Christine Waigl cwaigl at FREE.FR
Sun Apr 3 19:34:31 UTC 2005

Dale Coye wrote:

> [...]
>    For Kant the idiot shoe is on the other foot.  You sound like an
>ignoramus if you Americanize it with vowel of "can".  Am. Eng. would use a low
>vowel if they have one--in r-less East. NE the vowel of "cart"--in much of
>the rest (but not all) of the US it would be the vowel of Don.  But the third
>possibility--the vowel of 'cut', besides the taboo associations, is not an
>match at the phonetic level.  Germ short a is not exactly the same as the
>Am.vowel in "cut"--there's lots of allophones in both languages, but generally
>the Germ. short a is lower than Am. cut, so Am. /ah/ is not such a bad fit.

I was a bit surprised to read that (American) English speakers would not choose
the "cut" vowel for pronouncing Kant's name. Bartleby's online version of AHD
indeed gives a pronunciation with the "can" sound (listen to the sound file at, it's in my opinion a bit laxer).

Listening to the "cunt" pronunciation at Bartleby
( and Merriam-Webster online
(, I find
that the first has a vowel that is lower than I would say "Kant" while the
second is a reasonable approximation of the German original.

The one you suggest is the same as the "father" vowel, right? And this would
make "Kant" sound like the BrE pronunciation of "can't"? For me, this one would
be definitely too long; and possibly too much nasalized. "Kant" has a short

The "cut" vowel (back open-mid unrounded) is rather hard to get a handle on for
non-native speakers. My pronunciation of "lunch" was twice pooh-poohed by
French colleagues during the two years I tried teaching English in the French
public school system, while I would have frowned upon theirs (much too rounded,
and quite open, closer to the "neuf" sound, oe-ligature in IPA) if I hadn't been
too junior to frown at anyone.

>     For the Sp. words it wasn't clear from the first post what was
>objectionable in the newscaster's pronunciation--was it phonemic choice or
>choice?  As an American you pretty much have to use the /ah/ phoneme, but at
>phonetic level (the trilled or tapped Rs, etc) I would say, as long as it
>doesn't get in the way of understanding, why not use the real Spanish sounds?
>an American you have to make these choices all the time in foreign languages,
>French for example, if you bring up a guy like Bill Clinton, you sound foolish
>if Frenchify it, substituting the high front Fr. /i/, the Fr. /L/ etc., but
>it can help people to follow you better.  Not to mention Japanese where the Ls
>really throw them for a roop unless you substitute the Japanese sounds.

As someone who talks in two foreign languages much more than in my native
language, I very often have the problem of being unable to decide on the fly
how to pronounce words, in particular names, from one of the other languages
I'm comfortable with. Fully established loan words from, say, English in
French, or originally English place names that are very common in a French
pronunciation are fine: I pronounce "week-end", "parking", "shampooing",
"jogging" etc. like the French do in French, and even "New York" comes out in
French. But for the less common names, the correct English or German
pronunciation comes first, and I always hesitate for a split second. Same
problem for French or German loan words in English. I find it very hard not to
pronounce them as they are pronounced in the original language.

As an example, it is rather difficult for me to speak in French or English about
the years I studied in Heidelberg, simply because I never know how to pronounce
the town.

As this thread shows, the salience of this "pronunciation frame-of-reference
switching" is rather high. People comment on the quality of my accent (when
it's really just ok, at least for English and French), or apologize that they
"only" know the version they are used to from their native language.

(Now names of countries, like "Nicaragua", are a slightly different matter.
Arguably, every language that has a full set of country names in the first
place has its own set of names. Thus, "Nicaragua" in English is an English
word, and in Spanish, it is a different, Spanish word.)

I also remember when some time during the 80s the Giotto spacecraft was doing
something interesting and was all over the TV channels: For a day or so, the
German TV presenters all pronounced "Giotto" as if it was a German word (3
syllables, [gi'] or so), and then, in the middle of the day, everyone
switched to a version that sounded right out of Italy (['dZA.:tO]). Some
official must have forced a lesson on them.

Chris Waigl
native speaker of German


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