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Old 01-27-2018, 03:34 PM
CC CC is offline
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How do words/names in other alphabets get (mis)translated into ours?

I see, for only one example, the name of the Burmese (Myanmarese?) leader written as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But it is almost always pronounced something like "Ahng san soo chee. Presumably, her name is written in her native language, maybe with an entirely different alphabet or script system. Maybe her name in her native language sounds like, Ahng san soo chee. So, why do we write it Kyi? Wouldn't it be better to write it in English closer to the way it sounds? I assume that the letters we use are some sort of transliteration of the symbols they use. But if they don't sound like her name the way we write it, why write it that way? How do these translations or changes come about?
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Old 01-27-2018, 04:01 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
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A quick Google shows there are at least four different systems to Romanize the Burmese alphabet, some of which emphasize the orthography (transcription), and some of which emphasize the pronunciation (translation).

Just as in English, the way a word is spelled in Burmese may not match its pronunciation. So you have to make a choice as to whether you try to follow the spelling or the pronunciation.
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Old 01-27-2018, 05:12 PM
GreysonCarlisle GreysonCarlisle is offline
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some of which emphasize the pronunciation (translation).
Shouldn't that be (transliteration)?
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Old 01-27-2018, 05:41 PM
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Shouldn't that be (transliteration)?
Sorry, I screwed that up. It should be "some emphasize the orthography (transliteration), and some emphasize the pronunciation (transcription)."
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Old 01-27-2018, 06:01 PM
jz78817 jz78817 is offline
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Originally Posted by CC View Post
I see, for only one example, the name of the Burmese (Myanmarese?) leader written as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But it is almost always pronounced something like "Ahng san soo chee. Presumably, her name is written in her native language, maybe with an entirely different alphabet or script system. Maybe her name in her native language sounds like, Ahng san soo chee. So, why do we write it Kyi? Wouldn't it be better to write it in English closer to the way it sounds? I assume that the letters we use are some sort of transliteration of the symbols they use. But if they don't sound like her name the way we write it, why write it that way? How do these translations or changes come about?
I see a lot of these kinds of issues when we’re dealing with sounds/pronunciations which simply have no “match” in English.
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Old 01-27-2018, 06:19 PM
GreysonCarlisle GreysonCarlisle is offline
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Sorry, I screwed that up. It should be "some emphasize the orthography (transliteration), and some emphasize the pronunciation (transcription)."
Well, I screwed it up in the exact same way, so....

Part of the answer to the OP's queston may be that some languages didn't historically have alphabets of their own, so the languages were transcribed by sound value into the alphabet of some other language. To get those into English, the transcribed sounds were transliterated into our Latin alphabet. Each step will introduce errors.

Once a leading source uses those values, others in the field will continue to use them rather then re-inventing the wheel. Eventually, the whole world's calling a city Pusan, and nevermind that the city's inhabitants refer to it as Busan.
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Old 01-27-2018, 06:32 PM
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That makes a good deal of sense and explains how there can be many errors introduced into the process. However, that explanation is built around the notion of trying to reproduce the sounds of the original source, which I would say would be the natural and most reasonable approach. And MIGHT explain how the "chee" sound in Burmese might mistakenly be translated and re-translated into "Khi." It doesn't, however, explain why we would continue the error. Once it's discovered, why wouldn't it be corrected? Why do newspapers continue to call her Ahng san soo khi in print when her name is sounded differently?
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Old 01-27-2018, 06:39 PM
GreysonCarlisle GreysonCarlisle is offline
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That makes a good deal of sense and explains how there can be many errors introduced into the process. However, that explanation is built around the notion of trying to reproduce the sounds of the original source, which I would say would be the natural and most reasonable approach. And MIGHT explain how the "chee" sound in Burmese might mistakenly be translated and re-translated into "Khi." It doesn't, however, explain why we would continue the error. Once it's discovered, why wouldn't it be corrected? Why do newspapers continue to call her Ahng san soo khi in print when her name is sounded differently?
CH sounds are hard. They're normally transliterated as a KH sound, as in loch. But the sound in English church is really a TSH sound, which almost demands simplification (tshurtsh?)

