Tag Archives: English

What’s in a name?

3 Jul
Learning a new language and living in a different culture give me pause to think about a lot of things. I look at English with a new eye, too, with all its warts and bump and irregularities.  Imagine how hard it is to learn when there are three varying spellings and meanings for a word that is homophonic such as their, there and they’re? Or read (past tense) and red? Or present tense read (reed) and past tense read (pronounced red)? And of course we park in the driveway but drive in a parkway.  Yes, English is nuts.homophones
The fact that languages change the spelling and pronunciation of city and country names is confusing and I have to wonder what self-important systems these are that insist on changing labels. Why is Firenze “Florence” in English?  Why is Venezia “Venice?” For someone making train reservations in Italy, it is mighty confusing as the national train system only accepts Italian names.  Type in “Naples” and you get nothing as only Napoli delivers results. Why do we not learn these native city names as the original language intends?
FirenzeThis practice runs both ways:  London becomes “Londra” in Italian; Paris becomes “Parigi,” and Nice becomes “Nizza.”  It took me about a year to understand an Insalata Nizza was the popular menu item I knew as Niçoise.  Once, when asked my hometown by an Italian official, I had to state it as “Sant Paolo” because the person I was giving it to did not comprehend St. Paul. One of my favorites in Italian: “Paesi Bassi” which literally means low lands but, in fact, represents The Netherlands, a far cry from the Dutch, De Nederland.151.jpg-parigi
I cannot comment on how languages with Cyrillic or Kanji or Arabic characters handle this phenomenon, but there are hundreds of examples in European languages alone. The good old U.S.A. is pronounced “yousa” and written “Usa” in Italian.  Stati Uniti isn’t bad enough, they have to change how the acronym is applied.  For that matter why is Italia “Italy” in English? Why is it necessary to change München to “Munich?” Can we not learn these pronunciations? (OK, Goteborg, in Swedish, is tough! It’s something like “YET-a-boar-ay.” No wonder we call it Gothenburg.)
From now on I am going to use the original language city names in my blog and wherever possible.  I am such a rebel.
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