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Something of huge interest to me has been published, unintentionally no doubt. It is the pronunciation crib sheet that Ana Botella, the Mayor of Madrid, used in making her speech to the meeting of the International Olympic Committee where her city’s candidacy was being considered. She has been widely derided in the media for her English (particularly by her political opponents), though how many of her critics could have done any better is a moot point.
Over the years I have been asked on a number of occasions to rehearse students who had to make a spoken presentation for a congress, interview, exam or other purpose, even to the extent of making audio recordings for them to use as a model. I have seen how they write home-made phonetic transcriptions of the sounds that they hear, often very idiosyncratically, in a form that has meaning for them as a mnemonic aid for pronouncing individual words or phrases. This, however, is the first time that I have seen a complete text written in this way.
I do not know the precise manner in which this text came into existence but I do know that such things are very personal if they are to be of any use and I think it quite probable that Ms Botella wrote it herself. The fact that it contains some inconsistencies and typos is irrelevant given the purpose for which it was intended; it was not designed as a coherent phonetic transcription. I have made a transcription of her words in proper English and numbered the paragraphs for my comments
Some general phonetic points about Spanish pronunciation of English words.
- Consonant clusters and word-final consonants are problematic.
- In Spanish z is pronounced /T/, d is pronounced /D/, qu is /k/, and ll is a palatal sound something like the lli in English million (Wikipedia).
- Spanish does not have English /dZ/; instead of devoicing it as Germans do they pronounce it as /j/, represented here as the letter y.
- The English aspirated h is also unknown but Spaniards perceive it as Spanish /x/, written as j (usually represented in English by kh).
- The situation with b and v is highly complex; suffice it to say that they are widely confused.
- English u /V/ is perceived as /a/ and English w is pronounced as /gw/ or /ɣw/.
Transcription of the crib sheet
1. Thank you Ignacio, President Rogge, dear IOC members, ladies and gentlemen. I have the chance to speak to many of you in private conversations and also in presentations in San (sic) Petersburg and in Lausanne.
2. I must say, I’d like to continue our friendship and frankly, I don't want this to be our last chance to speak to each other.
3. So let me tell you a little more about my beautiful home town Madrid. Madrid is one of the most comfortable, charming and inviting cities in the world. Just like all of Spain, Madrid is an amazing mixture of traditions. You can see feel and taste the wonder of Spanish culture. In Madrid’s parks its food, its art and its architecture.
4. Perhaps those of you who have visited Madrid share this feeling. We have been working hard for many years so our guests, almost eight million each year, feel at home.
5. And most importantly, Madrid is FUN. The Olympic Games are not only a celebration of sport. They are also a celebration of life. And I assure you no-one celebrates life like the Spanish people do.
6. There is nothing quite like a relaxing cup of café con leche? In Plaza Mayor? Or a quaint (?) romantic dinner in the Madrid de los Austrias, the oldest part of Madrid.
7. These experiences and so much more are the heart and soul of Madrid.
8. So, later today when you are considering your choice for twenty-twenty, I hope you remember that in addition to the best prepared plan, Madrid also offers you a city full of culture, FUN and welcoming people.
9. The magic of Madrid is real and we want to share it with all of you. Muchas gracias.
1. a. It should be have had.
b. The final s is conversations and presentations is clear. For that she is to be congratulated.
c. Spanish-speakers find it impossible to handle words that begin with s+consonant. Words of Latin origin that begin this way have an additional e at the start to provide the necessary vowel: estación, espacio for station, space. There is even esmog, esmoquin and esnifar for English smog, dinner jacket/tuxedo and sniff (cocaine). This explains the espic for speak though in fact the e that she pronounces is slight.
d. She seems to be saying Spanish San as written rather than English Saint.
e. The spelling Petensbun is unusual, not least because the Spanish form is Petersburgo. That central consonant cluster is not easy for a Spanish-speaker but is just the same in English. My first thought was that n was the nearest approach that could be managed, especially for the final syllable /b3:g/ with its impossible final consonant (no Spanish word ever ends with the airflow obstructed or with lips closed) but I was struck later by a different idea. If the model on which this based was American the retroflex r could very easily seem to have a nasal element to it, which would explain the presence of the n in both cases.
2. a. The initial e of espic is more strongly pronounced here.
b. In oderrr the Spanish d represents /D/, the triple r is presumably a reminder to pronounce it or to lengthen the vowel, as with morr in the next paragraph. Of course, it is not pronounced in standard British English but Spanish-speakers find that hard to believe, and anyway she may have had a rhotic model voice.
3. a. The spelling Madruid is interesting. It could obviously be a typo (u and i are adjacent on the keyboard) but it could also be an attempt to represent the English /I/, especially if the model is American. In 8. and 9. the crib has the Spanish pronunciation Madrí, which is what she says there.
b. Again, she does well with the final consonants of cities and world, and she makes a reasonable attempt at the central consonant clusters of mixture and architecture. The intrusive e is apparent in Spanish.
4. a. The difficult diphthong in share is represented by sheeer, where the eee also indicates its spoken emphasis.
b. The final syllable of visited is pronounced properly. Many Spanish-speakers simply omit it in words like this.
c. There is a clear /t/ at the end of guest, another surprise as this is a notorious combination. She can be forgiven for missing the final s of this cluster.
d. The h in home is good despite being represented by j in the crib.
5. The typical substitution of /a/ for /V/ is evident here in FAN for FUN.
6. a. Here we see one of the biggest puzzles and a source of great media criticism. Why does she say café con leche (coffee with milk) in Spanish? But also, why the question marks, reflected in the spoken intonation, in the first two sentences?
b. My first thought for the cuei of the crib was that it was quiet but having listened carefully to the speech I think that it is intended to be quaint with the typical loss of final consonants.
c. The Austrias is the name given in Spanish to the Habsburgs who ruled Spain until 1700. It is a simple way of avoiding the challenge of pronouncing Habsburgs in Spanish but is baffling to non-Spaniards.
7. The last syllable of experiences is there. It is almost always omitted (see visited 4b. above).
8. a. Later today has been written and is pronounced correctly as one unit.
b. The w in when is good.
c. The crib has siri for city, which also suggests an American model.
c. The final d in prepared is clear, which is especially remarkable as it precedes a p. Unfortunately this is followed by the typical pronunciation of Madrid omitting the final letter
d. There is a reasonable attempt at the /dZ/ of magic despite the y in the crib.
9. As with Madruid (3a.) the ruiel might be a typo or an attempt to represent a spoken English model.
I understand that like many Spanish politicians Ana Botella has a low level of English. If that is so, she is to be congratulated on having rehearsed her pronunciation, especially of difficult consonants, to a high level. However, her accent is still very strong (though clear) and I feel on balance that she would have done better to stick to the simultaneous interpreters.
Finally, there is the matter of the presentation. While Spanish public speaking certainly goes in for facial expression and hand gestures much more than English does, this is exaggerated and distracting, and I would advise any student of mine to calm it down a little – or even a lot. In my view it is her excessively theatrical presentation and manner that let her down rather than her spoken English.
The content of her speech is of no concern here; nor is her political affiliation.
The comments below continue the analysis.
I have written a follow-up to this post.