Why wouldn't it be corrected? Inertia, mostly. There's not much money in re-designing the wheel, and it'll take years to catch on. It'll take something like government intervention for wholesale change.

But you're helping to correct it now. Raising awareness and (dare I say) fighting ignorance is the first step.

Last edited by GreysonCarlisle; 01-27-2018 at 06:39 PM.
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Old 01-27-2018, 08:15 PM
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Eventually, the whole world's calling a city Pusan, and nevermind that the city's inhabitants refer to it as Busan.
No, they refer to it as Pusan. That initial sound is an unvoiced (and unaspirated) consonant.

As pointed out, there is value to a transliteration system where the spelling in the source language maps to the spelling in Roman letters. There are disadvantages too, for example that English speakers will (quite reasonably) assume that Busan is pronounced with a /b/ sound because it is written with one.
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Old 01-27-2018, 08:40 PM
GreysonCarlisle GreysonCarlisle is offline
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No, they refer to it as Pusan. That initial sound is an unvoiced (and unaspirated) consonant.

As pointed out, there is value to a transliteration system where the spelling in the source language maps to the spelling in Roman letters. There are disadvantages too, for example that English speakers will (quite reasonably) assume that Busan is pronounced with a /b/ sound because it is written with one.
Ah, thanks. Another example for the OP, then--sounded with a /p/, spelled (now) with a B. A quick search suggests that the reason for the difference is a 2000 change in the South Korean government's official transliteration guide.
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Old 01-27-2018, 09:23 PM
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Eventually, the whole world's calling a city Pusan, and nevermind that the city's inhabitants refer to it as Busan.
I admit I don't know about Korean phonology, but this illustrates an important point so well I can't not use it:

Different languages have different phonologies, different collections of sounds speakers use to produce and distinguish between words. Not the sounds they are capable of producing, which is dictated by physiology, but the sounds their dialect uses to make words and distinguish between different words. That second part is important: A sound distinction which is never used to distinguish between two different words in a given language (that is to say, a sound distinction which is not phonemic) is going to be extremely difficult for speakers of that language to hear and reproduce reliably.

Something which is almost an example in English is the difference between the "th" sound in "thick" (/θ/ in IPA) and the "th" sound in "that" (/š/ in IPA), which is, as I said, almost never used to distinguish words in English. There are two exceptions I can think of: "thigh" and "thy", and "thistle and "this'll", both of which involve words at least one of which is somewhat uncommon.

For an example of a phonetic distinction English never makes, there's /p/ versus /pʰ/, or the distinction between the "normal" (to an English speaker) unaspirated "p" sound (/p/ in IPA) and the aspirated "p" sound (/pʰ/ in IPA), which is accompanied by a strong puff of air. In Arabic, "p" is always aspirated, and in Korean, the difference between aspirated and unaspirated consonants is phonemic. English speakers genuinely can't hear the distinction being made here, but anyone can feel it if they say "pill" (aspirated) and "spill" (unaspirated) with their hand right in front of their mouth.

So. Some languages don't distinguish between "p" /p/ and "b" /b/, some languages (Japanese, most famously) don't distinguish between "r" /r/ and "l" /l/, and some weirdo languages don't distinguish between /p/ and /pʰ/; now, how do you write words in a target language's writing system when the target language doesn't distinguish between a key pair of sounds which make those words distinct to native speakers? It is a puzzle, and the more "scientific" transliterations make generous use of punctuation (apostrophes, for example) and diacritical marks to annotate the target text so as to not simply lose information.
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Old 01-27-2018, 09:45 PM
GreysonCarlisle GreysonCarlisle is offline
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I admit I don't know about Korean phonology, but this illustrates an important point so well I can't not use it:

Different languages have different phonologies, different collections of sounds speakers use to produce and distinguish between words. Not the sounds they are capable of producing, which is dictated by physiology, but the sounds their dialect uses to make words and distinguish between different words. That second part is important: A sound distinction which is never used to distinguish between two different words in a given language (that is to say, a sound distinction which is not phonemic) is going to be extremely difficult for speakers of that language to hear and reproduce reliably.

