Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Extraneous Accents

(Not a music related post. If that's what you came here for today, go ahead and move along. Nothing to see here.)

I speak Spanish and Portuguese. And, arguably, English, but that doesn't help me make my point. Which is, I think I know a thing or two about accents. Written accents, on words.

In Spanish, "Feliz" ("happy") has no accent, because standard pronunciation guidelines tell the speaker to accent the last syllable on (most) words that end with a consonant. And Spanish normally abides by its own rules, whereas Portuguese is less internally consistent. (Neither are nearly as poorly behaved as English, of course.) Some exceptions do apply, and written accents are there to account for these. Therefore, "Lápiz" needs an accent to let everyone know they need to hit that first syllable hard, rather than accent the second syllable like a normal, everyday, consonant-ending-word should.

(See what good stuff you get from me? You're probably telling yourself, "I should visit here more often.")

Portuguese basically plays the same game, but they add additional diacritical marks to account for their numerous eccentricities. For example, in order to tell avô (grandfather) from avó (grandmother), you use a circumflex accent for the former (which produces a closed "oh" sound, rhyming with "low"), versus an acute accent on the latter (which produces an open sound, like the sound you make when the doctor asks you to open up and say "ah"). And there are other fun things, but we'll set those aside for now.

Why all this? Because my minor annoyance of the day is Pokémon. You heard me: Pokémon.

Check out that accent: second syllable. Don't believe me? Visit (if you dare) The Official Pokémon Website.

Say it out loud: "POHK kee Mawn", with a hard accent on the first syllable, and a secondary accent on the last. The least accented syllable is the middle one. You know... the one with an actual accent mark on it. That's perplexing and annoying. If I had to guess why it would be there, I'd say some marketing meeting was held. And someone had the temerity to suggest that "Pokemon" wasn't a sufficiently foreign-sounding (or looking) word. And some intern sitting in the back of the room... somebody who obviously knows NOTHING about accents... suggested they put an accent somewhere in the middle of the word, and that would impress the world's six- and seven-year olds*.

* - And then, so my theory goes, the room fell silent. Until the Bigwig Marketing Exec said, "Here is what I propose: we add an accent to the second syllable. Then everyone will know this is some sort of fancy, foreign thing." Then the rest of the room erupted in agreement**.

** - Of course, this is not my idea. FedEx had a great commercial on this theme years ago. Here, in case you missed it. It's funny because it's true.

Of course, here we are 15 years later, and Pokémon aren't losing any momentum... heck, Jason was a Pokeball (or Pokéball?) for Halloween (pics coming). So who am I to tell these people what to do?

- Aw2pp, linguistic purist

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I do love your ramblings, but I ask you to consider that when you hear the song from one of the many versions, I am thinking late 90's maybe (I would find it for you but the baby is eating catfood right now), they sing Po-KEH-mon.

So, I think what we may be seeing here is an Americanization of a word. You lived in Houston, you know San Felipe isn't San Fill-i-pee, but San Fell-ee-pay, but that doesn't stop everyone in the entire city from misprounouncing it.