Foods That Brits and Americans Pronounce Differently

Paella. (Photo: Fotolia)

Paella. (Photo: Fotolia)

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.

Miscellaneous
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?

See more:
How Do You Say ‘Jaguar’?: British vs. American Brand Pronunciations
10 Famous Names Brits and Americans Pronounce Differently
No, Arkansas Doesn’t Sound the Way It Looks: A Guide to Pronouncing U.S. Place Names

Toni Hargis

Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who has lived in the USA since 1990. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and children and writes about US/UK matters when not putting out domestic fires. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, (St. Martin's Press). She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV explaining British things to Americans.

See more posts by Toni Hargis
  • https://twitter.com/MatthewDoye Matthew Doye

    Round here in Somerset (England, not its assorted namesakes) the local pronunciation is AL-mond not ALL-mond or AH-mond.

  • znachki

    I’m from the Pacific Northwest, where we have a lot of that fish. Pretty much always pronounced Sa-mun. almonds keep the L, so it sounds like awl-mund.
    Americans (at least on the west coast) pretty much all know that the ll in Spanish is pronounced like Y, so with the exception of say, llama, we pronounce it as you do. Taco, yep we use the long A.
    I’ve always been flummoxed by the pasta thing. Since the long A seems to be the norm in England, why the short A in taco and pasta? Foreign import?
    I think the Bruschetta thing is just that most Americans haven’t heard enough Italian to know that a CH is hard sound. I was guilty until I found that out, and I pay attention to that sort of thing.
    You forgot one though – the Herb or Erb difference.

    • LF

      I’m from the east coast and I pronounce pasta and taco with the long ‘a’ sound. So “PAH-sta” and “TAH-co”.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      The long A isn’t the norm in England, it’s very much a regional thing. You’ll hear it in and around London and in the southern counties, but if you travel north it will very quickly flatten out in words like “grass”. Similarly, going west to Devon and Cornwall, (think “Doc Martin”) you will also here a flat A.
      No idea why we do the flat A in “pasta” and “taco” though.

  • Irené Colthurst

    As a native southern Californian I’ve only ever heard the ri-ZOH-to pronunciation here. Is ri-ZOW-to a regionalism?

  • joe35

    Growing up here in California, I’ve always heard “tortilla” pronounced as Tor-TEE-yah.

  • Patty123

    Water – in England I can ask for wor-ter, when I lived in New England I asked for wor-der, and now, in the Carolinas, I have to ask for wah-der!

    • LF

      And in NJ we call it “Wooder”.

    • TheronC

      Well of course, because down South we pronounce it correctly. ;)

  • Kari

    I’m from Lousiana and we always pronounce the Spanish double ‘L’ as a ‘Y’ sound. So, it would be tor-TEE-yah and keh-sah-DEE-yah. That is the proper way of saying it. Pronouncing it tor-TILL-ah makes me cringe.

  • Sharr99

    Your “American” pronunciation of pasta is actually regional. Upper East Coast US as far west as the Great Lakes tend to say this because of the way they say “a”. On the West Coast we say it the same as you Brits. In the Deep South you will often here an R added between the A and the S, as in PAR-sta.

    • A Son of the Confederacy

      Living in Mississippi for thirty years I have yet to hear even the most soiled stained, tobacco chewing farmer use an “R” in the word pasta. I’ve heard the “I” in Italian pronounced like your eye, and more often then not people lose the “R” when asking for sugar. (Shug-uh) But I can honestly say I have never heard in the deepest parts of the southern states “Parsta.”

    • LF

      Nah, I’m from NJ and we say PAH-sta and TAH-co. I’ve never heard anyone say PAST-a or TACK-o.

    • Cloggie

      Where on the west coast are you talking about? I grew up in San Francisco and never heard anyone use pronunciations like that except my friend’s father who was from Boston and had a really thick Bostonian accent.

    • Janae

      It’s PAH-sta in Washington–the state–as well.

  • barbara

    Herbs are pronounced “erbs” in the US I also have trouble with “ranch dressing”

    • Eamonn

      Only some do. It’s a split on “erbs” and “herbs” in the US although the differences seem to vary from person to person rather than any regional difference. The dictionary confirms that both ways are correct.

  • Rene

    I do believe a big part of the confusion in DESCRIBING the Am/E versus Br/E pronunciation is that here in the US a long vowel sound is one that ‘says it’s name’. The A in cake is a long A. The A in cat is a short A. It seems to be the reverse in the UK, doesn’t it?

