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Perhaps they'll listen now

How do you pronounce the surname of that artist who liked sunflowers and starry nights? I suspect I say it wrongly… but not sure. Crowdsourcing will have the answer!

Poll #1820257 Vincent van what now?

How do you, personally, pronounce Van Gogh?

Van Go
Van Goff
Van Goch (similar to Scottish 'loch')
Other (in a comment)

And if you had a gun held to your head and had to guess (or if you actually know), how do you think it's probably supposed to be pronounced, ie. by southern Netherlanders?

Van Go
Van Goff
Van Goch
Other (in a comment)
No idea at all, please don't pull the trigger I beg you, I'll do anythng to live

(And did you know he lived at various times in Brixton, Ramsgate and Isleworth? I didn't until recently.)



( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
20th Feb, 2012 10:33 (UTC)
I go with Van Hoff, the H being a bit throaty and the ff being like the ch in loch.

Edited at 2012-02-20 10:36 (UTC)
20th Feb, 2012 12:09 (UTC)
Having actually bothered to look it up now, it turns out the beginning and ending consonants are very similar, just one's more voiced than the other. (And both are sort of inbetween h and the ch in loch.)
20th Feb, 2012 12:51 (UTC)
Didn't QI cover this? And in any case, I used to game with a Dutch woman who would mock my pronunciation until it was a better rough approximation. Dutch, in much the way that Scots sounds like drunken English, sounds like drunken German.
20th Feb, 2012 10:33 (UTC)
Als ik waar een nederlander...
Fon Khookh. Nearest you will get in English is to try and clear your throat with imaginary spit!
20th Feb, 2012 11:06 (UTC)
You've given us radio buttons, so I've gone with "van goch", but in truth, I am almost as likely to say "van goff", depending on what fit takes me at the time.

I have heard at least one person swear blind that it should be "van gog", but as I know nothing at all about Dutch/Flemmish pronunciation, I really can't say which is right with any conviction at all.

Which is odd for me, I usually have a fairly robust opinion on such things!
20th Feb, 2012 11:15 (UTC)
Of course, this is tied in with the question of whether you should try to pronounce import words with the pronunciation rules of their source language or English.

Most people I know (for example), would pronounce Don Juan and Don Quixote [loosely] as "don hwan" and "don ki'hoe-tey" respectively, but an English dictionary will give them as "don joo-en" and "don 'kwik-soet".

Mainly I object to half-hearted attempts. "Jalapeño" could be "ja-la-'pee-no" or "ha-la-'pen-yo", but "ha-la-'pee-no" gets right on my nerves!
20th Feb, 2012 12:25 (UTC)
Mm, that is a can of worms kind of topic, in which everyone will be revealed to be horribly inconsistent.

I guess Don Juan has to be so pronounced because the rhymes in Byron's poem don't work otherwise. I'm not sure why Don Quixote should suffer the same fate though (unless just because 'quixotic' depends upon that pronunciation).

Orthography of non-standard consonants (etc) is an interesting area. It seems to me you have three options when you're assigning your spoken language to the Roman alphabet and it doesn't quite fit:

* invent extra letters (the German ß);
* use diacritical marks on existing letters (the Spanish ñ);
* use unusual combinations of existing letters (the Portuguese nh);

Each has potential disadvantages when you're wanting foreigners to be able to pronounce your words properly. The Spanish seem to have made a rod for their own backs by having what is to them a separate consonant in its own right look like a modified version of a normal consonant in other languages.
20th Feb, 2012 12:34 (UTC)
It is a can of worms, and in some ways an unfair one, since (as with Van Gogh), some, many or most English speakers will not have a clue about the pronunciation conventions of other languages, and will accept whatever the first version they hear as the "right" one.

I think that for Don Juan and Don Quixote though, it is because the names came into common usage in English long before anyone gave a tuppenny damn what foreigners did with their words; on the well established anglo-saxon principle of "When in Rome, do as the English Do!"
20th Feb, 2012 12:02 (UTC)
And, for a bonus, which is the Woody Allen film where his character mocks Diane Keaton's for pronouncing it (implication: pretentiously) as Van Goch?
20th Feb, 2012 12:10 (UTC)
It is Van Gog in Russian but as I said (Fon Khookh) to my ex-fiancee she replied "Yes, you speak a bit of Dutch and it is correct you also sound like a ****".
20th Feb, 2012 12:18 (UTC)
I'd heard a story that it, in native pronunciation, sounds a little like 'F**k off'; I thught it was something like "fo' hoch"

(but am not saying that I actually know. Sounds like Mr Broxted does.)

