Oscar pronunciations, slightly improved
With the awards show at hand, you might be tempted to turn to Slate’s guide to Oscar pronunciation. Emma Goss and David Haglund have done a decent job of rounding up nominees saying their own names, but their contribution largely ends there. They’ve listened, but no better than you could do. And where listening produces ambiguity, which it frequently does in clips so short and isolated, Goss and Haglund pay no attention to the spelling of the names. That is frequently enough to eliminate the ambiguity. Some of that requires specialist knowledge (‘Lupita Nyong’o’), but some of requires only Anglophone common sense. The ones they need to reconsider:
Alfonso Cuarón. Slate: al-FONE-zo kwah-ROAN. Finding a [z] in the first name is based on an English-speaker’s expectation. It should be [s]. (And why is the last syllable rendered ‘roan’, not ‘rone’?)
Chiwetel Ejiofor. Slate: CHOO-it-tell EDGE-ee-oh-for. The ear may deceive on this one, but the eye does not. The sequence ‘chiw’ [tʃiw] can sound like “choo” [tʃu] because [ʃ] (“sh”) and [j] (“y”, the consonantal [i]) are both palatal sounds, and can blend into each other, while [w] has its own vowel counterpart, [u]. But the spelling is not ambiguous in English or his parents’ Igbo; the vowel is the ‘i’, not the ‘w’. To my ear, Ejiofor is giving the typical British reduction of that vowel, saying [tʃɪw], with the vowel of ‘sit’. This one probably matters the least because the difference is so small, but until Ejiofor himself clarifies, the tie goes to the spelling. (I have no idea how anyone can clearly hear Ejiofor saying his name in this clip. The unclipped version is here.)
Adèle Exarchopoulos. Slate: uh-DELL ex-ar-COOP-oo-los. In the absence of her own testimony, there is no reason to transcribe ‘-chop-’ as “COOP”. The sequence ‘ou’ is [u] in French and in the transliteration of Greek (which ‘Exarchopoulos’ originally is); ‘o’ by itself must be [o] or [ɔ], which would both be approximated in English by ‘oh’, not ‘oo’.
Lupita Nyong’o. Slate: lew-PEET-tuh en-YON-go. Several mistakes just in the last name, and while a good ear would have done, it would also be helped by some specialist knowledge, since Nyong’o is Kenyan (Luo, specifically). ‘Nyong’o’ is not three syllables; it’s two, separated neatly by the apostrophe. The insertion of the facilitating syllable at the beginning is not necessary even for English speakers; consider the taunt ‘nyah, nyah’. Anglophones can produce ‘ny’ as a consonant cluster, at least. In Kenyan spellings, ‘ny’ is a single sound, [ɲ], as in the Spanish ‘ñ’. Transcribing the syllables as ‘ON-go’ is wrong as well. The apostrophe is present to signal the difference between the sequence [ŋ] as in ‘singer’ and [ŋɡ], as in ‘finger’. The former has just a nasal sound, while the latter has the same nasal sound, plus the stop [ɡ], as in ‘get’. The former is written with the apostrophe, ‘ong’o’; if the [ɡ] is present, it is written ‘ongo’. The first vowel in ‘Nyong’o’ is also not the same as the vowel of the American English ‘yon’, which is [jɑn], but a sound that would be approximated in English as ‘oh’ or ‘aw’.
David Oyelowo. Slate: DAY-vid oh-YEAH-luh-whoa. Oyelowo, like Ejiofor, is English but of Nigerian descent. Either way, the sequence ‘ye’ would never be pronounced as the English word ‘yeah’. The expected pronunciation of the vowel is [ɛ], “eh”. And when he pronounces his own name, the [æ] (as in ‘cat’) that Slate hears is hard to find.
Léa Seydoux. Slate: LEE-yuh say-DOO. The French ‘é’ is not “ee” [i]; it’s “ay” [e]. In fact, rendering ‘Léa’ as “LEE-yuh” is mistaking it for the English name ‘Leah’; “LEE-yuh” is a bad approximation on both vowels and the emphasis. Pretty good on the first consonant, though. Definitely [l].
― O.T. Ford