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      ..which is why I always write “a British long A”, which denotes an Aaaahhh sound. (The way most of us pronounce “arm” – without sounding the R.) But yes, you’re right, it gets confusing. We have a flat A (as in “flat”) and a long A because there are basically two ways of pronouncing words like “pass”, “grass” and “faster”. It tends to be a regional thing.

      • dw

        Things would be a lot clearer if everyone would use lexical sets; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexical_set

        Saying “the vowel of TRAP” is far less ambiguous than “short A”, “flat A” and the like.

        • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

          Unless you’re either my friend from Kansas who would say it more like “traype”, or have a broad Chicago accent which would give the word two syllables – Tray-ap.

          • dw

            The TRAP vowel is explicitly designed to mean “whatever vowel you use in the word TRAP in your accent”.

  • Chris Octon

    I am English and I have lived in Mexico for 23 years and while most of the American pronunciations of Spanish words are better than the English ones there are exceptions. Taco is pronounced Tacko and and pasta also has the hard short a sound. So not so smug my American friends!

    • Rene

      I just asked my colleague who was born and raised in Mexico how he and his very large family pronounce taco and pasta. Tah-co and Pah-sta were his answers. I asked about the Tack-o and Pass-ta variations and his exact words were “That’s how people in England say it. It’s so annoying!”

      • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

        Just wondering why Mexicans would be an authority on the pronunciation of “pasta”?

        • MontanaRed

          Latin-based language? I speak (so I claim) French and Spanish, so I find I can understand a lot of Italian and Portuguese, even if I miss a nuance here and there.

          • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

            Oh, OK. I only speak French (ish).

    • Cloggie

      Eh, the Mexicans are humoring you because you’re foreign. I grew up going to Catholic schools and was the only person who didn’t have a family member born and raised in either Mexico or Italy. No tack-os or flat a pastas.

  • therealguyfaux

    Then, of course, in the case of the Italian-derived words, you have the situation of the Italian-Americans who have their OWN versions of these words. If one watches, e.g., The Sopranos, one comes across this.
    Having grown up in a household with an Italian-American mother, I can truthfully say that, while the pronunciations may be somewhat exaggerated for effect in the depiction of them by the characters on these shows, nonetheless it IS true that I-A’s will often have a pronunciation peculiar to themselves (and “peculiar”-sounding, if you will, to non-I-A’s).
    For example: “Ree-ZAWT-(o)” (trilled “r”, a practically-swallowed “o” at the end) instead of Riss-SOE-doe. “Parmesan” is rendered as the Italian word “Parmigiana,” pronounced Parr-mee-JON-(a)- again, swallowed final vowel; your rendering of it with a “zh” is closer to this.
    And you hear SOME I-A’s pronounce “bruschetta” as something like “broosh-GHETT-(a)”, with the “sh” not particularly stressed.
    But trust me on this, I-A’s cringe worse at the British pronunciations more than the “Standard-American” ones, which are fairly cringeworthy themselves.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      Just out of interest, do Italian Italians cringe at I-A pronunciation?

      • therealguyfaux

        Oh, madonn’! Yes– they do!
        I-A is to Italian roughly as Ebonics or “Jafaican” is to standard English. It’s a mash-up of “Nobbly-don” (“napoletana”, i.e., Neapolitan) and “Gahllabraise” (“calabrese”, i.e., Calabrian) and “Sijilyon” (“siciliana”, i.e., Sicilian), with the worst features of pronunciation and vocabulary of all retained, discarding the best features of Standard Italian (defined waggishly as a Roman trying to imitate a Florentine).

        There is a saying in Northern Italy to the effect of “Africa starts, going south from just north of the 41st parallel (a region between Rome and Naples, closer to the latter)”, a reference to their colonial outpost in Libya, and their comparison of the language and customs of those in the South to those of the Arabs of Libya. There IS something to that; an Arab who has learned Italian, and speaks it fluently, will make many of the same sort of sounds speaking Italian in his Arabic accent as Southern Italians do. Perhaps either an Arab or an Italian can confirm this for you.

        • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

          Very interesting. I have an Italian uncle (by marriage) who comes from a little village near Piacenza in the north of Italy and his dialect is nothing like Standard Italian. If I recall, there are a lot of German words in there (from the Swiss). They also say something like “do’mezzde” for afternoon, rather than pomeriggio; it’s a truncated Doppo Mezzogiorno.

