- Posted by Stephen Whiteley
- On 11/12/2008
Just heard a Spanish reporter talk about an English racehorse called – or so it sounded – Eslimpi Kins. Only when I saw it in writing did I realise it was Slim Pickings!
No Spanish syllables start with “s” plus a consonant. Instead, an “e” is added so that the “s” becomes the end of a syllable. So while Italian has Spagna, Spanish has España. Similarly, Italian has “stornuto” (sneeze) while Spanish has “estornudo”. Portuguese and Catalan share this feature (Espanha and Espanya respectively). There are hundreds of examples.
As a result of this feature of their own language, Spaniards systematically add an extra syllable to foreign words, turning Smith into Esmith, Stravinsky into Estravinski and so on. An interesting case is Bruce Springsteen, which comes out as Brus Espringstin. Interesting because you might expect to hear “Espring-estin”. Clearly there is nothing preventing Spaniards pronouncing an “s” before a consonant, after all.
Spanish speakers of English tend to be exposed to other Spanish-speakers while learning English, so they regularly hear the wrong pronunciation and end up asserting that Spanish people are incapable of pronouncing words like “Spain” the English way. Once you decide something can’t be done, it’s a small step to stop trying, and the supposed impossibility is confirmed. Many speakers feel embarrassed to pronounce something “the right way”, which is an interesting demonstration of how entrenched the rules of our own language are in our brains.
No doubt all language pairs have similar issues. Most English speakers, for example, have tremendous difficulty pronouncing pure vowels in foreign words like French “beau” or “très”, instead adding a glide to make them rhyme with the English diphthongs in “bow” and “tray”.