Because I go on a lot of long walks at all times of the day, I regularly download podcasts to provide me with stimulating intellectual company during these walks – as nobody seems to wish to join me in person. I listen to podcasts about politics, philosophy, economics, history, literature and the like. Some of them are in German, some of them are in English, from both sides of the Atlantic and some from the Pacific.
Especially in English language podcasts about philosophy, it happens quite often that in the middle of what might well be a good thought, I get completely thrown off course by the speaker totally butchering a French or a German name. When that happens, I can’t take them seriously any longer. How can it be that a professor of philosophy claims to be an authority on Immanuel Kant or René Descartes, which I would think involves years of studying these thinkers’ works, and never once bothered to ask a German or French speaker how to correctly pronounce the name of their subject of study?
A few examples:
- Immanuel Kant is not pronounced like an American “can’t”.
- René Descartes is not pronounced “day-cart”, especially not with a strong emphasis on the first syllable, as if there was also a “week-cart” from which he needs to be distinguished.
- Ernst Bloch is not pronounced “block”.
- Please do not pronounce Johann Gottlieb Fichte as “fickte”. It means something completely different in German. Something which you would never want to say in public, if at all.
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel does not rhyme with “bagel”.
I am sure my readers will come up with more examples, possibly also from other languages.
To the English speakers, let me explain my outrage at these mispronunciations:
(1) It is not even mainly about cultural or linguistic imperialism, although you may have noticed that all German speakers (at least if they dare to go on radio or TV or hold a lecture at a university) have no trouble at all to pronounce David Hume, Adam Smith or John Rawls in exactly the same way as a native speaker of English would do.
(2) My criticism centres rather on your intellectual laziness. If you can’t be bothered to look up the pronunciation in a dictionary, listen to it in a source in the original language or simply ask somebody who knows, then I simply cannot take your approach to research and science seriously at all. You make yourself sound like a sloppy reader, thinker and speaker.