Something which is almost an example in English is the difference between the "th" sound in "thick" (/θ/ in IPA) and the "th" sound in "that" (/š/ in IPA), which is, as I said, almost never used to distinguish words in English. There are two exceptions I can think of: "thigh" and "thy", and "thistle and "this'll", both of which involve words at least one of which is somewhat uncommon.

For an example of a phonetic distinction English never makes, there's /p/ versus /pʰ/, or the distinction between the "normal" (to an English speaker) unaspirated "p" sound (/p/ in IPA) and the aspirated "p" sound (/pʰ/ in IPA), which is accompanied by a strong puff of air. In Arabic, "p" is always aspirated, and in Korean, the difference between aspirated and unaspirated consonants is phonemic. English speakers genuinely can't hear the distinction being made here, but anyone can feel it if they say "pill" (aspirated) and "spill" (unaspirated) with their hand right in front of their mouth.

So. Some languages don't distinguish between "p" /p/ and "b" /b/, some languages (Japanese, most famously) don't distinguish between "r" /r/ and "l" /l/, and some weirdo languages don't distinguish between /p/ and /pʰ/; now, how do you write words in a target language's writing system when the target language doesn't distinguish between a key pair of sounds which make those words distinct to native speakers? It is a puzzle, and the more "scientific" transliterations make generous use of punctuation (apostrophes, for example) and diacritical marks to annotate the target text so as to not simply lose information.
Allophones can give any system the dry heaves. Take the [tt] of butter, for instance--most English dialects will use some version of the sound /d/ or a /t/+/d/, but it's really just the way a doubled /t/ sound is resolved in that particular instance. God knows how it gets transcribed or transliterated into Swahili or whatever.

I've sometimes taken to simply throwing in an H after asperated consonants, except in the case of /p/, because I don't want it to be read as a PH (an /f/ sound). Not long ago, I was transliterating a few passages from Kartvelian languages, and I entirely lost track of what I was doing once I got into the sounds that someone else had previously transcribed as C. I still haven't figured out whether those are /k/-ish sounds or /s/-ish sounds.

Regardless of what is differentiated by the home language, the transcribed sound should be based on the norms of the target language. If a /b/ and a /p/ are undifferentiated in Korean, the individual words should still be transcribed by how they sound to an English (in this case) speaker.

My Busan/Pusan example was a poor choice. It was just the first thing I thought of and was based on a faulty assumption. I should have researched that better.
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Old 01-27-2018, 10:09 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
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As pointed out, there is value to a transliteration system where the spelling in the source language maps to the spelling in Roman letters. There are disadvantages too, for example that English speakers will (quite reasonably) assume that Busan is pronounced with a /b/ sound because it is written with one.
Some other examples have been given, but it should be mentioned that Roman letters don't even correspond to the same sounds in other European languages. In Spanish "g," "j," and "ll" have different sounds than in English, while "b" and "v" are barely distinguished if at all. If, for example, a non-Roman alphabet was first Romanized by French scholars the result might be quite different than if it were Romanized by English ones.
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Old 01-27-2018, 11:21 PM
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Just wait until you're getting into Icelandic and have to distinguish between the initial consonant in hland (=urine; pronounced with a voiceless l) and land (=land, with voiced l)!

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Old 01-28-2018, 12:57 AM
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Whoever developed the commonly used romanization from Burmese used y to soften certain consonants. So the Myanmar currency, spelled kyat, is pronounced chat.
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Old 01-28-2018, 01:41 AM
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How would you transliterate the Thai word for 'brake' which sounds almost exactly like English 'brake'? The answer seems obvious if you know your target is English-speaking, but many Europeans would assume an Asian word written as 'brake' is pronounced like English 'bra-kay.'

