The world is a big place. So big, in fact, that two of its most influential nations—separated as ever by a common language—cannot agree on the pronunciation of many of its place names. Sure, we understand that Americans might not initially be able to pronounce “Leicestershire” or that Brits (writing from experience) will make a hash of “Terre Haute.” But there are also place names that Brits and Americans—each with their own unique approach to phonetics—just simply pronounce differently. Here are 10 such examples:
1. Notre Dame
As a six year resident of Indiana, I’m probably more familiar with this pronunciation difference than most people. That’s because the Hoosier State is home to a popular collegiate football team that shares its name with the famous Parisian cathedral. And whereas the British would pronounce this place as either “not-ra-DAM” or “not-ra-DAHM,” Americans often insist upon “noter-DAME” (sometimes “note-ra-DAME” or “note-ra-DAHM”). I should mention that this pronunciation is usually reserved for the aforementioned university, though Americans might also apply it to the Victor Hugo book title The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
For a country comprising just seven letters, Tunisia sure does contain a lot of phonetic differences when it comes to American and British English. With the latter, the North African nation is usually pronounced “tyoo-NIZ-ee-a”, while Americans—offering a different interpretation at each of the word’s syllables—typically say “too-NEE-zha.”
Brits do like to poke fun at Americans for this one, usually pointing out that “Antarctica has more than one ‘c’ in it.” In other words, some Americans will drop the first ‘c’, especially when speaking quickly. Additionally, both of the t-sounds are often substituted for d-sounds, resulting in a pronunciation along the lines of “and-ARD-ick-a” (sometimes even “ann-ARD-ick-a”). However, it should be reiterated that many other Americans will also—like their British counterparts—pronounce it just as it is spelled: ant-ARK-tick-a.
4. Sri Lanka
The key difference here lies with the initial vowel sound in “Lanka.” As they do with words such as “pasta,” “kebab” or “Picasso,” Americans elongate the a-sound to produce “shree-LAHN-ka”, whereas Brits will usually incorporate a near-open front unrounded vowel (such as the one used in “cat”), resulting in the following pronunciation: “shree-LANK-a.” As we will see in number 6, this particular vowel difference is not exclusive to just Sri Lanka.
That’s right—Venezuela’s capital city offers up the same subtle variation. However, with all of its vowels represented by the letter “a,” a little explanation is perhaps needed here. This difference always occurs wherever the stress is placed in the word. In this case, of course, the stress is placed on the middle vowel sound, meaning Americans pronounce it “ca-RAHK-us, while Brits say ca-RACK-us. It should be noted that—in terms of these vowel sounds—Brits and Americans will occasionally switch roles. Take, for example, number 6.
While neither British English nor American English can claim a universal pronunciation of the 36th U.S. state, each has a pronunciation that is more widely used than the other. In the United States, the tendency is toward saying “ne-VAD-a”, while Brits are far more prone on this occasion to elongating the stressed vowel sound. In other words, the more common pronunciation in British English is “ne-VAH-da.”
Staying on the theme of American place names, the famous Texan city of Houston represents another phonetic role reversal. In words like “tuna”, it is normally the British who incorporate a y-sound even when the letter “y” is absent from the word itself (e.g. TYOO-na). However, on this occasion, Americans—almost universally—pronounce Houston as “HYOO-stun,” whereas the British very often say “HOO-stun.”
No prizes for guessing who is widest of the mark when it comes to the Spanish pronunciation of this Central American country (pronounced locally as either “neeka-RAG-wa” or “neeka-RAH-wa”). As with their interesting phonetic interpretation of countries such as “Uruguay,” the British tend to put their own spin on things by pronouncing it “nicka-RAG-yew-a,” adding an extra syllable. The common American English pronunciation—while not always spot on—comes closer with “nicka-RAHG-wa.”
9. St. Louis
Though the U.S. city of St. Louis is fairly well known outside of the United States, the same apparently cannot be said for its state-side pronunciation. St. Louisans—and most Americans for that matter—pronounce it as “saynt-LOO-iss,” while the British—as with Notre Dame—lean closer to the French pronunciation, “saynt-LOO-ee.” That said, I am reliably informed that Americans will occasionally adopt the latter pronunciation, if only for the purposes of humor.
As is also sometimes the case with the city of Glasgow, the pronunciation of Russia’s capital city differs either side of the Pond in just one respect: the final syllable. The American pronunciation is along the lines of “GOW” to rhyme with “cow,” whereas the British—producing a smaller rounding of the lips—pronounce it as “GO.” In other words, Americans (on the whole) say “MOSS-gow,” and the British say “MOSS-go.”
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