No, the Latin alphabet doesn't magically grant the ability to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

There's an interesting linguistic side to the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, and that's that a large number of people suddenly seem very intent on an accurate native pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull. Here's one of many videos on the question, showing proper Icelandic pronunciation compared to that being said by reporters.

Just a small sample of the articles on Eyjafjallajökull's pronunciation can be seen here, here, here, here, here, and here. And there are many, many more.

So why the sudden stress over the proper pronunciation of a foreign name? Why doesn't anybody care that the Korean surname Kim after another syllable (like the word Mister) doesn't soften to a G and sound like Geem? Why doesn't it matter that Medvedev is pronounced as spelled in English and not with the tiny j- or y-like sound (Myedvyedyev) that it requires? Why does Baghdad have a hard g and a short a instead of a long aw sound? Why don't reporters worry about pronouncing Chinese cities and names with the proper tone? It's Hú Jǐntāo (胡錦濤), not Hù Jintào. Why don't reporters know that a ğ in Turkish just lengthens the preceding vowel? Why don't they ever pronounce German cities with an r with a voiced uvular fricative, as in Bremen [ˈbʁeːmən]?

Why? Because 1) these sounds often don't exist in English in the first place, and 2) alphabets are codes for native speakers to pronounce their own languages, not a magic script that gives anybody and everybody the ability to correctly pronounce any language that they lay their eyes upon.

So loosen up a bit, and pronounce Ejyafjallajökull as Ay-ya-fyalla-jeu-kool. It doesn't matter that you don't sound like a born and bred Icelander. Really.

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