I'd write the word phonetically as /bre:k/, but the Royal Thai General System of Transcription doesn't allow ':' (let alone symbols like ư, ǣ, ɤ, ɛ, etc.) so the 'official' Thai transliteration is brek.

I recall a sad incident based on an American's inability to render a Thai name in a phonetic form he could remember.
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Old 01-28-2018, 04:13 AM
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Of course there are examples of where corrections have been made. Beijing and Mumbai come to mind.
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Old 01-28-2018, 05:00 AM
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Part of the answer to the OP's queston may be that some languages didn't historically have alphabets of their own, so the languages were transcribed by sound value into the alphabet of some other language. To get those into English, the transcribed sounds were transliterated into our Latin alphabet. Each step will introduce errors.
Actually,
1) even if the language had its own alphabet, and even if the alphabet happened to be the Latin alphabet, there many have been transcription. My grandfather, his mother and his sister all had their lastname spelled differently: it's a German lastname and the people at the Civil Registry never bothered to ask "how do you spell this?", they just wrote it as it sounded to them.
2) those transcribed sounds might already be "in our Latin alphabet", but transcribed by Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese... and then suffer additional deformation when being read by someone unfamiliar with the original transcription method. This isn't a peculiarity of English or anything like that: the same problem exists when a transcription to English is read by someone unfamiliar with it (cif. "Sri Lanka" being pronounced "Esrri Lanka", with an additional E and a rolled R and with both As equally clear and open, by Spanish TV newscasters).
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Old 01-28-2018, 05:14 AM
GreysonCarlisle GreysonCarlisle is offline
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Actually,
1) even if the language had its own alphabet, and even if the alphabet happened to be the Latin alphabet, there many have been transcription. My grandfather, his mother and his sister all had their lastname spelled differently: it's a German lastname and the people at the Civil Registry never bothered to ask "how do you spell this?", they just wrote it as it sounded to them.
2) those transcribed sounds might already be "in our Latin alphabet", but transcribed by Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese... and then suffer additional deformation when being read by someone unfamiliar with the original transcription method. This isn't a peculiarity of English or anything like that: the same problem exists when a transcription to English is read by someone unfamiliar with it (cif. "Sri Lanka" being pronounced "Esrri Lanka", with an additional E and a rolled R and with both As equally clear and open, by Spanish TV newscasters).
Good points.
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Old 01-28-2018, 08:55 AM
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Take the [tt] of butter, for instance--most English dialects will use some version of the sound /d/ or a /t/+/d/, but it's really just the way a doubled /t/ sound is resolved in that particular instance.
I'm not sure what you mean by "doubled /t/." Either way it's only one phoneme; whatever dialect, it's one sound--the British /t/, for example, or the North American alveolar tap /ɾ/, which is a single sound, rather than two sounds (/t/ + /d/). The fact that it's written with two letters doesn't change this. Or is there some dialect where it's articulated as two that I'm not aware of?
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Old 01-28-2018, 09:37 AM
GreysonCarlisle GreysonCarlisle is offline
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I'm not sure what you mean by "doubled /t/." Either way it's only one phoneme; whatever dialect, it's one sound--the British /t/, for example, or the North American alveolar tap /ɾ/, which is a single sound, rather than two sounds (/t/ + /d/). The fact that it's written with two letters doesn't change this. Or is there some dialect where it's articulated as two that I'm not aware of?
If it's pronounced syllabically, it'd be doubled. But-Ter, but even that frequently alters the second /t/ to a [d].
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Old 01-28-2018, 09:46 AM
jz78817 jz78817 is offline
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I'm not sure what you mean by "doubled /t/." Either way it's only one phoneme; whatever dialect, it's one sound--the British /t/, for example, or the North American alveolar tap /ɾ/, which is a single sound, rather than two sounds (/t/ + /d/). The fact that it's written with two letters doesn't change this. Or is there some dialect where it's articulated as two that I'm not aware of?
I think he(?) was talking about transliterating it to another language. whereas a lot of English speakers would pronounce it more like "budder," languages where double consonants are pronounced distinctly (e.g. Japanese) would probably have issues with it.

