Thursday, December 17, 2009

Globalization casts a long eye on US news media’s world language skills – or lack thereof

There’s an old joke that goes like this:

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

A: Tri-lingual.

Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

A: Bilingual.

Q: What do you call someone who speaks one language?

A. American.

In their unceasing efforts to prove they are cosmopolitan and global, the US news media have once again demonstrated their ignorance of foreign languages and pronunciations.

In all the stories about Tiger Woods’ troubles, the media continue to mispronounce Tiger’s wife’s first name.

This is almost certainly an effort to show how worldly they are when they encounter a name that doesn’t follow the ridiculous spelling conventions we’ve grown up with in American (and British) English.

Thanks to Hjörtur Smárason for confirming my suspicions about how silly the American broadcasters all sound.

Let’s take a closer look at this unreported aspect of the Woods story.

The woman’s name is spelled Elin.

The English version of this name would be Ellen, just Ellen.

But because it looks DIFFERENT, they insist on pronouncing it EE – lin, with an English “Long E” sound. They think that makes it foreign sounding. It makes them sound, well, stupid and ignorant, and Swedes must be chortling every time they hear an American reporting on this story.

Unfortunately, you see, Scandinavian languages, just like other European languages, don’t follow the pronunciation the American journalists are ascribing to it.

If these journalists had bothered to ask someone, they would have found out that the “e” in European languages has more of an English “long A” sound, making the name’s correct pronunciation more like “AY-lin.”

But let’s take it a step further.

The “I” in Elin should be pronounced more like an English “long E” so the actual correct way to say the poor girl’s name is “ay-LEEN”

It reminds me of the sportscaster who couldn’t quite bring himself to commit to the correct Spanish pronunciation of a jockey’s first name Jorge.

The correct pronunciation in Spanish makes the J sound like an H. But most Americans don’t realize that a G before an E or an I is ALSO an H sound in Spanish.

So the correct way to say Jorge is HOR-hay.

Almost certainly uncomfortable allowing his audience to hear what he thought sounded like the word WHORE, he couldn’t bring himself to pronounce the G correctly.

The best sportscaster could say was HOR-gay.

Yeah, that was real better. (Mucho mejor, in Spanish, and that J is pronounced like an H.)

Over to you, EE-lin.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

PRSA Philadelphia 2009 Pepperpot Awards Music Video

This music video from the PRSA/Philadelphia 2009 Pepperpot Awards Dinner December 3, 2009 includes photos of award winners, scenes of the dinner and candids from the social hour. Individual images available for purchase at