20th Feb, 2012 12:44 (UTC)
Van Goggin The Gog.
20th Feb, 2012 12:50 (UTC)
For the win.
20th Feb, 2012 16:32 (UTC)
Obvs I knew about the Brixton thing - there's a plaque. Also there'a a play "Vincent in Brixton"
20th Feb, 2012 17:51 (UTC)
Excellent! Apparently (according to his s-i-l) it was the happiest year of his life. (Which may not be saying very much.)
20th Feb, 2012 18:05 (UTC)
Other in comment: I was vaguely aware that both consonants in Gogh are phlegmy, and that the vowel is not the English ɒ. Then it was on QI last year or so, and then dragged in a Dutch TV presenter to say it for them, so my awareness became a bit less vague.

Despite that, I still can't remember how hard the "v" is. German suggests not hard at all.

Since I'm not going to pronounce it correctly, I don't see much point arguing whether it "should" be Go or Goch in English. I think I usually use the obviously-wrong Goff, but if someone raised him in conversation as van Goch I'm pretty sure I'd copy them.

Next up: Layonardo, Meechelangelo.
20th Feb, 2012 18:37 (UTC)
I'm pretty sure I'd copy them.

Well sure. Because you don't want your @rse kicked.
21st Feb, 2012 10:42 (UTC)
I don't see much point arguing whether it "should" be Go or Goch in English

I suppose there isn't much point in a strict sense. But I find it quite interesting that there actually does seem to be (judging by the responses) a consensual 'official' English pronunciation that many people are aware is different from how they actually say it, and also is different from what it's like in Dutch. Makes me wonder about the linguistic status of such a language element, which seems acknowledged as totemic yet widely ignored.

This relates to the 'making an effort' version of prounouncing foreign words in general. If you make some sort of approximation to the foreign phonemes, rather than pronouncing it as if it were an English word, then that counts as good enough, even though the actual vowel sounds and intonation and so on are still English really. Eg. "cwuss-on" for croissant.

I had the feeling that Michelangelo used to be ('officially') known as Michael Angelo in English, although I've not found a lot of evidence for that.

Edited at 2012-02-21 10:43 (UTC)
21st Feb, 2012 11:31 (UTC)
What's the consensual "official" English pronunciation? "van Goch"? You should have a question for that too!

I have a vague impression that "van Go" is more common in the US than in the UK. But I might have imagined that, and even if I didn't I don't know why it should be.

that counts as good enough

There's also something both difficult and wrong with breaking into an attempted foreign accent for what (in "croissant") amounts to a loan word anyway. If you intone the word properly as well as getting the right phonemes in the right order then it's hard on the ear, if you don't speak the language then you'll get it wrong, and even if you do it's not necessarily an easy trick to pull without a pause either side. And then you have to decide whether it's "a croissant" or "un croissant".

Some languages and words are easier than others to slide into English -- people might not really notice or care if you say "Layonardo" when they expected "Leeonardo", or "lasagne" when they expected "Lazzanya", but with "van Gogh" the Dutch pronunciation is pretty much unidentifiable if all you know is the English approximations.

I had an argument with metame in 2002 whether it was pretentious of Gary Lineker to pronounce "Nagasaki" with no stressed syllables, and hence sounding to the English ear rather more like "Nagasski" than "NagasAHki". Also whether it made a difference if (a) he speaks a bit of Japanese, having made an effort when he lived there, and he likewise has a slight tendency to accidentally pronounce Spanish place names correctly from time to time (b) he's a jumped-up crisp salesman.
27th Feb, 2012 15:18 (UTC)
It's a bit like the loch one, only the noises don't really exist in English.

Van Go, will get you laughed at

Van Goff, will be tolerated unless they expect you to know better (that'd be me then)

Van Goch is the right way to say it. The bloke on this Wikipedia audio sample has a monster dutch accent, so I'd go for this...

27th Feb, 2012 16:39 (UTC)
Mm, I like that. Will take a bit of practice though…
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )