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February 14, 2006

Turin or Torino? Olympic Games by Different Names

torino.gif This is a quiz.

turin.gif 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 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.

Italian Cities

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

German Cities

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

French Cities

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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Posted by Diane Prange at February 14, 2006 8:56 AM
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So, how did we manage to get "Prague" out of "Praha"?

And the French... have you noticed that they have no problem with changing the names of other cities, like Nouvelle Orleans?

I think the American revenge comes in the way we give cities French names but slaughter the pronounciation: Prairie du Chien Iowa, Montpelier Vermont, Versailles Indiana, etc.

I respectfully disagree. The names of cities *should* be pronounced as the (majority of) natives of said city pronounce. Aftearll, they should know because it's *their* city.

From there, you simply change the English spelling to be the phonetic equivalent. Suddenly, everyone is happy (arguably). The words are written in a way English-speakers can pronounce, but the sound is the same (or very close) as the native. We all win.

I've posted about this very issue before.

I don't know if that's realistic for most Americans. I doubt most of us are capable of correctly pronouncing Le Havre, Gdansk, etc.

And then there are country names that are completely different from what we're accustomed to: India's real name is Bharat, Japan is Nippon (which I'm told is pronounced more like Nee-hon), and when Bush correctly (I think) pronounces the name of the country to the south of the US, I'm afraid it sounds rather comical.

About ten years ago, Jimmy Smits hosted Saturday Night Live, and they did a sketch in which everyone but him in a business meeting insisted on pronouncing any word that came from -- or may have come from -- Spanish, as if they were speaking Spanish. For example, "I'd never live in a mobile home. One torrrrrNAHdo and your house is history."

On point (6), what about the French city of Lyon, or Lyons in English? Personally, I adopt Romerican’s standard, although I Anglicize country names.

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