Antiperfection Manifesto

The following must be made clear: if you're trying to learn to speak German without an accent, there are several websites out there to help you, and this is NOT one of them.

The reason is simple: this guide is meant especially for people who have to pronounce foreign names on the radio --- or even in casual conversation --- where in either case the listening audience is generally not German speaking. We can best illustrate this with an audio comparison:

Though the first example is correct pronunciation, it has two problems: firstly, the German phonemes would sound strange in the middle of an English sentence, and possibly divert attention away from whatever else is being said. More alarmingly, most English speakers are not accustomed to hearing such a familiar name said in this way, and some might not immediately recognize it. The second audio example would be preferable in any radio announcement: it is recognizably the voice of an English speaker saying a German name, but every English speaker would understand what it is being said, and it wouldn't sound stilted.

The problem becomes more acute in dealing with less familiar languages, such as Dutch. Frans Brüggen, for example, is a name well-known to early music and recorder fans, most of whom would pronounce it like this:

If you've just heard a spectacular performance of a recorder concerto on the radio and the announcer says the soloist's name like that, you now know who it was. Even if you've never heard of Frans Brüggen before, you can now make a pretty good educated guess as to how the name might be spelled, so you can go and find the recording in a store. This would not be the case if the announcer had attempted to say the name the way that Brüggen himself would, which is something like this:

You may be able to impress or amuse someone by saying it this way, but in English it wouldn't normally qualify as communication. This raises a distressing but important point: the first example is technically incorrect pronunciation --- it's based on a commonly held misconception that Dutch is just like German --- but this misconception is so prevalent that the incorrect pronunciation must be preferred for radio purposes, if only for the sake of clarity. This phenomenon is quite common, particularly in the less familiar Germanic languages, and also in Russian.

The situation is slightly different when it comes to titles. I could easily earn ridicule if I trilled both r's every time I said Ottorino Respighi [audio sample], but fewer people are taken aback if I do the same with La Forza del Destino [audio sample]. Titles have a different status than names, and this may stem partly from the fact that they can be translated: if someone doesn't understand what I just said, I can clarify by calling it "The Force of Destiny". In this example I can also get away with the trill because it happens to be Italian, a language that most people have at least some vague knowledge of. It might not be so simple with, say, Polish.

Having justified my point of view as best I can, I should just add that most of the audio examples in this guide are given in slightly Anglicized forms, though there's no fixed rule for how much Anglicization is necessary, and there certainly is such a thing as too much. I try to strike a middle ground between correctness and intelligibility.

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