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Post 0

Saturday, December 19, 2009 - 9:23amSanction this postReply
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Over the last two weeks yet another silly transformation has overtaken the press. The centuries old pronunciation of Copenhagen in English has changed. Instead of the perfectly cromulent rhyming of Copenhagen with "Ronald Reagan" we now have pretentious twits trying to rhyme the name of the city with "Open Noggin." As if using the "ah" vowel makes the English word more Danish than using the "ay" vowel.

Well, the Danish name is KÝbenhavn. The closest you can come to that in English is Kabenhown.

"Copin' Hoggin" is just about as accurate as "Cheeseburger."

The process at work here is called "foreign pronunciation" by which people half-consciously assume that, say, since in French one pronounces a "j" like the Zh in Zhivago one should pronounce the letter "j" in Arabic or Hindi names that way. No. It's the Todge Mahal, not the Tazh Mahal. And the "ah" vowel is not some magical sign of how foreigners speak. The Moulin Rouge is actually not the Moo Lawn Rouge. It's the Mool Anne Rouge. Half-consciousness won't teach you the actual pronunciation.

It's pretty silly to argue whether one should pronounce Moscow as Mosque-Ow! or Mosque-Oh! when the Russians spell and pronounce it Moskva. If talking heads had any sense, rather than shift to rhyming Copenhagen with Open Noggin they would do some research. And instead of switching to Kabenhown they would just stick with the perfectly fine conventional pronunciation.

Unfortunately, most people don't think for themselves, and most cultural changes happen because people notice other people doing something differently, and they switch to fit in. This is why the big lie works. This is how you get presidents sending shout-outs.

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Post 1

Saturday, December 19, 2009 - 6:39pmSanction this postReply
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Ted,

When my mother was in Copenhagen back in the 50s, the Danes told her that they greatly preferred Anglophones to pronounce it "Copenhaygen". While neither is like the authentic Danish, that one is unobjectionable for foreigners to use.

"Copenhoggin", otoh, was an unpleasant reminder to them of life under the Third Reich, since that apparently is how Germans pronounce it.

-Bill

Post 2

Saturday, December 19, 2009 - 7:42pmSanction this postReply
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LOL!

Post 3

Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 1:21pmSanction this postReply
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The pretentious twittery of "Copen-hah-gen" is difficult to blame on governmental or media twits of the last decade or two, unless one or more of them possess time-travel capability and thereby infiltrated that abomination into the 1952 Danny Kaye musical HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN.

That film's big song-and-dance number, you may recall, was "Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen" -- with the city's name pronounced "Copen-hah-gen" throughout that number, and indeed throughout the rest of that very popular film which frequently turned up on television (especially around Christmas, for some reason) throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s.



Post 4

Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 2:14pmSanction this postReply
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I doubt that the panel on Special Report with the guy with the Blagojevich hair had just seen that horrible Danny Kaye musical. (Songs are usually aloud license, but HKA is one of the most evil writers of all time.) You should have seen the discomfort of the talking heads, as, except for Krauthammer, they each vacillated between the normal and the affected pronunciation.

Post 5

Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 4:22pmSanction this postReply
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Re:

I doubt that the panel on Special Report with the guy with the Blagojevich hair had just seen that horrible Danny Kaye musical.


He need not have "just" seen it (he could have seen it in childhood or adolescence).

The frequent showings of HAND CHRISTIAN ANDERSENT, together with the reluctance of most USA schools to teach geography
(in large part because geography requires reading
a multitude of proper names that miseducated kids --
not to mention tsimilarly semi-literate teachers --
can't simply rely on guessing)
makes it likely that many Americans born within the past half-century encounter"Copen-haa-gen" far earlier, far more memorably, and far more often (via televised hoopla) than they eventually encounter "Copen-hay-gen."

First impressions cut the deepest -- the more so if they are memorably delivered through song, story, and dance.

If some gala musical production entertained decades of TV-watchers with enticingly orchestrated, gorgeously costumed, glamorously set song-and-dance numbers titled

"Two Plus Two Equals Five,"
"George Washington Was A Martian Queen,"
"Scientists All Are Evil,"
and "It's Spelled 'New Jersey,' but It's Pronounced 'New York' "

-- even if schoolteachers continued to teach the contrary facts and the use of reason to verify facts --

we could eventually expect to rear millions of citizens who vacillated between following a falsehood conveyed early, often, and persuasively, and following a mere, ordinary, low-budget fact (taught much less eye-catchingly, and probably taught only after the students had already learned the expensively promoted falsehood.)

