Only an extroverted paparazzi would apply this methodology here!

I love languages. All of them. I have my favorites (English, in particular), but I love languages as such. And for that reason, I think they deserve more respect than they currently get.

I am not a proponent of keeping a language “pure”, i.e. free from the influence of other languages. I find it rather ridiculous when e.g. Germans try to come up with German words for technical stuff which was invented in an English speaking country (or if it was invented in a non-English-speaking country, but given an English name by their inventors). They rarely find a term which isn’t long, cumbersome and sounding silly. I embrace the fact that languages get more and more mixed. I often insert English words when speaking German, even if a good German words exists for them, just because I like the English word more.

However, because I love languages, I feel that if words from one language are imported into another one, they should be treated with respect. And for me, that means knowing enough about the language they come from in order to spell, inflect, pronounce and use them correctly.

And this is why I die a little inside each time a foreign word is spelled, inflected, pronounced or used incorrectly. Let me give examples for each type of error.

Spelling

Most people know the words “extroverted” or “extrovert” and have a basic understanding of what it means. Probably many people also know – or would guess – that it originated from Latin. What apparently most people do not know is that the prefix “extro” does not exist in Latin. The prefix for “outside” is “extra”, and therefore the correct spelling is “extraverted”. However, in languages like English or German, the Latin origin was lost and “extraverted” was aligned with its antonym “introverted”, changing it to “extroverted”. Only the scientific name for the corresponding personality dimension is still “extraversion/introversion”. Interestingly, when we learned in psychology that it should be spelled “extraverted”, some of my fellow students over-corrected and started saying “intraverted” as well, which is wrong, because the prefix for “inside” is indeed “intro”. Since “extrovert” has been part of English as well as German for so long, I don’t blame people for not knowing it’s incorrect, but I still think it’s sad that the origin of the word seems to have been completely lost.

Inflexion

Wrong inflexion (usually spelled “inflection”, which, in itself, is another case for a misspelled Latin word) is something that happens regularly with words imported from Italian. An example is “pizzas”. In Italian, the plural form of words ending with “a” ends with “e”, not “as”, so the correct plural form of “pizza” is “pizze”. Even worse is “paparazzi”, which is the plural form of “paparazzo”, but – regularly in German and I think also sometimes in English (see for example Lady GaGa’s song – people use “paparazzi” as singular with “paparazzis” as plural form.

Pronunciation

Here, I will use examples from English words imported into German, because that’s what I hear most often. My three favorite examples here are “review”, “maintenance” and “PayPal”. Since I am a scientist, I hear the word “review” very often, and since my research is in the area of online fraud, I hear “PayPal” quite often, too. In my previous job at an IT company, I heard “maintenance” quite often as well. So what are people doing wrong here?

“Review” is pronounced by an estimated 80-90% of German – even academics – as if it was spelled “ravview”. I have no idea how this came to be, since I don’t hear people pronounce e.g. “remake” like “rammake”, but for some reason, this error became so widespread that people don’t even seem to notice if I try to lead by example and pronounce it correctly. People probably just think I’m pronouncing it wrong but don’t bother telling me.

“Maintenance” is – at least in Germany – often pronounced “maintainance”. Okay, in people’s defense, this word is tricky. Why is the noun which corresponds to the verb “to maintain” “maintenance”? What happened to the “ai”? Still, I know no language and no word where “e” is pronounced like “ai”, so people should notice that something is wrong. Interesting fact: I just learned from Wiktionary that actually, “to maintain” is wrong. It originates from Old French “maintenir”, so the “ai” shouldn’t be there!

Last but not least, “PayPal” is – in this case by what feels like 99% of Germans – pronounced like “PayPaul”. Again, I have no idea whatsoever how that happened, but – seriously – it often feels like the only Germans around me who pronounce it correctly are the ones I’ve specifically told how to pronounce it! And in this case as well, people don’t even seem to notice when I pronounce it correctly. Only very few people have ever even asked “Isn’t it pronounced PayPaul?”, which was my opportunity to finally correct them.

Use

My favorite – or rather most dreaded – example of a word which is regularly misused by professionals is “methodology”. Analogous to “biology” or “endocrinology”, “methodology” is the study of methods. Wikipedia defines it as “the systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study, or the theoretical analysis of the body of methods and principles associated with a branch of knowledge”. However, apparently some smart-ass decided at some point that “method” just didn’t sound “sciency” enough and henceforth should just be replaced with “methodology” on any occasion. And for some reason, others jumped on the bandwagon, and now we are at the point where just about everyone  – old or young, experienced or straight from college – uses “methodology” where in >90% of cases “method” or “methods” would do perfectly fine. Think about it: People use the name for a scientific field for the thing that field studies. It is the same as if “psychology” would be used as a substitute for “mind” or “soul” and people would start saying “What’s on your psychology?” or the movie would be called “Dangerous Psychologies”. Or if people would say “I’m living a wonderful biology!”. That would sound crazy, wouldn’t it? Yet, people don’t think it’s weird to write things like “We applied the methodology of clustering to group the items”. Oh no you didn’t! You didn’t apply the study of the the method, you applied the method!

Conclusion

I have never learned Latin, Italian or Ancient Greek, but when I use a word which originates from one of those languages regularly, I usually look it up to find out how to spell, inflect, pronounce and use it correctly, because I think I owe that to the original language. I am not infallible either, of course. Up until a few minutes ago, I was convinced that “dementi” (a word not known in English, but used regularly in German) was the plural of an Italian word, like paparazzi, because of the “i” in the end. However, now that I looked it up, I found that it’s actually of French origin and is a singular form there as well. So, apologies to anyone I corrected when they said “Dementis”.

What about you, dear reader? Do you think I’m just a nitpicker who obsesses about things which aren’t really any important, or do you agree that people should care more about applying loanwords correctly, or maybe even die a little inside when you read or hear mistakes such as the ones I described, too? Do you have other examples that drive you crazy – or maybe just annoy you a little, or even amuse you? Please feel free to post them in comments!

To the planet KDE readers: I know this is not exactly KDE-related, but I feel that respecting the origins of a language is something that a Free Software / Free culture community should do as well, like we respect the original authors of code or other creative works we re-use.

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Researcher on usability / usable security / user experience Volunteer KDE usability consultant Open Access / Open Science supporter

Posted in General, KDE
46 comments on “Only an extroverted paparazzi would apply this methodology here!
  1. Martin Gräßlin says:

    Nice post and to make you happy I usually write maintainence till the spell checker complains (just now it didn’t). Then I get a dictionary and copy it…

    • David Edmundson says:

      “favorites (English, in particular)” (sic)

      This clearly isn’t English, maybe you mean American?

      • I knew could annoy you by writing about English using American English (yes, that’s what it’s offically called, American English!), and that’s one of the reasons I did it! You know, psychology tricks :P

  2. Taurnil says:

    As Lori Anderson said in song; “Language is a virus”.

  3. Frank Mulder says:

    “Applying loanwords correctly”: what is “correct”? It seems your opinion is that the “correct” way is to use the inflections of the original language. However, I can’t see any reason why that would be more correct than using the inflections of the target language. I would even lean towards the latter option, and most languages do so, too. “Pizzas” is a perfectly correct plural of “pizza”, given that plurals in English are (mostly) formed by adding an “s” at the end of the word. There are cases in which I prefer the inflections of the original language, such as “fora” vs. “forums”, but both are correct (depending on which grammar you choose to use). You will even run into serious problems when you try to apply foreign language verb conjugations to loan words. (How do you conjugate “downloaden”? Will you say “ich download” because that’s how they say it in English, or will you use the more natural form “ich downloade”? Now don’t say you’d prefer to use “ich lade runter”. ;-)).

    In short: don’t call something a mistake when it’s just a matter of taste.

    • I agree, “wrong” or “incorrect” probably isn’t the correct word in the inflection case (I still insist that the the spelling, pronunciation and use examples are “errors”, no matter how widespread they are, though).
      Oh and yes, I do prefer “runterladen”, but yes, I sometimes say “downgeloaded” (yes, I write it with a “d” in order to keep as much of the original language intact as possible). I still feel a bit guilty saying it, because it does sound like an abuse of the language to me.

      • Frank Mulder says:

        Alright, so on to the spelling, pronunciation and use examples… ;)

        I agree with your spelling examples, but I’d like to note that spelling is not always as fixed as you’d like it to be. The name “Palestine” comes from Greek Παλαιστίνη and Latin Palaestina but seems to have been called Peleset in Egypt and Palashtu or Pilistu in Assyria (see Wikipedia). Which one is correct? The spelling of words can change within one language, and even more so when importing a word into another language.

        Another interesting example is that in Persian, loan words are spelled according to their pronunciation, not according to the original spelling. “Computer” becomes کامپیوتر, which would be translated as kāmpyuter…

        And that brings me to the pronunciation subject. Every language or dialect has its own set of sounds and pronunciation rules. Do you insist on a correct pronunciation of “Al-Qaeda”, even if you’re not able to produce that “Q” sound correctly? Is it wrong to stress the first syllable of “September” if you’re Icelandic (where most words get the emphasis on the first syllable), just because you assume that in Latin another syllable was stressed? (Or is that actually the only correct pronunciation and is the English pronunciation wrong?) Do you even know how they pronounced it back then? Is the English pronunciation of “commence” a mistake because it came from French?

        Don’t get me wrong, I also try to pronounce words “correctly” (or rather, as correct as possible). But this definition of “correct” is not clear, and it changes with time and place. There is no reason to “die inside” for it anyway. ;)

        Using words correctly is important to convey a certain meaning. People will misunderstand you if you misuse a word. But the meaning of a word depends on the context, and it changes over time. Sometimes, the meaning of a word is even inverted. It’s no use trying to fight against changes in language. (And still, I do so all the time, just like you. :D)

        • I agree with your examples as well ;) The speakers of a language are of course free to give any name they like to a country. Especially in Germany the names for many countries are different from the local language. There seems to be a shift towards using local names, though, for example the Chinese capital is nowadays usually called “Beijing” in Germany when before it was usually called “Peking”. Using the local names can also be used as a political gesture: Most media insisted on calling Myanmar “Burma” as long as it was ruled by a military dictatorship, in order to show them “We don’t legitimize you.” Now that the regime was overthrown, our media happily say “Myanmar”.

          And as I said in my reply to mhogo, adapting the spelling to ease correct pronunciation makes sense to me, too. And I do not blame people for adapting pronunciation to their language especially if the original language is pronounced very differently. For example I don’t blame Japanese for inserting extra vowels everywhere or pronouncing “l” and “r” identically. Having grown up with a syllable language that doesn’t have separate phonemes for l and r, how are they supposed to pronounce our languages correctly?

          However, Germans don’t pronounce “PayPal” or “review” wrong because they contain phonemes which don’t exist in German. They don’t even pronounce them like German words at all, they pronounce them the way others do, which happens to be wrong in these cases. If they just looked the pronunciation up somewhere, the correct pronunciation would be as easy for them as the wrong one.

          I know fighting for the “correct” (in my definition, i.e. as close to the original as possible) use of loanwords is more or less futile, but I still think it’s a fight which should be fought out of respect for languages.

        • Regarding review I would think the problem is the “fau” (v) – I’ve heard the same when discussing views (pronounced almost as if it was spelled fjews). And then there is the old joke about the committee where they wanted to elect a chairman, where the German representative stood up and said, there is no need for a election, we already have a “Cherman”.

          It’s the same problem for everyone, there is not really any need for mocking people for having problems pronouncing words that are not in their mother tongue. However, one could of course at least make an effort when made aware of the error.
          Once in a hotel in Walldorf (if I recall correct) there was a man who came up to the bar and asked for a “Remmi Meerten” (not sure how to spell that to make people understand the pronounciation). The bar help didn’t understand, and the customer repeated twice before they understood he was asking for Rémy Martin, but not at all making any effort at pronouncing it as the French producers would. No bonus points for guessing where this person lived, but it was in a country which has a lot in common with England, except the language of course.

        • It’s not the people with a strong accent that bother me. As I wrote in another comment, Japanese usually sound either very funny or horrible (depending on the humor of the listener) when they speak English, but that’s just because their language is so different, and I don’t really mind (the only problem I have with that is that I often have a hard time trying to understand them).
          What annoys me with the “ravview” example is not the German accent, not at all. Many people who say “ravview” actually have a pretty weak accent otherwise. The problem I have is that apparently at some point a person with a lot of influence on Germans pronounced it that way, and now most people do, not because they have problems pronouncing it correctly (those people can pronounce “view” perfectly!), but because they are just ignorant.

  4. In Polish, the original Latin prefixes actually remained in words such as “ektrawerytk”, “ektraweryzm”, “introwertyk” and so on (compare to “introwertyk”). Interesting, given long German and now very strong English influence.

    About you being nitpicker: well, I won’t say anything, I am one…

    PS Cover “Exception that proves the rule” :P
    PPS I came here via Planet KDE, I’m not sure whether I can say for others, but I don’t mind content like this there (on the Planet).

  5. schnebeck says:

    My “favourites” of misused Latin based German words are “Stati” (as plural of status) and “Alternativen” (as plural of alternative, cause there is only one alternative. “alter” means “one of two” and not “one of many”)

    • Ah yes, the Stati… It is a bit difficult to grasp that singular and plural are spelled the same but pronounced differently, but yes, more people should no that.
      The true meaning of “alternative” was new to me, thanks for pointing that out!

    • Martin Gräßlin says:

      We all know that there are no “Alternativen” – everything is “alternativlos” ;-)

  6. As a swahili native speaker(language spoken in East Africa),i know “shule” is a swahili word from german word “schule” meaning “school” in English.I can understand why the “c” was dropped as pronouncing “sch” would have been annoying,if “c” was not dropped,a vowel would have been added probably btw “s” and “c”..

    I think when words are borrowed,they should take the form and sounds of the receiving language to make them sound “natural”

    • I agree with both you and Frank that adapting the spelling of a loanword to a language in order to make the correct pronunciation more intuitive makes sense. This is not the case with words like “extraverted”, however. There, the spelling just changed because people were ignorant of the origin.

  7. Carl Symons says:

    “Do you think I’m just a nitpicker who obsesses…”

    Yes, I think that. I like it a lot. You are willing to go further (uhoh, trap there…further/farther, what to do?) than most folks it getting the details. In addition, your nitpicking inspires mine.

  8. Kevin Kofler says:

    Indeed, “pizzas” (sic) is probably the most common un-Italian plural shoehorned onto an Italian word. But as you have written, there are others. The worst is probably how “spaghetti” is being mangled. Not only is the same abuse of the plural as a singular as for “paparazzi” common (people use “spaghetti” as the singular instead of the correct “spaghetto”, and either “spaghettis” (sic) or the correct “spaghetti” as a plural), but the German spelling reform explicitly demands (!) that people misspell it as “Spagetti” (sic), which would be pronounced “spadʒetti” in Italian. (Some other loanwords are also mangled by that silly reform. Yet, it is not even consistent: It claims to change ‘e’ to ‘ä’ whenever the word comes from a root spelled with ‘a’, but then why is “Esel” still not spelled “Äsel”? It comes from the Latin “asinus”.)

    • Ah yes, the “Rechtschreibreform”… While it replaced some arbitrary aspects with clear, logical rules (for example the distinction between ss and ß), the changes to many loanwords are horrible. Duden.de however tells me that “Spaghetti” is still allowed, with “Spagetti” as an alternative spelling. The same goes for “Ketchup” and “Ketschup” (though “Ketschup” is a totally weird amalgam of English and German). Looks like at least we are still allowed to spell the words correctly…

    • Phil says:

      That’s a good thing. I don’t want German to end up in as worse spelling clusterfuck as English. While it’s a very incomplete reform this aspekt of it wasn’t and isn’t paticular bad. If I’d been on the board I would have changed “Computer” into “Kompjuter”, too.

  9. jstaniek says:

    Technology/Methodology -> Technique/Method is what I keep fighting for in Poland too. This mistake is common also in academic circles.

    • Yes, especially in academic circles. “Method” has been replaced with “methodology” in almost all recent academic papers. I wouldn’t wonder if someone corrected my when I wrote “method”…

  10. I also find language(s) interesting, but I am of a completely opposite opinion from yours. Nothing is better than finding a good word for new things that fit well into the language.

    My favourite example is when something is printed. A lot of people use “print” as a verb and “printer” about the device. Do you use drucken/drucker or print/printer?

    • I say “drucker” and “drucken”. As I wrote in the article, I often insert English words into German, though. However, when doing so, I try to keep them as close to the original as possible. For example, I end the present perfect versions of English verbs I use in German with a “d” instead of a “t”, because the “t” looks stupid on English words.

  11. Paul Dann says:

    I believe that the way words are pronounced when they’re imported into another language is generally governed by the host language’s “phonological rules”, the rules that dictate which sounds “go well together” in that language. Most native speakers are barely aware of this, but it’s also the cause of most distinctive systematic pronunciation errors and the heavy accent when people begin to learn a foreign language. For instance, Japanese-speakers find it very hard to end a word in a consonant, because the phonological rules for Japanese itself dictate that such words should end in a subtle -u sound.

    • Sure they are, but as I said: That’s not the reason why people say “PayPaul” or “ravview”, because neither of these pronunciations are according to German phonological rules.

      • Paul Dann says:

        Oh right; that’s interesting. I don’t know enough about German to have picked up on that: I assumed that given how pervasive you describe this as being, it was something to do with a German language mindset that caused these words to be transformed as they were borrowed. For instance, I’d expect most French-speakers to veer toward pronouncing “PayPal” as “Pépale” as the word becomes more accepted in the language, because the “ei” diphthong in particular feels out-of-place, and Ls at the ends of words are not swallowed into the back of the throat in French as they are in English. When it is first introduced, of course, many French-speakers would attempt to pronounce it as an English word, but in the long run, borrowed words need to conform to the host language, or they’re too awkward to pronounce, and die out.

        But you say that these borrowed words are not being pronounced in a Germanised way, but simply with an incorrect English-like accent? That does sound baffling!

        • Exactly, that’s the thing. A Germanised pronunciation of Paypal would be “paɪpɑːl”, but “peɪpɔl” is just… neither correct nor German-sounding. Actually the ɔ-sound doesn’t even exist in German! Same goes for review: Germanised pronunciation would sound ʀeˈvju, but people pronounce it ˈʀɛvju, which, again, is neither correct nor German-like.

        • Paul Dann says:

          Could it be something to do with a misconception of English pronunciation, or would the same people know how the word is pronounced in English, but for some reason pronounce it that way only in German? It’s particularly interesting that so many seem to do the same thing. Are they all following one person who got it wrong, or do separate groups apply the same pronunciation completely independently?

        • Kevin Kofler says:

          Yes, they think that that’s the correct pronounciation and will also pronounce the words that way when they’re speaking English.

  12. Alex Neundorf says:

    Human language isn’t “logic” and “correct” in general, and it doesn’t have to. This makes up part of its beauty. It doesn’t make sense to argue that some things are wrong and point out how they would be correctly. “Extrovertiert” – that’s a german word, and this is its spelling. It doesn’t matter at all anymore how it is spelled in any other language, not even the language where it came from. Same for “Spagetti”. This is the german word, not the italian word, and so italian rules do not apply, but german rules.
    When using a word from a different language it should be used as correct (according to the language it belongs to) as possible. But once the word has made it to the other language and is a loan word, this doesn’t apply anymore. It is now e.g. a german word, and in the process of becoming a german word, e.g. from a formerly italian word, arbitrary changes can have happened to it.
    That’s ok, that’s how human languages evolve.
    Another good example for human languages being not logical: the gender of nouns. Completely arbitrary, just compare german and french and if you want to, russian.

    Using words from other languages mixed into another language is something else. I try to avoid it, where good german words exist. For some technical things currently no good german words exist, or they may sound funny. Maybe it just needs some time to getting used to them, then they’ll be completely normal. In many many cases today english words are used in german without (good) reason. That’s neither necessary nor good, since it makes it harder for people who are not that good at english.

    • Ah yes, since you mention them: Arbitrary genera. I hate them, especially in German. I think the English are the only ones who got it right: Females are “she”, males are “he” and everything else is “it”. Romanic languages have two genera for things instead of one. Doesn’t make much sense, but well, if they like that… Now come the Germans: We do have a neutrum, yet what do we do? Assign male and female genus to things arbitrarily anyway! Why did we do this? Just to make it even harder to learn our language? That’s complete nonsense! If people have to drop all sense of logic in order to learn a language, that has nothing to do with “beauty” for me…

  13. Engelbert Ponemayr says:

    I’m sorry that I will have to make comments in german but it seems to be reasonable because the topic is usage of foreign words in german.