        • Kalypso Kent

          Yes, we do. Very much.

  • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

    I do love hearing about all the regional differences in pronunciation around the US.

  • http://accentsavvy.com Caroline

    You have “WOOSter” right, except we add the -shire to the end, so it’s woos-ter-shire sauce like here bit.ly/1ojovqf…a lot of Americans don’t know how to pronounce that right though :) I even used to call it wor-ces-ter-shire. We fluctuate on Caramel too. Almond is with a subtle /l/ sound if you want to speak in a neutral American accent. I’ve found this site http://www.oxforddictionaries.com, is the most accurate for listening to neutral American pronunciations of words, just have to change it to U.S. English before you search. I love the Brit pronunciations for potato/tomato. Thanks for the article!

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      Thanks. Yes, for some reason we say Woostershire for the place in England, but just Wooster for the sauce, even though it’s also spelled (spelt) Worcestershire.

      • http://accentsavvy.com Caroline

        I like that, it’s much easier to say that way! The spelling with an ‘r’ combined with the -shire makes it so much more confusing to pronounce.

  • http://www.blogiota.blogspot.com/ Iota Manhattan

    After living in America for 5 years, I still haven’t worked out how to pronounce “chipotle”. Any clues?

    The restaurant chain “Chili’s” has a logo that joins the ‘l’ to the first ‘i’, so for ages I thought it was “Chiji’s”, and pronounced it as such!

    • therealguyfaux

      “Chee-POHT-leh” is actually the Spanish pronunciation (strictly speaking, Mexican, as it is derived from Nahuatl, the Aztec language). But Chip Poatley, like it was some preppy-boy’s name, is probably the more likely way you’ll hear it from Anglos.

  • Amanda

    There’s basil. Americans pronounce it BAY-sil as opposed to the British BAH-sil.

    • Katherine McChesney

      I’ve heard the British pronounce it BAZ-ul.

  • Labrit

    Then there’s t the entirely different word issue. As in: courgette vs zucchini, or eggplant vs aubergine. Don’t go near the correct pronunciation of aluminum foil when you’re covering a dish of either of the aforementioned.

    • Shea

      I still call it tin foil, so no problems there!

  • Shelle

    You couldn’t be more incorrect in your estimation of American pronunciation of Spanish (Mexican/Puerto Rican) words. Only the most ignorant person would pronounce the “LL” as an English L. One might do it as a joke, but never seriously. It would be ridiculous.

    • Cloggie

      It wasn’t written clearly, but the article means to say that the Brits pronounce the ‘ll’ as an L instead of a Y sound. I had to read it twice to figure out which pronunciation was being attributed to which area.

  • HitchensImmortal .

    I honestly had no idea you Brits were so hard-up on Spanish pronunciations.

    Fortunately for you, the Spanish are just speaking terrible Latin. Unfortunately, on both sides of the pond, we’re speaking a horrendous combination of French & German.

  • Sue Murphy Umezaki

    Love this! I’m American, but have lived in Japan for 20 years, and have English speaking friends from all over. I find these pronunciation differences fascinating and funny! My son’s speech therapist is Australian, and we get lots of giggles over the little differences. She gave me a sheet with rhyming words, and one of the pairs was sauce/horse – which rhymes for her, but not for me. We had a good laugh over that one!

    • Rene

      That’s so funny! Sauce and horse rhyming? That’s a new on for me! So is it ‘sorse and horse’ or ‘sauce and hauce’?

      • Sue Murphy Umezaki

        It would be close to sorse and horse, but without the American ‘r’. I don’t even know exactly how I would write that phonetically!

        • Jwb52z

          Sorry, I more or less copied this without having known you posted it first. :)

      • Patty123

        Sorse and horse. I’m English and that sounds perfectly fine to me!

    • Jwb52z

      Australians and some New Zealanders say “sauce” like we in the US almost say “source” with a lighter R for those who didn’t get how that could be done.

  • Prince Pineda

    also here in mid-east when i first came here…when my doctor told me give me an “ambol”..i think so many times..until my colleague told me thats the way they pronounce of an “ampoule”…they pronounce B instead of P….

  • Bennett Seacrist

    I pronounce the “l” in “almond” but find that I drop the “d” most of the time. I’ll have to start listening to see if that’s common where I live (Michigan) or if I’m just dopey in how I pronounce words.

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