here's a video of a native Japanese speaker trying to pronounce "Massachusetts." those double consonants throw a wrench into everything,
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Old 01-28-2018, 10:48 AM
guizot guizot is offline
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I think he(?) was talking about transliterating it to another language. whereas a lot of English speakers would pronounce it more like "budder," languages where double consonants are pronounced distinctly (e.g. Japanese) would probably have issues with it.

here's a video of a native Japanese speaker trying to pronounce "Massachusetts." those double consonants throw a wrench into everything,
Right, but my point is that just because we use two letters doesn't mean there actually are "double consonants," whatever that is supposed to mean. There really are no "double consonants" in Massachusettsmęsəˈsəts/ (/tʃ/ is a single consonant). (Of course at the end there is a cluster of two consonants, which is often difficult for non-native speakers.) Rather, there is only the orthographic tradition in English of sometimes repeating a letter to represent a (single) consonant.

The fact the we spell it with two letters has nothing to do with the North American alveolar tap pronunciation. An illiterate person in North America--who has never even seen the spelling--would pronounce it the same. And there are many other words (later, writer, etc.), spelled with one letter for the consonant sound, in which North Americans also use the alveolar tap, instead of /t/.

I agree that, as you point out, this only might possibly affect the pronunciation of a person who is completely unfamiliar with a word, (never heard it pronounced by a native speaker), and completely unaware of English orthography patterns. But the word itself--as it is pronounced by native speakers--doesn't have "double consonants."

Indeed, a Japanese speaker may be inclined see that orthography and somehow think it is analogous to the way Japanese is transcribed or transliterated with the roman alphabet, where such double letters (not double consonants), are used to represent protracted unreleased stops between consonants. (Is that what's happening in the video? I'm not in a position to listen to it at the moment. It would make sense, I suppose, if the the Japanese speaker is very familiar with how Japanese is represented with the Roman alphabet, but somehow at the same time completely ignorant of English orthography--which seems rather uncommon to me.)

Last edited by guizot; 01-28-2018 at 10:52 AM.
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Old 01-28-2018, 11:12 AM
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IIRC from Gesenius, doubled consonants in Hebrew (represented by a דגש חזק) are supposed to be "strengthened" in classical Hebrew. So there is or was a difference in pronunciation.

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Old 01-28-2018, 11:31 AM
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I realize that "lazy American diction" renders 'butter' minimally, as /bədər/, but am I correct that in some English dialects both T's are pronounced?
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Old 01-28-2018, 12:32 PM
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No, they refer to it as Pusan. That initial sound is an unvoiced (and unaspirated) consonant.

As pointed out, there is value to a transliteration system where the spelling in the source language maps to the spelling in Roman letters. There are disadvantages too, for example that English speakers will (quite reasonably) assume that Busan is pronounced with a /b/ sound because it is written with one.
But in that case, and I believe it's generally true of languages distant from English, the first letter in Busan/Pusan, 'ㅂ', isn't really 'p' or 'b'. 'P' is closer in that particular case I agree. But if 'ㅍ' as in Pyeongyang is one Latin letter, it's also 'p'. Some past systems made the aspirated 'ㅍ' into "p" followed by an apostrophe, at least sometimes, but that's a nuisance. Also IME even native speakers argue whether some subtle consonant sound differences in Korean are real as the language is now spoken (not necessarily 'ㅂ' vs. 'ㅍ', but others) though one can look up the technical terms for how each supposedly differs.

