US Pronunciation of French words ending in é

While writing a haiku in Haiku Madness in the Games Room, I joked that Americans always stress a final é in French words. It’s hard to be precise in 17 syllables, of which 5 are supplied by the previous writer. So that joke is an over-statement but there is a real issue, which I’d like guidance on.

I remember a comedian who said that terrorists do not need to see passports, if they want to pick an American from passengers on a plane. Just ask each passenger to say “cliché” and “attaché”. He claimed Americans will say “clee-SHAYYY” and “ah-tah-SHAYYY”, with heavy stress on the SHAY, with the sound drawn out. Everyone else will stress the syllable before it (“CLEE-shay”, "ah-TAH-shay), or will not stress any syllables.

Of course the American population is very large and varied, and no rule applies to them all. However, I have noticed that many Americans do this. I have rarely come across this pronunciation variant anywhere else. When I have met it, it is was usually people (particularly Russians) who learnt English from Americans.

Is there a particular reason for this to appear in North America? Do French speakers from Louisiana or Quebec pronounce their words this way?

I must stress that I am focusing on a pronunciation, where the emphasis is heavily on the last syllable with é, with the pronunciation drawn out into an AYYYYY sound.

Yes - yes, there is a reason. It’s that having a vowel anything like English “short e” in an open syllable at the end of a word is a violation of American English phonotactics.

It’s broadly the same reason many Latin American speakers will pronounce English beef like English biff. See also how Japanese speakers have adopted many English words through a Japanese-phonotactic filter (e.g. sutoraiku means “strike” as in baseball).

Perhaps it is because to Americans, the accent diacritic is not used in English except in dictionaries to indicate emphasis on that syllable. Non-French speaking Americans do not all realize that the mark indicates the pronunciation of the vowel rather than emphasis on the syllable (in fact, standard French does not place emphasis on any syllable the way that English and many other languages do).

One violation to that rule I can think of (and I don’t even know if this is a French word or not) is the name “Beyonce,” which everyone pronounces “bee-YAWN-say” with the emphasis on the middle syllable. But that’s a proper name, so maybe the rules are different.

Not sure how relevant this is to the OP, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

As explained by CookingWithGas, it’s because Americans think some syllable should be stressed, and may know enough Spanish to think that’s what the accent mark is instructing them to do.

What I bolded is correct. However, I wouldn’t say “think should be stressed” as though American speakers are making willfull errors. English phonotactics requires that at least one syllable of a multi-syllable word be stressed – this is never an error when speaking English. When pronounced in spoken English dicourse as (borrowed) English words, cliché and attaché ARE properly pronounced to rhyme with day.

I disagree, though, that the orthography drives the pronunciation. The same phenomenon occurs in words from different languages where there is no orthographic accent on a final “e”, such as edamame, grande, per se, amore, and pianoforte

Huh. I speak decent French, but I would still have said that a stand-alone word ending in -é has ultimate accent. A sound file to prove me wrong and the OP right:éé

(The sound files are hard to activate, but they’re there.)

Now that that’s settled, why do so many folks pronounce cache as cashay? An attempt to sound worldly?

I was just going to mention that.

And many people mispronounce Porsche.

They are confusing cache (stash) with cachet (specialness) by means of caché (hidden; not used in English).

They probably think that’s how cachet is spelled. Easy to do seeing how most people pronounce cliché.

Beautiful explanation.

Am I to understand, then, that the British pronounce cliché as something other than cli-SHAY?

Don’t get me started on crudités.

Rhymes with “Luddites,” n’est-ce pas? :smiley:

I think the sounds are the same but perhaps with less emphasis on the second syllable. That’s the feeling I am getting from reading this, but frankly I have no idea how Americans pronounce it (in general). I do know that hearing an American say naïveté makes my teeth hurt though.

British speakers have their own issues with French borrowings (e.g. a “fillet” of beef :smiley: ). Properly pronounced in British English all, but none pronounced in a particularly Gallic manner.

Yes, in Ireland and in the United Kingdom it is pronounced with either no stress, or with the stress on the first syllable - like CLEE-shay. That is closer to the French pronunciation.

An American speaking French oftens stands out because of the way he stresses a final é or indeed any French word ending with a similar sound - that is ending in any of the French variants on what we write as “ay”. This happens even when he is highly fluent in the language.

That is why I wondered about it.

This is the nature of human speech, and in no way unusual. This is why adult second-language learners invariably have noticeable accents when speaking their non-native language.

You are incorrect.

Per The French language today: a linguistic introduction