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Sunday, 24 June 2018

Thoughts on Cronunpiation - er, I mean "Pronunciation"

Cronunpiation. I mean, pronunciation. It's the bane of anyone trying to listen to something, someone saying their line, and other such instances of verbal trickery. But the irony is that it only stands out so starkly for someone whose got a smattering of how it should be pronounced.

I was inspired by write this post during a cutscene of the recent video game release Vampyr. It was a mispronunciation that negated one of the key parts of how vampire lore was interpreted. Basically, the main protagonists is helped/teased by a mysterious voice that remains nameless for most of the game. Eventually, his name is spoken and shown in text. It's spoken as "Merdin", but written as "Myrddin". If I'd only heard it, I might have been completely lost. But seeing it written, I understood that Vampyr was blending vampire lore with a combination of Welsh/Celtic folklore and some of the oldest versions of Arthurian myth. I was just so used to "Myrddin" being pronounced something like "Mir-th-in" (that's only a rough approximation so don't take it as gospel) that the "Merdin" version threw me off completely. Trust me, that's just one of several butchered names present in Vampyr (a second example is the name "Aloysius" being pronounced "Aloysus")

That got me thinking about how words and phrases were pronounced, and how pronunciation changed over time. It's something that can be quite fascinating, or deadly boring depending on your preferences. There are several linguistic laws which have sprung up around how language changes (the Grimm's consonant shift springs to mind), but the best way to understand how that can happen is to hear it for yourself.

There's the words that have a stark contrast between how they are written and how they are spoken. Such as the town of Happisburgh in Britain, which is pronounced more like "Hayesborough". One of the most famous, or perhaps infamous, examples of this in a language is French. While in centuries past French words were pronounced more like English words, French today has an abundance of silent syllables and letters compared to English. For instance, the name Phillipe. Now pronounced without much of an "e" sound at the end, it was once pronounced with more emphasis on that "e". There's also the word "Montmartre." Nowadays there's barely any stress on the first "T", but back in older French it would have been pronounced like the other letters.

Japanese and Chinese words are notorious in this regard, mainly because it wasn't until comparatively recently that us poor Westerners had any notion of Far Eastern diction. An easy example is Japan's situation use of "I" and "Y". Depending on the situation, they can sound like what they sound like, but often they are used to represent an "e" sound. This means people could end up mispronouncing "Ryu" or "Raiden" as "R-I-u" or "Raydan". Nowadays such mistakes are quite rare. But it's still amusing to hear anime dub bloopers where the actors struggle with Japanese names. Kill La Kill is an excellent example of this. There is also the pronunciation of the "X" sound from Chinese culture. It has been alternately rendered as "zh" and "ch", A similar situation exists with "Q" being rendered as "chi". This means that some names sound different depending on whose saying them. Who have you heard of more times; Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty or Emperor Xin Shi Huang of the Chin Dynasty. A further dimension is added with Chinese-to-Japanese translations, something clearly seen in the 1970s series The Water Margin. Based on the Chinese novel of the same name, its main antagonist is called Kau Chu in the series. This is in fact a Japanese rendering of the main antagonist's Chinese name Gao Qiu.

Right, and that's all folks. This blog post is so meagre, but it's been a hectic week and this just struck me as something to write about. Hope to have something a little better next week.

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