The ROK 2000 convention of transliterating the 'ㅓ' as 'eo' rather than 'o' (Pyeongyang v Pyongyang as NK and most of the world write it) probably isn't an improvement either, even over just 'o', that also included basically a French circumflex over the 'o' in some systems, but obviously it's a benefit to be able to use a standard English keyboard. Although, transliterating the compound vowel 'ㅐ' as 'ae' rather than 'ai' in older systems is an improvement, in suggesting a more correct pronunciation.

Overall you can't win, is my take on this issue.

Last edited by Corry El; 01-28-2018 at 12:33 PM.
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Old 01-28-2018, 03:45 PM
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Something which is almost an example in English is the difference between the "th" sound in "thick" (/θ/ in IPA) and the "th" sound in "that" (/š/ in IPA), which is, as I said, almost never used to distinguish words in English. There are two exceptions I can think of: "thigh" and "thy", and "thistle and "this'll", both of which involve words at least one of which is somewhat uncommon.
There's also either and ether.
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Old 01-28-2018, 07:17 PM
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I realize that "lazy American diction" renders 'butter' minimally, as /bədər/, but am I correct that in some English dialects both T's are pronounced?
Well, the American pronunciation is not any lazier than the leaves of fall which turn red in America, but only yellow in Europe. (Hence the quotation marks, I'm sure.) Pronunciation is a natural phenomenon. Is it lazy for one iris to be purple instead of blue?

In any case, I'm not sure how it would be motor-physiologically possible to pronounce two /t/s in succession, without inserting an extraneous vowel in between--or, as in Japanese, pronouncing the first with a protracted unreleased stop, which might be something like Scottish dialect? I don't know.
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Old 01-28-2018, 08:20 PM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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There's also either and ether.
That's an interesting case, because 'either' can be pronounced with one of two initial vowel sounds (/aɪ/ (eye) or /iː/ (ee)), one of which distinguishes it from 'ether' quite nicely without having to rely on the distinction between /θ/ and /š/.

So, yes, for people who say /ˈiːšər/, the voicedness of the 'th' phoneme is indeed the only feature which distinguishes it from /ˈiːθər/.
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Old 01-28-2018, 08:58 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Actually,
1) even if the language had its own alphabet, and even if the alphabet happened to be the Latin alphabet, there many have been transcription. My grandfather, his mother and his sister all had their lastname spelled differently: it's a German lastname and the people at the Civil Registry never bothered to ask "how do you spell this?", they just wrote it as it sounded to them.
...
Surely you know how Sean Ferguson got his name?

(And sorry about calling you that...)

ETA: Although I know a longer version, similar stories appear in Did US immigration officials really change family names arbitrarily?. SD is there...

Last edited by Leo Bloom; 01-28-2018 at 09:01 PM.
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Old 01-29-2018, 06:50 AM
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In our case, the name had been preserved through 100 years of Church records in a small town in Teruel (current population 421, but in the 19th century it was an important mining centre); it was the Civil Registry that screwed things up c. 1914, that being the year of my grandfather's birth. Maybe we should separate Church and State when it comes to defining people's names!
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Old 01-29-2018, 08:54 AM
Hector_St_Clare Hector_St_Clare is offline
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Originally Posted by CC View Post
But it is almost always pronounced something like "Ahng san soo chee. Presumably, her name is written in her native language, maybe with an entirely different alphabet or script system. Maybe her name in her native language sounds like, Ahng san soo chee.
I know someone of Norwegian ethnicity whose name starts with "KJ-" and she pronounces it with the sound youre referring to (the "ch" in "chair"). It's not that dumb a transliteration.
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Old 01-29-2018, 01:27 PM
suranyi suranyi is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hector_St_Clare View Post
I know someone of Norwegian ethnicity whose name starts with "KJ-" and she pronounces it with the sound youre referring to (the "ch" in "chair"). It's not that dumb a transliteration.
I was about to say. Assuming that the only way to get the "ch" sound is with the letters CH is very anglocentric. Other languages do it differently even with the Latin alphabet.