    The basic rule is: foreign words do never import foreign grammar.

    Wie verwendet man Vocativ und Ablativ bei lateinischen Fremdwörtern?

    Andere Sprachen haben noch viel seltsamere Grammatiken: zum Beispiel Ungarisch und Finnisch. Dort gibt es die Lokative, Ortsformen des Hauptworts. Nach Budapest z.B. ist Budapestem. Ich fahre nach Budapest auf Ungarisch somit “megvan Budapestem”.
    Nach deinem Ansatz müsste das dann Deutsch “Ich fahre Budapestem” heißen, da dieser Fall desHauptworts das bedeutet. Ungarisch kennt etwa 56 Fälle und ist eine der schwierigsten Sprachen der Welt.

    Daher werden die Fremdwörter übernommen, nicht aber die Grammatik.

    • Sure I know that it’s formally correct to use the target language’s grammar on loanwords. That does not make it sound less weird to me, though. Especially since I assume most – if not all – languages have a plural, and so why not use the plural form of the original language? It’s not that hard to do…

      • Paul Dann says:

        Yeah, I also agree with Engelbert: it doesn’t seem logically practical to me for a borrowed word to maintain the morphology of the language it was taken from for any length of time. Otherwise, the host language would gain more and more grammar exceptions, and become a bit of a nightmare. I think it makes sense for borrowed words to conform to the existing rules of the host language, however much that might annoy speakers of the original language. I think of “panini / paninis” used in English, where the Italians would say “panino / panini”! The exception is probably multi-lingual environments where you’re not really using loan words, but basically switching languages for a few words (code-switching) because you know they also understand that other language. That’s maybe difference that’s causing this clash?

      • Engelbert Ponemayr says:

        I suppose that most languages have plural forms but I’m not sure how to use them. Anorak and Kajak are Eskimo loanwords (sorry for political incorrectness ;-) ), but I have no idea about the grammar – therefore I use the German one. And there are loanwords from different other languages I don’t know like Greek, French, Russian, …
        In Hungarian plurals only are used with determiners like some or many. Numerals require singular.
        Sorry for that strange language, maybe I should have learned a different one instead :-)

        • Okay, I’ve learned now that inflexion of loanwords is a very debatable topic. What I find interesting is that only few people commented on the other classes of “errors”. Does that mean most people agree with me on them?

        • Paul Dann says:

          As regards spelling and pronunciation, I recently discovered a fascinating and excellently podcast series on the history of the English language, which provides some really interesting information pertaining to why modern English is the way it is:

          http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/episodes/

        • Engelbert Ponemayr says:

          Maybe inflexion is the most controversy part. But I think that also spelling and pronunciation can be controversial. In times before the Rechtschreibreform German basically used the original spelling where possible. Now it is correct to spell the loanword in the way it is pronounced in German.
          I think both concepts are ok:
          On the one hand you have different letters / character sets in different languages. How should I use ä, ö or ü in English? Not to talk about Cyrillic or Chinese ‘letters’. So the rule’write as you pronounce seems to be ok.
          On the other hand I dislike the ‘Delfin’ or the ‘Fönix’. Maybe I am just to old to learn something new ;-)

        • For me, the “spell as you pronounce” rule for loanwords is okay from a rule perspective, but I still regard it as disrespectful towards the language of origin.
          If a language doesn’t have the letters/signs of the original language, it’s okay for me to replace them with the ones that come closest to them since it’s difficult to write/type the original letters. However, I still think that out of respect one should take the time to learn how a loanword is spelled correctly in its language of origin. It’s not that hard.

        • Paul Dann says:

          Hmm, well that’s kind of a slippery road. At what point does a word simply become a part of the host language? Many English words were borrowed from French. Should we return to spelling “doctor” and “colour/color” as “docteur” and “couleur”? Indeed should we insist that female doctors retain an extra “e” at the end: “docteure”? In that case, can we argue that English has gender inflections, because it’s borrowed these words? In fact I believe some people do insist that a female fiancé should be a “fiancée” as in French, but it seems they’re fighting a losing battle, as this idea simply doesn’t enter the minds of most English speakers, and would certainly seem alien (and possibly offensive to some).

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