TIL another thing that I cannot say in British English is "Notre Dame."
Not when I'm this sleep deprived at least! I caught myself this morning sounding like I was talking about college football (both of which are also words that have wildly different meanings here, yes I'm aware) and felt like such a hick from the sticks.
But then, I am. Plus I feel that Minnesota has a great tradition of butchering French names: it's more than a decade since I read mwhittier
saying that Minnesotans pronounce the lovely poetic name "Mille Lacs" as if it was spelled Mlax
and I still think about that all the time.
(Plus other things I can't say in British English include my first name and the city where I live, so it's nothing personal, Notre Dame.)
I said this on Mastodon and it led to delightful sprawling conversations about phonetics, rhoticity, Spanish, Czech, the Pride I went to last weekend, and a favorite episode of my favorite TV show
[link is spoilery for early season 3 of The Good Place
]. Kept me company on an afternoon when I was too headachy to do anything else, even eat or sleep.
For all I was talking about America butchering French names, I think it's important to mention what linguist Lynne Murphy calls America's Verbal Inferiority Complex
. She talks about it in relation to British English because she lives here but I'd argue it's even more acute for languages like French, which white Americans consider at least as prestigious as British English but also treat with the same suspicion our little monoglot hearts have for all languages other than English.
I got thinking about this when the Mastodon conversation ended up with someone saying "Americans can't pronounce their own French last names properly" and I am very opposed
to the idea that people can be wrong about their own damn names. It's a complicated issue -- this person was arguing that it's an "erasure of history when people do this to their family name, like refusing to acknowledge that languages other than English exist" and I am keen for the acknowledgement of languages other than English, but I think people's names are different than other parts of language; I fervently believe that no one
is pronouncing their own name wrong, that it is not possible.
And what counts as "properly" is entirely a matter of social context: as a friend pointed out, "Mlax" or /mɪl læks/ is pretty close to French c. 1680. Modern French pronunciation was only just starting about then, when French people were naming things in what was going to be Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, etc. If you've heard of America keeping some Elizabethan English features
(which is always seen as a good thing! (though I think that's another example of American Verbal Inferiority Complex)) this is like that but with French.
I think I could explain what I'm thinking better if I didn't still have such a headache (I have at least had a nap and pizza now, but it's still there) but... Because white America isn't any good at dealing with its colonialist history, it tends to think of itself as a broken or substandard version of Europe. But "correctness" is always relative, and the hundreds of years of political, linguistic, and every other kind of change in the U.S. mean there's no way it's going to confirm precisely to the conventions of any language as spoken in Europe.
And that is normal and okay and unavoidable. Notre Dame is just as good a pronunciation as Notre Dame.