Vacillation between the facts of arithmetic and the fancies of Hollywood screenwriters wouldn't surprise us, if popular entertainment had spent half a century teaching false-to-fact arithmetic. Why should vacillation between an acceptable and an offensive pronunciation of Copenhagen surprise us, when popular entertainment has inculcated the offensive pronunciation for 57 years?

Post 6

Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 4:33pmSanction this postReply
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So, you are arguing for some sort of delayed reaction, that having seen that fifty year-old Danny Kaye movie long ago led to the current trend, happening now, only since the climate conference, of semi-intelligent talking heads vacillating over whether to call it Copenhoggin?

No. It's a group-think fad thing, just like the switch from eye-RAN and eye-RACK in the 1980's to ih-RAHN and ih-ROCK nowadays. That switch happened mostly during coverage of the Gulf War and cannot be attributed to TCM having a Lawrence of Arabia marathon. At least in the case of those countries the pronunciation is justified by the native name.

Post 7

Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 9:31pmSanction this postReply
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Re:

So, you are arguing for some sort of delayed reaction, that having seen that fifty year-old Danny Kaye movie long ago led to the current trend, happening now, only since the climate conference, of semi-intelligent talking heads vacillating over whether to call it Copenhoggin?


No, I am not so arguing.
I am arguing -- partly because I have witnessed it -- that there have been all too many people saying "Co-pen-haa-gen" for at least the past 4 decades.

Case in point: myself.
I'm 46 -- I unfortunately learned "Co-pen-haa-gen" at age 5, from watching that movie ... unfortunately, I had that reinforced at age 9 or 10 when I had to watch the movie *again* for a school assignment .., and therefore I knew no better than to mispronounce the word for the next couple of decades, because not until my twenties did I ever hear that another pronunciation even existed. (Even then, it was so hard to overcome old habits that I did vacillate for a year or two after becoming aware that "Co-pen-hay-gen" existed and was correct. Pronunciations learned early are very hard to get rid of, even once you know that they are wrong -- just ask anyone who has a foreign accent in one or more of his/her languages.)

Post 8

Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 10:49pmSanction this postReply
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Ah, you took it as a personal rebuke.

No, the essential point was this: one can actual witness the process of talking heads, in their forties and fifties, vacillating within one single TV program between saying Copenhoggin and Copenheygan. My mother commented on it this weekend at the dinner table. It wasn't that someone said "you should say copenhagen." It was a semi-conscious adoption of what was perceived as a new prestige pronunciation. It's a fad and it's damn funny.

Next time you are near a bunch of young people, check to see if they are wearing a bracelet of small wooden plaques like little scrabble pieces. I just saw some blond girls wearing them at the Walmart near my parents' this weekend. This fashion started two summers ago with Dominican kids in New York city. The plaques represent Catholic saints. Now the fashion has spread to WASP kids in the suburbs. You can be sure that not one of these kids has started praying to Catholic Saints. This is the sort of nonsense that has fifty year old men saying "word" and sending shouts out to their homies while real adults die to protect them.



Post 9

Monday, December 21, 2009 - 8:21amSanction this postReply
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Well, I don't "get" the wooden-Catholic-saints charm-bracelet fad, either -- especially when I see them on the wrists of teen atheists ...

Post 10

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - 9:33amSanction this postReply
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Teresa --

If I may judge by my own experience (when first I learned that I should say "Co-pen-hay-gen") -- on the few occasions that the matter came up after I'd learned the correct pronunciation, I'd dutifully start off with "Co-pen-hay-gen" and then start vacillating even though I now knew better (simply because I had a hard time persuading myself to stick by late-learned knowledge in a context that reminded me of earlier-formed habits).
TV broadcasters have (and presumably sometimes refer to) network-issued pronunciation guides for names in the news: the people who started a broadcast correctly with "Co-pen-haa-gen" and then slipped back into "Co-pen-hay-gen" may have looked up the name shortly before the broadcast, then simply have had a hard time sticking to this newly acquired knowledge in the face of earlier habit (just as I myself, 20 years ago, had a hard time sticking to a newly acquired "Co-pen-hay-gen" after years of thinking "Co-pen-haa-gen" whenever I saw "Copenhagen" in print).