Off the top of my head:
French: TCH
Hungarian: CS
Norwegian: KJ

Last edited by suranyi; 01-29-2018 at 01:29 PM.
  #34  
Old 01-29-2018, 01:29 PM
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Which "ch" sound? I know at least three sounds which are represented by that digraph in English.
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Old 01-29-2018, 01:31 PM
suranyi suranyi is online now
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Originally Posted by Nava View Post
Which "ch" sound? I know at least three sounds which are represented by that digraph in English.
As in "chair", I think we're talking about.
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Old 01-29-2018, 01:38 PM
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Originally Posted by suranyi View Post
... Assuming that the only way to get the "ch" sound is with the letters CH is very anglocentric. Other languages do it differently even with the Latin alphabet.

Which is sort of related to my OP. Since our newspapers are written in English, the spelling of foreign words and names - particularly if they are from a different alphabet - should be spelled phonetically.
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Old 01-29-2018, 02:19 PM
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Originally Posted by CC View Post
Which is sort of related to my OP. Since our newspapers are written in English, the spelling of foreign words and names - particularly if they are from a different alphabet - should be spelled phonetically.
That assumes that the readers are familiar with a consistent phonetic system like the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is probably not the case. And if you specify "Kyi as in chair", that's plain wrong, since the "ky" is not the same as the "ch" in "chair". I am not even sure that consonant occurs in English.
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Old 01-31-2018, 08:42 AM
EdelweissPirate EdelweissPirate is offline
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FWIW, I can think of one English word with a true “double consonant:” tailless. As in, “That B-2 bomber has no empennage. It is tailless.” If speaking quickly, one might skip the second L and say “tayless,” but in most situations I (at least) would pronounce both Ls.

One interesting thing related to the OP’s question is that we inherit some phonetic spellings from other languages, but we also supply our own. This leads to the somewhat unusual situation of having two valid (but fairly different) spellings for the same word. For example, because the French colonized North Africa, it’s common to see English speakers write words that are phonetically French. The name “Mahmoud” is essentially the same name we typically spell as “Mohammed,” but it’s phonetically French. Or take the Arabic word for a dry gully or valley, which shows up in place names. (I’ve also heard American soldiers in Iraq use this word as a topographical term). I used to see English speakers write “ouadi,” but now it’s much more common to see “wadi,” which is phonetically English.

Arabic and Hebrew are both fairly vague about vowels, which is another reason you see several different spellings for Semitic words in English. Plus, there are many different Arabic dialects, so how one transliterates a word may depend on what dialect one is transliteration from. I imagine this applies to other languages as well.

Also, I hear that one can distinguish groups of Hebrew speakers based on how they pronounce a particular word; it’s a sort of shibboleth, I suppose.
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Old 01-31-2018, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by EdelweissPirate View Post
Also, I hear that one can distinguish groups of Hebrew speakers based on how they pronounce a particular word; it’s a sort of shibboleth, I suppose.
*clap clap clap*

Also in how they transliterate it. Ashkenazi Jews often base transliterations on German transliterating conventions; Sephardis follow Spanish conventions. There are many sounds for which they are the same but a handful which are different.
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Last edited by Nava; 01-31-2018 at 09:10 AM.
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Old 01-31-2018, 12:24 PM
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Originally Posted by EdelweissPirate View Post
One interesting thing related to the OP’s question is that we inherit some phonetic spellings from other languages, but we also supply our own. This leads to the somewhat unusual situation of having two valid (but fairly different) spellings for the same word. For example, because the French colonized North Africa, it’s common to see English speakers write words that are phonetically French. The name “Mahmoud” is essentially the same name we typically spell as “Mohammed,” but it’s phonetically French.
Is it really "essentially" the same name, though, as in John vs Jean? The root is identical, but even without (most) vowels I would say محمود is not the same as محمد. Perhaps you meant Mohammed versus Muhammad? I suppose this exemplifies the problem under consideration
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Old 01-31-2018, 12:35 PM
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There are lots of doubled or geminated consonant sounds in English and in some cases the difference between the geminated and nongeminated version distinguishes different words (or phrases). There is a short list in the Wikipedia article, including "midday", "lamppost", and "roommate". An example of two words, identical except for gemination, is "unaimed" vs. "unnamed".
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Old 01-31-2018, 01:29 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CC View Post
Which is sort of related to my OP. Since our newspapers are written in English, the spelling of foreign words and names - particularly if they are from a different alphabet - should be spelled phonetically.
Except this requires that the Latin alphabet to transparently render English phonemes to an English speaking reader, and this can never happen.

