February 14, 2006
Turin or Torino? Olympic Games by Different Names
This is a quiz.
In ten seconds or less can you tell me which northern Italian city is hosting this winter’s Olympic games? Is it Torino or Turin?
If you’re watching it on NBC, the answer is Torino.
If you’re reading about it on Google News, The San Francisco Chronicle or The Wall Street Journal, it’s Turin.
Go to the official Olympic site and you’ll see both Torino and Turin.
This is the kind of question that begs a descriptivist answer – especially if you want to watch the Olympics and read about them too.
But let’s face it, America, we really do have some unwritten rules for translating foreign city names. I, for one, think it’s important to review them right here and now before we loose our oral compass.
Rule #1. Drop the flamboyant vowel ending. It may sound appetizing, but you can save a whole syllable by eliminating one letter:
- Roma = Rome
- Milano = Milan
- Turino = Turin
- Napoli = Naples
Rule #2. This is an exception to Rule #1. If the city belongs to a meat food group, retain the vowel ending. That’s because it does sound appetizing and looks good on a menu:
- Bologna = Bologna
Rule #3. Lose the complex fibrous fricatives. They may roll off the tongue for Italians, but they tend to produce excess spittle in the mouths of Americans. As a result:
- Firenze = Florence
- Venezia = Venice
Rule #4. Lose the umlaut (¨). That’s because most of us don’t know where to find it on our keyboard. So, Köln becomes Cologne and München becomes Munich.
It should be noted that both Frankfurt and Hamburg have no umlauts over their second-syllable ‘u’, but even if they did, it would be retained in the anglicized version as both belong to a meat food group (see the exception to Italy’s rule #1)
Eastern European Cities
Rule #5. Drop the complex cacophonic consonant clusters. In Russia and other Eastern European countries the rule is pronunciation driven. English drops the complex cacophonic consonant clusters resulting in a name that’s much easier to pronounce – that makes it much easier to ask for directions especially when the signage is in undecipherable Cyrillic script.
- Moskva = Moscow
- Warszawa = Warsaw
- Karlovy Vary = Carlsbad
- Sankt Peterburg = Saint Petersburg
Rule #6. Changing French city spelling is forbidden. Although we Americans manage to thoroughly butcher their pronunciation, we do not, as a rule, intentionally change the spelling or phonetics of French city names. That’s because the French Government does not permit it.
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