194: 'faux pas, chauffeur, fiance,' and more

Loanwords from French into English.


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 194th episode.

Sorry this episode is late; I have been very sick for a number of weeks now! With any luck, I am now past this year's cold and this year's flu. My voice has returned, and I'm back!

I was talking to my friend Steve from Proesl.com last week and he was kind enough to share a list of loanwords that he practices with his pronunciation students.

Loanwords are words from other languages that have made their way into everyday English. They often keep a spelling that reflects their pronunciation in their first language, but their pronunciation is also somewhat anglicized according to the rules and patterns and sounds of English. The fact that they're both "foreign" and "English" can make the pronunciation of loanwords very uncertain to non-native English speakers.

To begin with, let's take some words that come from French, the language that has one of the largest numbers of loanwords into English. I'm going to say the word as it's pronounced in English, but to make it easier for you, I'm also going to add the International Phonetic spelling to the transcript for this show. You can find the transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Then click episode 194.

I'll use a transcription based on what's in the second edition of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary.

Here are 15 loanwords from French, and some pronunciation tips for each word to help you with it's English pronunciation.

1. amateur
Stress the first syllable, and notice that there's a ch sound in the middle of this word: amateur

2. bouquet
The vowel in the first syllable is an oo sound, and the t on the end is silent: bouquet

3. debris
The vowel sound in the second syllable is a long e, and the s is silent: debris

4. 'debut
The vowel sound of the first syllable is a long a and the vowel in the second syllable is a long u. The t at the end is silent: debut

5. faux pas
The vowel sound in the first word is a long o and the x is silent. The vowel sound in the second word is a short o, and the s is silent: faux pas

6. fiance
Listen to this one as I say it slowly. Fi-an-ce: those vowels, in order, were (long e, short o, long a): fiance. That was a long e, short o, then long a.

7. genre
The word genre is interesting because it's the only word in English that begins with a zh sound (zh sound). Then the vowel of the first syllable is a short o, and the word ends in schwa: genre

8: liaison
That i-a-i spelling at the beginning of this word is really odd to see, and is pronounced (long e, long a) liaison. The s in the middle is pronounced as a z sound, then we have schwa in the final syllable: liaison

9: motif
The vowel in the first syllable of motif is a long o, and the second syllable is a long e. We don't drop the final consonant sound off this word, though, so keep that f sound: motif

10: resume
The vowel sound of the first syllable of resume is a short e sound, and it's stressed. Then there's a z sound, then schwa, then the final syllable is pronounced may, with a long a: resume

11. sabotage
Notice the short a sound in the first syllable and the zh sound at the end of this word: sabotage

12. silhouette
The first syllable of silhouette has a short i sound, and the last syllable sounds like "wet": silhouette

13. venue
Venue isn't too hard. The first syllable is a short e and the second is a long u: venue

14. encore
The tricky part of encore is that the first syllable sounds like "on," despite being spelled e-n: encore

15 (and finally) chauffeur
Chauffeur begins with an sh sound; the first syllable sounds like show (like s-h-o-w) and the second syllable sounds like fur, as in f-u-r. Put the two syllables together, and you get chauffeur. Nope, it isn't at all like it looks like it would be pronounced. But that's the nature of loanwords; they can really surprise you.

Let's go through all 15 of these words again. I'll say the word, then leave time for you to repeat after me. Ready?

amateur /ˈæm ə ʧʊr/
bouquet /bu ˈkeɪ/ (or /boʊ ˈkeɪ/)
debris /də ˈbri/
debut /ˈdeɪb ju/
faux pas /ˌfoʊ ˈpɑ/
fiance /ˌfi ɑn ˈseɪ/
genre /ˈʒɑn rə/
liaison /li ˈeɪz ən/ *
motif /moʊ ˈtif/
resume /ˈrɛz ə meɪ/
sabotage /ˈsæb ə tɑʒ/
silhouette /ˌsɪl u ˈɛt/
venue /ˈvɛn ju/
encore /ˈɑn kɔr/
chauffeur /ʃoʊ ˈfɚ/

Thanks again to Steve at proESL.com for sharing his list of loanwords with me!

That's all for today everyone. This has been a SLA digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

*This is closer to the British transcription, but it's how I say it, so I took the liberty of using this transcription here.

Wells, J. C. Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. 2nd ed. Harlow: Longman, 1990. Print.

Image attribution: by Alexande Jaborska, via Wikimedia Commons