Pronunciation of Riefenstahl

It’s not a simple one-to-one mapping as with a phonetic alphabet but for the most part it is pretty deterministic.

The first two are the same, a voiceless palatal fricative. The last one is dialect-dependent. In the “broadcast standard” dialect it is again the same, and in dialects where it isn’t, it’s still the default for initial “ch” in the dialect in question (“k” or “sh”.)

The “sp” -> “shp” thing only happens at the syllable onset.

Again, one is at the onset, one isn’t.

Yes, but usually it is very predictable. There is no ambiguity in any of those cases. Double consonants explicitly shorten the preceding vowel. An “h” after a vowel explicitly lengthens it. “Glas” is long by default, short would be “Glass.”

And how much German training do you have? These are all poor examples as explained by ascenray and kellner. I’m no expert by any means, just took 3 years in HS and a semster in college, so I didn’t get into all the different dialects, just High German.

This is how I picture the OP’s dinner guest. See esp. from 1:35–“YOU ARE NOTT LISTENING!!!”

Most German speakers use the uvular r - the one in the throat, basically. Take the “ch” from “Bach” and voice it and you’ll be pretty close. I can believe that someone with a tin ear could mishear this as a “w”, believe it or not, especially if pronounced by a non-native speaker who really struggles with it (e.g., me).

However, a significant minority of German speakers continue to use the rolled or trilled r, and it’s not wrong to use that, particularly if you sound like a complete idiot trying to pronounce the uvular r (e.g., me :smack: ).

Riefenstahl I have no trouble with. Like the OP, I don’t like to mispronounce a name and one I find myself avoiding because of unsureness how to pronounce it is Simone Weil. The name looks German and sounds “right” to me as “vile,” probably because I have never heard the name spoken and my mind’s ear has become comfortable with it. Whatever source I once looked it up in prescribed “vay,” as I remember, and offered no alternatives.

Is there more than one acceptable pronunciation? Is it ever acceptable to say “vile” or even “wile?”

Having studied high school and college German, I’m often in the position of running into an American whom I strongly feel is pronouncing his or her own name wrong.

If Simone Weil had been German her name would have been in fact have been pronounced ‘vile’. But she was French, so ‘vay’.

Thanks. Simone and Andre Vay, not Vile. The final “l” in “Weil” is silent, the “W” sounded as "V,"and “ei” in French must always be a long “a,” I’m guessing.

You mean Iwwin Wommel of the Thiwd Weich?

I always get Simone Weil confused with Simon D. Behavior (or whoever it is).

Probably because one passed the 1928 École Normale Supérieure entrance examination in first place, the other second. After that I could never keep them straight either.

It doesn’t seem to me that there’s anything particularly French about that pronunciation.

You shouldn’t strongly feel Americans you run into. That way leads to many misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and case confusion.

“I strongly feel” is just a qualifier of the sentence “I’m often in the position of running into an American who is pronouncing his or her own name wrong”. “Who” doesn’t suddenly become “whom” just because of your parenthetical observation.

You remind me of a story about Niklaus Wirth, pronounced “niKLOWS Veert” by Germans and “Nickel’s Worth” by Americans - or, as he said, Germans call him by name and Americans call him by value. (A computing pun. They’re few and far between.)

He probably was experiencing a something that Ira Glass refers to as a Modern Jackass Magazine moment.

Care to guess which was first? No googling.

I noticed that nobody’s addressed the discrepancy in pronunciation of the second syllable: ‘fen’ vs. ‘sen’, so I thought I’d poke my head in and mention the long S which may play a part in someone’s misunderstanding of the word, and which also shows up as part of the German ligature ß.

I think it’s pretty safe to dismiss the long s as a factor in the OP’s encounter. Do you actually think anyone in this story was reading text in Fraktur? Or if you’re talking about a text old enough to use the long s in Roman type – well, we could just as easily be talking about something written in English, right? How common is it to see either “Wiesenthal” or “Riefenstahl” rendered with a long s in Roman type? Thomas Jefferson wasn’t writing about them. I think cinehead has hit the nail on the head. Pure jackassery.

Jackassery goes without question. Nonetheless, it’s a possible explaination for the original misconception. The jackass, after all, speaks several languages and holds a masters in philosophy.