Friday, April 24, 2009

One thing I would really like to know is how cities get their names in other languages. This is a discussion frequent among people we know here, not only because the alternate names are often just so odd, but also because the examples are never-ending. Everyone enjoys conversations in which everyone gets to show-off some recent discovery.

This is not just a matter of pronunciation. It's obvious to me why most English-speakers say France instead of Frahnce and that is to avoid Twain-style scorn from people who see it as an annoying affectation. Also it would be hard to do with a straight face. At least in most of the US, even if you know Paris is pronounced Pairree, you generally keep that bit of information to yourself (Unless, of course, you are referring to the strip club called "Gay Paris," which has always been, at least in my social circles, an exception to this rule.) Using French in English in other cases can be an unspeakable pretension. Though I'm sure if you tried Barcelona in a proper Spanish accent, you could generate a few dirty looks as well.

As an American, one must come to terms with the fact that for us wrong is often right (as in Toledo, whose American pronunciation I love dearly for being so painfully, dearly midwestern, Los Angeles, Colorado, etc.). Straightforward is actually the most practical way to go about pronouncing the names of America's cities, anyway. Does anyone really know how to pronounce things in Navajo? Is Valdosta still Italian without any spacing or punctuation? Is New Bern related to old Bern? Best to just say it like it seems and avoid all the trouble. (Plus, our personal preferences don't actually make a difference.)

Returning to the matter at hand, it is interesting how many European cities have multiple names. München is somewhat difficult to pronounce; it understandably has several other names, including Munich, Monaco di Bavaria, and Minga. But difficulty in pronunciation is not the key to the puzzle, since Milano has just as many names. Genève has many names as well (the most ugliest of which is Genf). In my brief survey, most of the major international cities, at least in Europe, seemed to have multiple names. Despite this linguistic convenience, I find it is a good idea to find out what the city (and country) you are visiting is called in the local language before you arrive in order to avoid potential confusion and embarrassment.

No comments: