Why is it So Difficult to Pronounce “Queso” Correctly?

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American English has had an influx of foreign words as much as our nation has had immigrants.  After years of common use, we can easily stop becoming aware of their origins.  Words such as restaurant and entree (French), delicatessen [often shortened to “deli”] and kindergarten (German)1 , vodka (Russian), as well as fiasco and prima donna (Italian)2 fit into our daily conversations smoothly.

With the increase of those with Hispanic heritage, many Spanish words have become prevalent in our conversations.  Sometimes the words are used even when an English equivalent exists.  This brings us to “queso” or cheese.  A recent fast food television commercial  used the Spanish word throughout rather than its English equivalent.

Fine, many ads do that.  But why is the word pronounced “KAY-so”  instead of “KEH-so”?  In the first place, the long “a” is practically unique to the English language.  Secondly, the correct “eh” sound for the Spanish “e” is already familiar to us Americans.  For example, we have “impressive (“im-PREHS-sihv”), beneficial  (beh-neh-FISH-al), etc.

The closest to a long “a” sound in Spanish comes from words with the “ei” diphthong3 such as in “beisbol” (meaning baseball).

While we’re on the subject, the common unit of currency in several nations, the “peso,” is pronounced “PEH-so”, not “PAY-so.”  Of course, Spanish words aren’t the only ones with foreign origins which are mispronounced when they are easily said correctly.  Perhaps these will be addressed in a future article.

 

1 – “German loanwords in English,” http://www.englisch-hilfen.de/en/words/loanwords.htm

2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Italian_origin

3 – “A diphthong… also known as a gliding vowel, is a combination of two adjacent vowel soundswithin the same syllable,” from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diphthong

Car Window Sticker: “I Will NOT Be Forced To Learn A Second Language To Accommodate Illegals In MY Country”

Yeah, that makes sense.  No one should be forced to accommodate anything illegal as that would be condoning a discredited practice.

If this is in response to a work situation requiring learning Spanish as part of job training, that would be understandably irritating.  With the decline of proficiency in English, this could also be argued as poor use of scarce resources!   (And of course, the sticker didn’t specifically mention Spanish, but that would certainly be a safe assumption.)  Another fair question is:  what percentage of present-day Spanish immigrants are illegal?………

Before I go any further, I must be clear that I am not in favor of promoting a dual-language country.  It’s not practical nor does it promote unity, and it could lead to a version of the “Quebec versus rest-of-Canada” problem which has hounded our neighbors to the north for a long time.

I was influenced on this isue by first-hand experience.  My Colombian-born father and native Cincinnatian mother decided to raise their family in her home town.  He brought his college degree, obtained from a small college in New Mexico, to work and live in an English-speaking country.  He didn’t expect any language accommodation in either an engineering department, where there were few professionals from foreign countries, or from the rest of our community.  In fact, he learned his second language so well that he was the one consulted when questions about grammar surfaced at work!

My sisters and I learned some Spanish at home as a means of continuing our heritage and to be able to exchange broken Spanish with our Colombian cousins and their less-broken English in the few times we traded visits.  It also helped us when the public schools we attended taught French in the late grade school years during the 1960’s.

Looking back, why was a public school district in suburban Cincinnati teaching French as a standard practice?  At that time, French was the language of diplomacy.  It was the foreign language used in a majority of international exchanges, both political and in business.  Today, English has essentially become the default language in these situations.

While this is convenient for us in the United States, it can inadvertantly encourage a reluctance to study foreign languages in school.  However, the need to understand other languages has become very important.  The world has truly “shrunk” over the last fifty years and people of different nationalities are interacting more than ever.  To avoid learning a language outside of one’s home tongue creates a Tower of Babel scenario.  (This doesn’t explain the confusion in our English-speaking Congress, but that’s a separate Goliath of a problem.)

I close with two requests:

1)    To legal immigrants:  assimilate yourselves into our great country by learning English.  Just because it has been 53 years since my father became a U.S. citizen and chose to know English well, does not make it archaic to do so today.  By copying him, you will be doing your part to reduce the “oil/water society” we are headed to and return our nation to the “melting pot” it has been known for.

2)    To my fellow native-born U.S. citizens:  open yourselves to other languages.  Peace is in short supply, in part, because communication is suffering.  Understanding even just a little bit of other cultures will open beautiful possibilities, I guarantee it!