Pho Pronunciation: You Can Say It, Pronounce Pho, Say: Phở...
Hi Samantha: I think you are absolutely right. The tones are one of the most difficult but important factors for Westerners to learn to speak Chinese and Vietnamese, among other Asian languages.
Viet language requires tonal inflections to give correct pronunciation, but the majority of Western speakers do not have tonal training or even a concept of tonal inflection, which includes cadence, rhythm, accent, pitch, etc. I personally have no problem with the IPA system or doing the "fuh" or "fur" thing, but these do not convey the tones in anyway, which I estimate to be up to 75% of constituting to correct pronunciation. For phở, they're definitely at least two tones, lower then rising. This is why I provided a slow version so people can hear the two tones. The southern accent has two tones, the northern accent has mostly the down tone without picking up.
Because the English language does not have such tonal variations, there is the following dynamic occurring. I've witnessed Vietnamese speakers teaching English speakers to pronounce a Viet word, but in the process of explaining the word during the conversation (of course the two are conversing in English,) the Viet speaker inadvertently pronounced the Viet word with an English accent, thus pronouncing the word incorrectly. This is because when speaking English it is not easy to suddenly change tone for just one word, then complete the rest of the sentence in English. Unaware of this, the English speaker took that as the correct pronunciation. This is how incorrect pronunciation spread widely, and the English speaker claimed that he heard it directly from a Vietnamese.
So the bottom line? I won't correct you Samantha, because I can't hear how you may pronounce it yourself 😉 but one thing is for sure: since you are a linguist and speak 4 languages, I trust that you know what you are doing. Awareness is key to much of this, and I think you have it.
By the way, the recordings are all my own voice. I can't claim to be 100% perfect, but can you clarify your comment about some "audio files have a tonal but the other didn’t, or was hardly noticeable?" If you can point to some examples, I will surely check for any problem that may exist. Thanks!
Thanks for your response, Cuong. I just meant that to the untrained ear, the tones might be missed all together or dismissed as simply part of the background noise that comes along with English speaking. I heard them....however, as awful as it may sound, making the tonals much more pronounced (as it was in the one audio file) might make it easier for untrained ears to pick it up faster and accurately. All speakers tend to modify their speech when speaking to someone in a foreign tongue i.e. English speakers slowing down, speaking louder, enunciating more exaggeratedly. I thought your audio files were great and wanted to express my appreciation for them. I just thought maybe drawing more attention to the tonal aspect of the language and to certain words might make it easier to explain to some WHY its so important to say them correctly...and HOW to do it. 🙂 Great post.
Hi Samantha: Thanks for the good words. I'll definitely take your suggestions into account for future recordings, and probably will go back to redo some existing ones to improve quality.
Thanks Cuong... I've always wondered this. I am a Filipino American, and pretty sensitive to the nuance. I've never been confident about ordering Pho, having to say it. I am now, practicing, and building my confidence before I do so, instead of pointing to the picture of the dish. I love pho! The audio files you posted are most helpful! Aloha, for your great care of your culture and language!
Hello Lawrence: Thanks so much for the good words, and I'm glad I've helped. I'm sure you'll enjoy pho even more now 😉 You are absolutely right! I think we all should take great care of each of our own culture and language, especially when it comes to our PHỞ!! Yeah!
I understand there are lots of pho places to enjoy in Hawaii. Lucky you.
i love this. i may send it to all those i know who sound like asses when they repeatedly say "foe" even when i try to discretely correct them. or maybe i'll just let them say "foe" and smile as i laugh hysterically inside.
So how do you pronounce it? You put it in a sentence, which I read, but did not spell it differently to differentiate the way it's said 🙁 I'm on my phone, so I can't listen to audio if that is the case...
Hi Barrynominal: The audio files accompanying this article are Flash audio files so if you are on a mobile phone, you may not get to hear them properly. You will need a Flash-supported browser to listen to them. I apologize.
Phở translated to English is Pho... which is pronounced like "Foe."
I can appreciate your desire to show us what the correct pronunciation is, and I have a multicultural/multilingual background (I'm American, grew up in Europe and mother is Scandinavian) so I definitely get it. But once a food becomes part of the local culture, it gets a local version of its name. Pho is now not only a vietnamese word but also an American/English word and presumably a word in many other languages.
Do you eat Mexican food? Taco and burrito are now also English words. I've never heard someone be criticized for pronouncing them as such. Now, if they went to Mexico and ordered them there with the American version of the words, especially if they were ordering in Spanish, that would grate on my ears, but using them in American-English conversation it's ridiculous to suddenly put on a 'correct' spanish accent for one word. Actually it's more than ridiculous, it's pretentious.
I'm a salsa instructor and my husband's first language is Spanish. Nothing bugs me more than people who walk up to us and try to be more 'authentic' and give the correct pronunciation of a handful of spanish-based terms, or even my husband's name (which is actually the English George, not Jorge) in the middle of English conversation. Salsa is now an English word. When used in English conversation, by an English speaker, it's appropriate to pronounce it as such. Actually my sons' names aren't even American/English (or Spanish!) so when I introduce them, I pronounce their names with an American accent, because that's appropriate, not because I want to make it easier for those lousy Americans with lazy tongues.
I am critical of the lazy-tongued Americans at other times though. Like when they say "chipoltee" for "chipotle". Come on, look at how the word is spelled! But I think it's unfair and unrealistic to be critical of those who pronounce Pho in an Anglicized way when it is now an English word. Just my two cents. I guess though, maybe I need to stop saying 'foe'. I guess it depends on what the accepted pronunciation ends up being (which is decided organically by the population using it) for this new English word.
Nice! Now lets work on Aloha, Oregon (they say uh-low-uh) and karaoke (first off, where does that extra E come from?!?!).
LC808: Hmm I thought Aloha is pronounced like the Polynesians would pronounce Aloha in Hawaii, no? Uh-low-uh is kind of odd...
Karaoke, now that's also a mystery to me too. I think this word has been Americanized to death.
Your stupid audio files don't work. Why are you so autistic as to insist that it cannot be spelled phawnetcially? Get a life, weirdo.
assdadas: Sorry you feel this way, but that's how I'd like to help people. By the way it's phonetically.
I couldn't find the answer to the question about North versus Central/South Vienamese accents for audio 3 and 4? I, like the majority, guessed 4 to be the northern accent? Am I right?