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So we all know that Americans and Brits pronounce tomato differently, although, I must say, I’ve never heard anyone pronounce potato the way they suggest in the song. Po-TAHT-o anyone? Then there’s the bazil/bayzil difference, and, of course, or-e-GAHN-o versus o-REG-an-o. What surprises many Brits in the U.S. is the myriad of other differences between British and American food pronunciations. (Please note that this is not a right/wrong discussion.)
The “O” sound, as in risotto and yogurt
Not all “O”s are the same on either side of the Pond. While we Brits tend towards ri-ZOT-oh (to rhyme with “not”), you’ll usually hear ri-ZOW-toh here, and while we say YOG-urt (again, rhyming with “not”), Americans give it the “Oh” sound, resulting in YOH-gurt. On a side note, I see the U.K. is in a dilemma over the “h” in the middle of the word “yoghurt”; Ocado, Asda and Sainsbury’s online shopping lists have dropped it, Tesco remains faithful while the Co-op has both versions. The times, they are a-changing.
The silent “L,” as in salmon
A dig around discussion forums confirms the silent “L” is a regional thing in the U.S. as in the U.K. Some Americans ignore the “L” in foods like salmon and almond, and others give them the full wellie, saying SAL-mon and ALL-mond. The Merriam-Webster dictionary, however, has “SAM-un” as the pronunciation for salmon, as does the MacMillan dictionary. Interestingly, while MacMillan includes the “L” sound in almond, it also gives two different pronunciations of the “A” in the American pronunciation. The latest TV commercial for Hershey’s Almond Joy has a subtle “L” sound in there. In short, it depends how you pronounced it back in Blighty and where you are in the U.S. as to whether there will be any surprises in store. (Personally, and I’m British, I use no “L” in either word. And I use a British long “A” in almond, like I’d say Arm, with no rhotic “R.”)
Spanish and Mexican food, as in paella and tortilla
Perhaps the biggest differences in food pronunciation come when we’re attempting foreign names, and British attempts can raise a wry smile from Americans. Most of us are particularly rubbish at Spanish pronunciations, which Americans have grown up with. When saying words like quesadilla, tortilla and paella, we don’t want any “L” sounds; it’s Keh/Kay-suh-DEE-yah, Tor-TEE-yah and Pie-AY-a or Pah-EH-yah. Apparently, we can also sound funny when saying taco, as our “A” is too flat. Instead of TACK-o, we need a longer “A.” Here’s the difference between the two.
French food, as in filet and croissant
We grew up pronouncing a fillet of fish or steak as FILL-ut, ignoring the French pronunciation—fil-AY (but let’s not go there). Americans on the other hand, not only pronounce it the French way, but often drop an “L” in the spelling. And then we have croissant, which I often struggle to communicate in the U.S. On this occasion, Brits stick closer to the French pronunciation (“KRWAS-son”) while Americans put the emphasis firmly on the last syllable and pronounce it “kreh-SONT” (unless they’ve taken French classes and then it’s somewhere in the middle).
Italian food, from pasta to parmesan
Who’d have thought there could be so many differences here? The most obvious one Brits will encounter is in the pronunciation of pasta. While we tend to give it a completely flat “a,” Americans pronounce it more like a Southern English “faster,” with our long “A.” Parmesan, is also given a different treatment on either side of the Pond, with Brits pronouncing a hard “S” (as in easy) and Americans giving it more of a “zh” sound. Interesting, bruschetta in the U.S. is usually pronounced bru-SHETT-a, even though most Italians give the “ch” a hard “k” sound.
There’s also quite a list of odd food words that differ. My kids fall about laughing when I say I quite fancy some hummus and pitta bread. I pronounce it HOOMus, and PITT-a, while my (American) kids say HUM-us and PEE-ta. Fortunately, according to a few Arabic speakers and residents of various Middle Eastern countries, either option will get you what you want. And while Brits pronounce caramel with all the syllables clearly enunciated and a flat “A,” you’ll hear various truncations in the U.S. Some Americans say KAR-mel (as in “car”), while others almost pronounce every syllable while varying between “car” and “care” for the first syllable.
And of course, I say “WOOSter” sauce, which always gives rise to comment.
What are some other dishes that Americans and Brits pronounce differently?
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View all posts by Toni Hargis.