Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Stress and the Olympics

I haven't had a chance to watch any Olympic events yet, but I have heard some highlights on NPR. The real highlight for me, though, is the pronunciation of the place where they are happening. You know, Turin. With the stress on the first syllable. Which is news to me. Although I haven't had much occasion to speak of the town, I always put the stress on the last syllable, i.e. "Shroud of Turin." Shroud of Turin? Can't say I've heard that before, though I'd hate to give in to what the Language Log folks have taken to calling the Recency Illusion. So I'm not going to say that it's a new pronunciation, although I think it is newly dominant.

In doing a bit of research for this post I found an interesting article by Jay Nordlinger in the National Review. It is, of course, cranky and conservative, whereas I am merely cranky. Nordlinger rails against the growing tendency of Anglophone media folks to call the place by its Italian name. "Katie Couric may swing with 'Torino,'" writes Nordlinger, "but ... she probably wouldn't refer back to the (horrendous) 'München' Olympics. Nor would she pretend that the 2004 Summer Games will be held in 'Athena.'"

A good point. But Turin is not like other idiosyncratic English toponyms for foreign cities. Although English tends to be particularly idiosyncratic when it comes to Italy (think of Florence, Venice, Milan, Naples, Rome, and of course Leghorn), 'Turin' is not just Anglophones being dense; it's the local (Piemontese) name of the place. So Nordlinger really has a right to complain about 'Torino.' Me, I'm not complaining about Turin; I've got other things to worry about, nor do I object to the pronunciation; I'm no prescriptivist. I'm just curious why '
Turin' is suddenly ascendant, especially since it violates one of Richard Janda's rules of Foreignese, which is that stress is usually the last syllable.

Nordlinger sheds some light on this situation, I believe. He notes that the respective pronunciations of Kabul and Qatar have now become, according to his transcription, "Cobble" and "Gutter;" that is, the stress has moved to the first syllable, accompanied by typical English vowel reductions. Maybe when a foreign city is suddenly thrust into prominence in the news, there is an anti-Foreignese backlash, and the pronunciation gets a fresh coating (and usually a thin one) of Authenticity thrown on it. I remember in 1989-1991 when, along with dropping the definite article from Ukraine (something I always forget to do and always get in trouble for) newscasters started saying "Lithwania." This tendency, then, explains the rise of both
'Turin' and 'Torino;' the former is the anti-Foreignese stress shift, and the latter is an appeal to authenticity.


the chocolate lady said...

I never heard any pronunciation other than TUrin, in close to forty years of hearing many people talk about Turin, none particularly anti-foreignist, to my knowledge.

I am told that "Cobble" is actually closer to the local name for Kabul, but have no primary source on that, and no clue about Qatar.

What always drove me up the wall was when reporters called the city in China Beizhing, making it sound MORE foreign, they probably thought (Mandarin pronunciation = Beidjing).

Ben Zimmer said...

I too have only heard "TURin". (I distinctly remember hearing that pronunciation back in 1988 when they did the carbon dating on the shroud.)

As for hyperforeign "Beizhing", that's come up on both Language Log and languagehat. It's also discussed in Richard Janda et al.'s "Systematic Hyperforeignisms as Maximally External Evidence for Linguistic Rules" (In: The Reality of Linguistic Rules, Susan D. Lima et al., eds. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1994). American English speakers often approximate foreign terms on a hyper-French model with lots of /ʒ/:

"Thus, e.g., a common American English pronunciation of "Beijing" is hyper-French/pseudo-Mandarin [beɪʒɪŋ], where real Mandarin has a voiceless unaspirated affricate which usually strikes English ears as closer to English /j/ than English /ʒ/." (p. 80)

Ben said...

Hm. I wonder where I got the TurIN thing from, then. Wouldn't be the first time I had a pronunciation that was unique to my own idiolect. I seem to recall there's a technical term for that. Oh, that's right - 'mispronunciation.'

Indeed, the pseudo-French Beijing is a beautiful example of the phenomenon - thanks for providing the Janda et al. citation, Other Ben. (I recall you did the same favor for Language Hat.) My favorite two examples of pseudo-French /ʒ/ occur in Elijah, and in Pinot Grigio. The latter is particularly egrezhious to my ears, but I try to squelch my pet peeves when it comes to language variation, lest I turn into a Safire type. My favorite example of pseudo-French final stress is in Pérez, which I have even heard people who know Spanish pronounce thusly.

Ben Zimmer said...

I just posted an entry on Language Log about the whole Torino vs. Turin business.

the chocolate lady said...

Systematic hyperforeignisms. yep.

Other Ben, You mean a *voiced* affricate, right?

Ben said...

Ben Zimmer -

And a good post at that; it fairly rolled off my screen. Boy, because of that I've had more visitors in the last few hours than in a typical month.

Chocolate Lady -

I think Ben Zimmer does mean unvoiced. What makes us hear the "j" in Beijing as an English /j/ as opposed to a /ch/ is that it is unaspirated, like /j/.