Naturalized immigrants

My esteemed colleague Elizabeth Large has written about a reader of her dining blog who ordered bruschetta, pronounced with a k sound, at a restaurant, only to be corrected by an officious server who said it should be pronounced brushetta.

Ms. Large has been so thoroughly conditioned by a Sun copy editor of Italian heritage that, not wanting to startle our monoglot readers with the word cannolo, she has trained herself to write of cannoli only in the plural.

When, she wonders, do foreign words adopted into and naturalized in English take on Anglicized pronunciations as well?

It appears to be largely arbitrary. We retain something approximating the Italian pronunciations of lasagna, pizza and spaghetti, despite their long tenure on these shores; but we tend to render espresso as expresso, and it is not uncommon to hear people refer to a paparazzi or a graffiti and to cannolis or paninis. The Latin plurals bacteria, data and media have been turning into singulars (spite stout resistance in some quarters), but not alumni.

I don’t think that bruschetta has been in common circulation in this country long enough to advise anyone to abandon the original Italian pronunciation, but insisting on it carries some hazards. Just as George Orwell commented that “an Englishman considers it effeminate to pronounce a foreign word properly,” so in the United States an insistence on the foreign pronunciation of foreign words can mark the speaker as pretentious, fussy and — here comes the dread word — elitist.

So, if you’re willing to take on the risk, use the foreign singulars/plurals and pronunciations — taking care, of course, to avoid the finicky hyperpronunciations so beloved of announcers on classical music stations. And if your preference is to speak pure Amurrican, well, this is, after all, Amurrica. Ciao.



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