Ok, this is hardly a major international crisis, but…

I have travelled a little and I always note the different names there are for the same places around the world…Paris/Par-ee is an obvious example but there are thousands more.

I have thought many times that it would be a courtesy from everyone to everyone else if we were all to call places by the name that the people who live there actually use, including the correct pronunciations.

This is not an appeal for a unified world language, far from it, I have written on this site many times how I think the loss of languages and cultures in the great clusterf*ck of modern life is a disaster.

Nevertheless, I think this small courtesy might not be a bad idea.

I was talking with a friend about this and we were talking about how ‘Peking’ was changed to ‘Beijing’ in order to make it closer to the Chinese pronunciation. My friend had recently spoken to a Chinese person who had informed him that the second pronunciation is no nearer to the correct Chinese pronunciation than the first.

But then again, China is huge place so there will be many different pronunciations within China. Therefore, the happy medium would probably be the one that the people of Beijing use.

As an aside…I am partly so aware of this because the capital city of Scotland is one of the most commonly mispronounced words in the world. Edinburgh should be pronounced Edin bur uh – with 2 ‘uh’ sounds like the letter ‘u’ in the word ‘but’ with the first ‘uh’ very quickly said and the second one extended a little. It should not be pronounced -Edin -BRO. Similarly, my own city of Glasgow is often pronounced Glass-cow, like a large bovine made of glass, but the pronunciation is actually Glaz-go. I believe the Russian capital is often pronounced by Americans as if it were a bovine made of moss.

This just came to mind today because last night I was talking with someone about how when it comes to modern writers everyone uses the modern pronunciation – the Italians do not say Giorgio Orwello.

However, when it comes to the ancient Greeks and Romans most languages do use their own pronunciations, which struck me as an oddity.

I don’t think if we started doing this it would bring about peace but it might in a tiny way stop certain idiots laughing at the sounds produced in other languages and make them learn to replicate them, thereby getting it into their thick skulls that there is more than one way to do things.


  1. I think that’s asking a lot. Consider that many (most) people wouldn’t even be able to the place they’re mispronouncing on a map. Besides you can’t expect to be able to pronounce the name of a place the way the natives do. Consider Paris, even if you (native English speaker) do say it without the s at the end you won’t be able to approximate the pharyngeal to uvular fricative of the natives without years of phonetics training and practice. I would never expect a Spaniard to be able to say my name correctly for just this reason (it contains three sounds that don’t exist in their language).
    Hence, I call for tolerance all around.

  2. Ancient Greek and Roman words are pronounced according to the whims of modern language speakers partly because nobody now knows exactly how ancient Greeks and Romans spoke. As for saying Ulanbataar in Mongolian or Belgrade in Srpski or Hrvatski, well, what about our lads who died in the war, then, eh?


  3. My girlfriend is Serbian, and even after 5 months together I occasionally get the inflection on one of the syllables of her surname wrong (though I’m improving a lot, let me stress). And when it comes to place names……. sometimes I think it’s better to adopt a standardised anglicised version rather than mangle her language anew each time I ask about life in Srednji Banat.

  4. hello everybody!

    it is nice to know i have more than anonymous readers again. i am really delighted.

    justin i see your point but i also see a point in making an effort.

    philip – a search on brendan behan quotes will provide more than one laugh

  5. Kim, that would be the terrible english attmept at a glasgow accent, if you really wanted to pull certain accents into it then you would be looking at gless-ka as a pronunciation.

    this is something i was aware of before posting this one and have the temporal evidence of an email to prove it.

  6. justin, sorry, i just want to address that point better.

    i don’t expect people to be able to to do it immediately.

    however, there are no physical obstacles to us all LEARNING how to do it.

  7. I’d like to go back to your comment on “a unified world language”. Like you, I I think that “the loss of languages and cultures” is a terrible thing. It is possible to reconcile these two ideas, if we make use of an international auxiliary language – Esperanto. Esperanto was designed to be a”helplingvo”, i.e. to allow people to continue to speak Welsh, or Yiddish, Tagalog or Polish, while using the planned language in international or interethnic contacts.

  8. Esperanto was designed to be a”helplingvo”, i.e. to allow people to continue to speak Welsh, or Yiddish, Tagalog or Polish, while using the planned language in international or interethnic contacts.

    Sadly, Esperanto is unlikely to follow Latin, French and English as an international lingua franca. As Stalin supposedly said in a different context: how many divisions has it got?

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