02.15.06

Where is Monaco d’Alemagna?

Posted in Travel at 13:41 by RjZ

According to NBC the winter Olympics are being held this year in Torino, Italy. NPR commentator Frank Deford notes that while we might already be familiar with the Shroud of Turin, the network didn’t seem to think it was necessary to change Italy to Italia or neighboring Florence, Milan or Naples to Firenze, Milano or Napoli. It’s inconsistent to be sure, but I think this might be the beginning of a positive trend.

It can be difficult to transliterate sounds from one language to another. Schezuan has so many spellings in English because even the northern Chinese aren’t sure how their southern neighbors pronounce it. My Chinese colleague hides his frustration well when I ask him over and over to repeat things he’s trying to teach me in Chinese that I still can’t make out. To be fair, we should also be entitled to mispronouce cities and countries using the vowels and consonants from our mother tongue. Even if it bothers the French, it seems to me it’s alright if in English, France rhymes with Lance and not with nonchalance (which would be just as easy to say!)

There is no challenge, however, for the English speaking tongue to wrap around Torino. Nor is it particularly difficult to say Italia (ee-tahl-ee-ah). Indeed, there is no great feat involved in pronouncing Deutschland (doytch-lahnd) for Germany. Of course I am aware of the historical nature of words like Germany (which stems from the Latin Germania) but it sure can be confusing when you step off the plane for Germany and land in a country you never knew you were heading for.

This problem is by no means restricted to English. Suppose you’re touring Europe a bit this year and catching the Olympics. You land in Paris (pair-ee) and want to take the train up to Holland, that’s Nederland (nay-der-land) to the locals . In France, that won’t work at all. You’ll have to ask for tickets to Le Pays Bas (le pay-bah). Had you landed in Frankfurt, instead, you’d have to ask for tickets to der Niederlande (dare knee-der-lahnd-uh) instead! Make sure you’ve brought your phrase book!

Some countries can’t even agree within their own borders what to call themselves. Holland is known, even to the Dutch as both Nederland and Holland (hoe-lahnd). In Switzlerand, each of the four national languages has it’s own translation for the mountainous region: Der Schweiz (dare shveytz), Suisse (swees-eh), Svizzera, and Svizra. Mostly the Swiss speak two or three of the other languages. Mostly.

As long as we can approximately pronounce the sounds of the cities and countries in our own language, why wouldn’t we want to do so the same way the folks who live there do? It would be a lovely gesture and sure make traveling around Europe and many other regions much easier! Don’t believe me?

Suppose you continue on your trip to around Europe and in Holland, you decide to stop in Germany, that’s Duitsland (dowts-lahnd) in Dutch, continue through Der Schweiz-Suisse-Svizzera-Svizra-Switzerland and on to Torino to enjoy the Olympics. After that, you’d like to go over the German Alps and check out München (moon-chen, or Munich) in Germany. You peruse the train schedules trying to find how long your journey will take but try as you might you can’t seem to find Munich or München, or really anything like it. Do you think you would have known to ask the cashier at the counter for tickets to Monaco d’Alemange? That sound much like München or Munich to you? If you both called it München (moon-chen is close enough) you might be there by now!

2 Comments »

  1. Elena said,

    June 12, 2006 at 19:33

    You might find this intersting. Or not.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=5UhlIcF0Q9cC&pg=PP1&dq=Report+of+Uniform+System+for+Spelling+Foreign+Geographic+Names

    (sorry, couldn’t figure out how to make it a hyperlink)

  2. Elena said,

    June 12, 2006 at 19:37

    oh, this thing is much smarter that I am – made it a link on its own – see now, why I don’t read your computer-related postings?

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