van Goch (was: Nicaragua)

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Tue Apr 5 02:49:00 UTC 2005

On Apr 4, 2005, at 7:00 PM, Peter A. McGraw wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Peter A. McGraw" <pmcgraw at LINFIELD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: van Goch (was: Nicaragua)
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> Good grief!  The difficulty of pronouncing "van Gogh" in Dutch is
> vastly
> overrated.  The voiceless uvular fricative that is spelled with a g or
> a ch
> (or archaically as gh in some names) sounds exotic to American ears,
> especially when it forms both ends of a word like this, but anyone who
> can
> wind up for a good spit can produce it.  The idea that even the Dutch
> have
> trouble with it is about as accurate as a statement would be that even
> English speakers have trouble pronouncing th.  Americans who can
> pronounce
> the final consonant in Bach without making it into a stop can probably
> manage this one, too, if they try.  Even the very same sound as in Bach
> makes a pretty good counterfeit that any Dutchman would understand.
> Peter Mc.

Have you ever had occasion to be standing chest-to-chest, e.g. while
dancing, with a native speaker of Dutch as she pronounces the Dutch
/g/? I have and I've noticed what is, for me, a unique phenomenon: the
sound of the Dutch /g/ sets off sympathetic vibrations in my diaphragm.

As for trying to reproduce this sound so that a Dutchman can understand
it, I had my problems with that. I lived on Groenburgwal. Over the
course of eighteen months, I was never able to pronounce the name of my
street so that Dutch cabbies could understand it. If the guy spoke
English, I'd end up using Englished "Groon Burgwall." For the rare
non-English-speaking cabbie, I had the address written on a 3x5 card.

--Wilson Gray

> --On Monday, April 4, 2005 4:21 PM -0400 Wilson Gray
> <wilson.gray at RCN.COM>
> wrote:
>> On Apr 4, 2005, at 12:30 PM, Mark A. Mandel wrote:
>>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>> -----------------------
>>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>> Poster:       "Mark A. Mandel" <mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU>
>>> Subject:      Re: Nicaragua
>>> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> --
>>> --------
>>> Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM> sez:
>>> Given that the sounds represented by the spellings "g," "gh," and
>>> "ch"
>>> as pronounced in Dutch are sounds that don't exist in English, I
>>> would
>>> be stunned to hear any English-speaker pronounce "Gogh" as the Dutch
>>> do. It would be a real accomplishment. I've tried it, quite
>>> unsuccessfully, while vacationing in Amsterdam and with Dutch friends
>>> in here in the States. It's *very* difficult.
>>> <<<
>>> Not for all of us, bubbele.
>>> -- Mark
>> I'm stunned. Even though I haven't heard you say it. I'm *very*
>> impressed by the mere claim itself. An article in Life magazine in the
>> '50's claimed that "Gogh" was so weird that even the Dutch no longer
>> knew the correct pronunciation. Of course, this was the same Life
>> magazine that once published an article claiming that the Watusi, the
>> same African people today known as the "Tutsi," were white in the
>> "European" sense. Hence, Life's claims about Dutch are probably
>> to be taken with a box of salt.
>> -Wilson
> *****************************************************************
> Peter A. McGraw       Linfield College        McMinnville, Oregon
> ******************* pmcgraw at ************************

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