
right mind would pronounce Kant the way Germans pronounce it. That would be rather rude. Nor do
English speakers pronounce Van Gogh the way Dutchmen say the name, with a /ch/ as in a Scottish loch
before and after the o. Some English speakers pronounce the “gh” in van Gogh’s name like /ch/, but
I’ve never heard an English speaker who doesn’t speak Dutch say /ch/o/ch/ (if you know anything
about phonetics, forgive my phonetic transcription; I don’t know the first thing about phonetics).

So why say “Nicaragua” as if you were speaking Spanish? Pretentious, if you ask me.

Speaking of the Pope, hate him or love him, note that Karol Jozef Wojtyla was, among other things,
an essayist, poet, playwright, and linguist. He spoke good Polish, Slovak, Russian, Italian, French,
Spanish, Portuguese, German, and English. They say his Latin was better than passable.

Paul Frank
Chinese-English translator
paulfrank at

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