Whenever I’m watching Hollywood/film types talking about something as being an “oh-MAUZH”, a little language alert is always activated in my head. Homage has been kicking around in spoken English for over 500 years, so what reason do we have to keep the pronunciation french? I mean, it even comes as part of a set phrase as well: to pay homage (“HUMMidge”). I’m not sure it would sound very natural to pay ohmauzh to something…

But my personal gripe aside, I’ve noticed (often in the context of food/restaurants), that there’s an extra effort conveyed when dealing with foreign words. Is a certain ubiquitous vietnamese restaurant pronounced “fo” or “phở”? in “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” how do English-speakers treat “Werther”? Although the capital of China is now “Beijing,” why is it still called “Peking Duck”?

We no longer live in colonial times where foreign words are forced to buckle under the weight of its new masters. But because of that, we have an emerging class of words that don’t necessarily have to be anglicized, and yet still have to be communicable in English. Quite the conundrum for us post-colonialists!

As it turns out, a similar (but smaller-scale) problem was happening in Emily Post’s times. It was for that reason that she included in her now-canonical book Etiquette, a paragraph on the “affectations” that speakers may be tempted to use en Anglais in their francophilic frenzy. According to her, try to avoid ‘foreignisms’ where possible, and if it isn’t, try to provide an apt translation immediately afterwards. The spirit behind this rule, I feel, lies in the assumption that one’s interlocutors will not be as equally polyglottal as oneself. Therefore, if we have established to speak in English, we should stay in English.

But of course, there are situations where both speaker and listening share two or more common languages. What happens in this case? Surely, between two francophones, they could be permitted to speak in English with the odd French phrase? As it turns out, even in those cases, the listener is rarely attuned to picking out the stray mot ou deux in the second language, especially when it doesn’t open the sentence. (Now, try image hearing that last sentence. Even though I’ve conveniently italicized the French, such emphasis is not necessarily discernable in speech.) So even through a certian friend of mine and I are (reasonably) fluent in both English and Japanese, it stills calls confusion when either of us decides to randomly substitute an English adjective for a 形容詞. Or even worse, when a word that’s already entered English from Japanese, is still pronounced with a Japanese accent.

The reason for this is simple: language processing relies in no small part on consistency. If you keep code-switching, it gets extremely fatiguing to figure out which new set of accent/contour protocols to apply. So don’t worry about “butchering” the language; you’re speaking in [English] anyways! The best approach when speaking in English, is to use an English accent for non-English words. So the next time you’re tempted to order Szechuan chicken, don’t be shy and proudly pronounce it “SHIEshwahn”.

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