Thursday, September 19, 2013

Brits and Americans Cannot Pronounce 'van Gogh' Correctly

Something that drives British people absolutely bonkers is hearing an American "mispronounce" the name of Dutch post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh. Pangs of rage fill up the collective consciousness as the nation retorts in one voice: "it's VAN-GOFF, not VAN-GO!"
Similarly, in years past, my American wife has ridiculed me for much the same reason, which only prompts me to hit back with "the religion you speak of is BUD-IZM, not BOOD-IZM."

In truth, while there are exceptional individuals from both countries who employ the correct pronunciation, neither VAN-GOFF nor VAN-GO is considered correct in van Gogh's homeland of the Netherlands. For the sake of argument (or for the ending of one) the Dutch pronounce his name VAN-HOCKH, with a glottal gh-sound at the end of the word.



One of the main reasons this pronunciation has been lost on both the United States and much of Great Britain is that such a sound does not exist in the linguistic makeup of either country (with the exception of Scottish and Welsh dialects, as well as Scouse). It is akin to a French native pronouncing the word three as free: the th-sound not being part of the French language.

Moreover, the name of van Gogh emerged at a time long before the mass spread of television and the invention of the internet. In other words, references to his name would have been read, rather than heard, meaning that alternative pronunciations of his name were more likely to emerge.

One thing's for sure; van Gogh's works are exhibited in major museums across both Britain and the United States. So why not jump over the language barrier and just go and appreciate the man's work in the flesh?

Sometimes, it's better hearing me in a British accent. Click the red button below.


Laurence Brown is a British man writing his way through the truly bizarre world of America - a place he sometimes accidentally calls home and a place he still hasn't quite figured out after seven years. Thankfully, his journey is made 12% easier by the fact that his accent makes him sound much smarter than he is. For evidence of this, subscribe to his popular Lost in the Pond web series over on YouTube.

15 comments:

tlsmith63 said...

In the Doctor Who episode about Van Gogh they pronounced it "Van Goff". I had never heard it pronounced like that & figured that it was the correct pronunciation. No, even DW is wrong!:P

Twpsynella C'est Moi said...

http://www.howjsay.com/index.php?word=van+Gogh

Here you can hear the American, the British, and the Dutch pronunciations of Van Gogh. This dutch pronunciation sounds like the written explanation of a Canadian whose Dutch father insisted she pronounce it correctly (but I can't find that link now)

Tishma Sarkar said...
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Jin Kazama said...
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Anonymous said...

Another point that you missed is that Americans don't pronounce the short o sound in the Gogh part, correctly. The British pronunciation of that o sound is the same as the Dutch pronunciation.

Anonymous said...

The grapheme -gh at the end of some words in English is pronounced /f/ as in the word ''trough'', that's a first way of pronouncing the -gh, and a second way of pronouncing -gh is as in the phoneme /-/ meaning the grapheme is not pronounced at all, as is the case in the word ''though''. But there is also a third way of pronouncing the -gh at the end of a word, and that is pronouncing the -gh as /g/ as in ''Pittsburgh''. The Americans are pronouncing VAN GOGH as in the word ''through'', and the British are pronouncing VAN GOGH as in ''trough''. But both ways are more than a very weird way of pronouncing VAN GOGH, because VAN GOGH should be pronounced as in the word ''Pittsburgh'', which may not be the exact Dutch way of pronouncing VAN GOGH, but it is the closest anglicized counterpart of the Dutch phoneme for the grapheme -gh, and therefore more than acceptable, and VAN GOGH should not be pronounced as in ''trough'', which is the British way, nor as in ''through'', which is the American way, and there is no need for an a native speaker of English to imitate the Dutch sound either, because the /g/ as in ''Pittsburgh'' is doing the job more than fine enough.

Simon Harris said...

British: ‘Berna(r)ners have got lots ov vite(r)mins’ (‘i’ pronounced same say as ‘it’) and silent (r)
Americans: ‘Bananas have got lots of viytamins’ (‘a’ pronounced as in ‘ant’ and ‘i’ pronounced ‘eye’)
and same British American spelling put pronounced differently:
Tuna (choona), Puma (Pyooma) MounTIN (MounTAIN), FounTIN (FounTAIN)
Small Frozen Coke (British accent can be confused as ‘Small Fries an Coke)
WooTah (WahDer), Croissant is . . . . Cwusont and Cwassnt

Simon Harris said...

also:

Nitch and Niche

Dooty and Jewtee (Duty)

Aant and Arnt (Aunt)

Ned Ludd said...

Regardless of what Anonymous says, Americans like me pronounce Gogh as in the word "Though", so it is Van Go.

Anonymous said...

As a Dutchman, I'm really pleased to find this article. Sadly, the pronunciation is still not correct: the glottal -gh sound is also the sound of the first "g"!

Melissa said...

I'm from the U.S. I'm glad too. I just finished watching the documentary Vincent Van Gogh with Linus Roache, excellent, and noticed that there are different pronunciations, as well.

Anonymous said...

What you're saying here is a bit generalized not taking into account that both Britain and the US have multiple dialects and ways of saying things. Likely the royals don't pronounce many of the examples the way you suggest. Similarly someone from Washington state is not going to pronounce things the way Texans do. We can also add in Canadians who use both "croissant" and "cwassnt"...the latter being closer to the proper French pronunciation which has a more gotta love "r". When I say many French words with an R I say it at the back of my throat so it has a more W-like sound. In addition I pronounce words of French origin the French way so for me foyer is "foy-ay" clique is "cleek" niche is "neesh" and Quebec is "ke-beck". I'm sure if I showed those same words to someone from Britain and someone from the US they would also pronounce them very differently but they are French words so who is right?

Laura Joon said...

The g in Pittsburgh is the same as the g in Luxembourg, right? Cause that's not actually the g we were looking for.

So there's four things wrong here:
1. You guys pronounce word van as the actual English word van. The a is supposed to sound somewhat like the a you hear when a girls sees a puppy: "aaaaahhwwwww!"
2. The first g in Gogh is gutteral g sound too
3. The o is as in loft, not go
4. The gh is a gutteral g sound

Laura Joon said...

The g in Pittsburgh is the same as the g in Luxembourg, right? Cause that's not actually the g we were looking for.

So there's four things wrong here:
1. You guys pronounce word van as the actual English word van. The a is supposed to sound somewhat like the a you hear when a girls sees a puppy: "aaaaahhwwwww!"
2. The first g in Gogh is gutteral g sound too
3. The o is as in loft, not go
4. The gh is a gutteral g sound

We need to be better. said...

Though has a "u" that makes it do that.

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