What sound does "th" represent? "Thin", "this" and "goatherd" have the same collection of letters, but they represent different sounds. There is no one to one correlation of English phonemes to Latin characters. For foreign words in a language that uses the Latin alphabet we can just use whatever spelling they use.

Oh, so we should stop using the name "Rome" and instead use "Roma"? Instead of saying "Germany" we should write "Deutschland"? The problem here is that the English word for the country is Germany, despite the fact that the people in Germany don't call it Germany.

And it's doubly confusing for countries that don't use the Latin alphabet. However, there's one advantage. Remember how there's consistent system of transcribing English words using the Latin alphabet? That's because English spelling evolved haphazardly over hundreds of years. However with foreign languages we don't have to use that haphazard system, we can invent a transcription system. And so in Pinyin an unaspirated "p" sound is transcribed using the character "b" and an aspirated "p" sound is transcribed using the character "p".

And so how do we transcribe the name of the capital of China using the Pinyin system? And the answer is "Beijing" If you know how the Pinyin system works, you can know how the name of that city is pronounced in Mandarin. However, the problem with Pinyin is that it uses certain Latin characters differently than English. So how is the name "Xi'an" pronounced? If you know how Pinyin works that's easy, the "x" character represents a sound that is usually represented by "sh" in English. Except "sh" doesn't represent that sound in other languages that use the Latin alphabet, only in English.

Yes, in English works we could transliterate the name as "Shian". Except now we've got a custom transliteration system for Chinese, rather than a consistent one. If we stick with Pinyin at least we know what we're doing, even if we sometimes make mistakes all we need to do is learn Pinyin and we know what we're talking about.
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Old 01-31-2018, 03:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
Except this requires that the Latin alphabet to transparently render English phonemes to an English speaking reader, and this can never happen.
This. I don't understand people who think it's possible to spell "phonetically" in English.

Here's an interesting example -- "Beijing". This (pinyin) spelling is already about as close as you can get to spelling it phonetically in English. Yet I constantly hear English speakers pronounce the "j" as /ʒ/; that is, like the "s" in "pleasure". In reality the Chinese phoneme is pretty close to the "j" in English "jeep". I'm not sure why so many people choose a rare pronunciation of the "j" rather than the more common one, unless it's just a subconscious feeling that a foreign word should use an unusual phoneme.
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Old 02-17-2018, 12:30 PM
Brayne Ded Brayne Ded is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
No, they refer to it as Pusan. That initial sound is an unvoiced (and unaspirated) consonant.

As pointed out, there is value to a transliteration system where the spelling in the source language maps to the spelling in Roman letters. There are disadvantages too, for example that English speakers will (quite reasonably) assume that Busan is pronounced with a /b/ sound because it is written with one.
I'm no expert on Korean, but when I went to the country in 1981 I had to contend with the pronunciation of the place names at least. It seems that Korean has a sort of aspirated 'b' that is not voiced as strongly as an English 'p', in other words, it is between the two. I suspect that there is a similar problem in Arabic, as Arabic speakers also have a problem distinguishing
p and b.
To reiterate a point ad nauseam, the Latin alphabet does not do a good job of transliterating languages, even European ones, and even those generally need some help with accents.
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