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A pronounced accent
The Music Maker

A pronounced accent

It's fascinating how people from different cultures find particular words in foreign languages difficult - no, impossible - to pronounce. This is mine... writes Peter Edgerton

Friday, 12 January 2024, 16:13

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The other night, one of our regular Spanish customers at the pub asked me to give him points out of ten for his pronunciation of the name of the football club Tottenham Hotspur. It was difficult to make a full and fair assessment of his efforts from beneath the resultant shower of spittle but I eventually offered him a very generous six before pootling off to the bathroom to give the old visage a good scrub.

It's fascinating how people from different cultures find particular words in foreign languages difficult - no, impossible - to pronounce. My own bug bear is the name of the Asturian city, Gijón. This requires, in the first instance, a mastery of that deep, throaty 'khkhkhkh' noise which makes a chap sound like he's battling the latter stages of tuberculosis, and then - as if that weren't enough - to produce it twice within a nano-second. Apparently, there are 19,600 foreigners who live in Gijón but I'll bet a dollar to a dime none of them are from the UK - after all, nobody wants to live in a place they can't pronounce without being heartily laughed at by the locals.

Not to worry, though, we have a revenge word - one which no Spanish person I've ever met has been able to pronounce properly, including some who can say 'red lorry, yellow lorry' five times quickly much better than I can. Some people might think we sell packaged snacks in the pub in order to offer a reasonably priced accompaniment to our finest ales. They'd be wrong - the only reason we sell such things is so that I can laugh uncontrollably at my Spanish friends as they flail around, trying to ask for a packet of crisps, or 'kreeps' as they hilariously and, inevitably, call them. Some try to cheat and use the American term 'chips' but we don't let them get away with that nonsense. It seems a bit cruel to say that you can only have the crisps if you pronounce the word properly because, frankly, we'd have a few cases of death by starvation on our hands, but they must try at least five times before they can get their hands on a packet of our best sour cream and onion, no quarter given. It's for their own good, after all.

This gives me a great idea for a TV programme: UK nationals claiming to be bilingual would be put before a panel of Spanish judges and made to read sentences such as 'Ojalá Jorge de Gijón jugara como jugó el jueves'. Likewise, Spanish linguists claiming to speak English like a native would be required to exclaim 'Nobody grasps that there are wasps in my crisps and my Pepsi!' in front of three or four judges from, say, Grimsby. It's a surefire hit.

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