Nevertheless, I agree with you that people often allow prestige (peer pressure) to govern the way they speak and write. Have you ever seen the maps (drawn by linguist Peter Ladefoged, as I recall) showing how the distribution of a particular pronunciation of /r/ has changed in various European languages over the past 500 years? Half a millennium ago, French and German apparently pronounced /r/ as Spanish does to this day: the uvular pronunciation of /r/ (now characteristic of standard French and standard German) apparently arose about 400 years ago as a prestigious fad in Paris, whence prestigious speakers carried it outward (to other cities, and to the suburbs) until prestigious people normally said /r/ in this way and it thus became standard.
What criterion does one properly use to determine whether a change in pronunciation is, or is not, a horrid fad? As you may know, 200-300 years ago the English word "balcony" was universally pronounced "bal-CO-ny": when more and more people began saying "BAL-co-ny," this was (at first) condemned as a horrid fad, devoid of etymological or other warrant, perpetuated by those who had nothing better to do with their English than to warp it in order to ape the fashionable creators and perpetrators of fads. So are we, today, all being stupid faddists when we follow our great-great-great-grandparents who got swept up in the fad of saying "BAL-co-ny" despite having no objective reason at all to change from the previous "bal-CO-ny"?
What objective criterion properly determines when to regard some new pronunciation as a horrid, stupid fad -- and when to stop so regarding it?

(One might of course ask the same question about other sudden changes in usage, such as sudden widespread changes in the spellings of various words.
In the first four-and-a-half decades of the 20th century, USA as well as UK writers most often spelled a certain word "pyjama" -- but, _circa_ 1945, "pajama" suddenly takes over in USA usage while "pyjama" remains the norm in the UK.)

Does a new pronunciation (or a new spelling for that matter) become okay simply because some particular percentage of speakers (5%? 25%? 80%? 100%?) are using it? Or should one assume that mere numbers of speakers (even if the numbers reach 100%) cannot confer correctness on an incorrect pronunciation?

Post 11

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - 5:44pmSanction this postReply
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What?  Wait, I think you mean Ted, Kate.  (lol)

Post 12

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 - 7:55pmSanction this postReply
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Yes, I meant Ted -- and I look forward to Ted's answer. How would you answer, though, Teresa?

Post 13

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 - 9:31pmSanction this postReply
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Pronunciation is a matter of convention.

There is no philosophical reason to prefer one over the other. What matters is continuity and ease of understanding and pronunciation. Generally one should stick with the established form, and look to etymology if there is a question.

Pajamas were called payjamas by the Persians, the first syllable rhyming with eye. The British borrowed the word from India and speeled it pyjama. Americans read this first syllable as a short i as in pigeon, and it came to sound like an initial shwa, since the second syllable attracted the stress. With two shwas in the word there was no hint to Americans where to use the y and where to use the a. Pajamas became established as a corruption of the spelling, since the pronunciation didn't help. At this point pajamas is established and there's no reason to oppose the usage.

It's not a point of careful grammar reflecting careful thought, in which case I'd go all prescriptive on you.

The issue with Copenhoggin is the irrational reason for the sudden change in the broadcasters. They are showing their psychoepistemology. Not one of them looked the term up. They went with the fad.

They are acting as if Copenhoggin is somehow better because the Europeans pronounce "a" as "ah." Well, look to the eymology. Thye "ay" vowel is established and fits the great English vowel shift. The Danish Kabenhown doesn't resemble Copenhoggin in the least. You say the networks hire experts to set the standards? I doubt it's the cause in this case, I think its just fad. The experts here, if they exist, are fools.

(Edited by Ted Keer on 12/23, 11:43pm)


Post 14

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 - 11:12pmSanction this postReply
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Well, thanks -- that greatly clarifies your reasonable position!

Post 15

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 - 11:44pmSanction this postReply
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Did you think I was in favor of Drooring and Cortering?

The post is updated, so please reread it.

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