Phil Lisps; We Investigate

So, the greater re:Cycling community is closing in on the sources of Phil Liggett’s seemingly strange pronunciation of Alejandro Valverde’s first name. When Phil says it, it comes out “Alethandro.” As commenters to the earlier post on this crucial matter remarked, Castilian Spanish does in fact turn some “s” and “z” sounds into “th.” A leading theory, therefore, is that Phil thinks Alejandro is really Alessandro–he does sometimes say “Alessandro Valverde”–and converts the (erroneous) “ss” into “th.”

That habit would account for his turning the middle name of Juan Mauricio Soler into “Mauritheeo,” too.

Maybe. We will stipulate that the matter of pronouncing “cross-language” proper names for broadcast is one fraught with confusion, difficulty, and the clash of inalterably correct opinions. re:Cycling has personal knowledge of a Bay Area radio outlet where editors have decided that the San Joaquin Valley town of Los Banos–LOSS BANN-ose in the local American argot–ought to be pronounced LOHSS BAHN-yohz, a perhaps “authentic” Spanish pronunciation. The only problem comes when you call the city hall or the newspaper in town–both English-speaking institutions–and are universally greeted with the American version of the name. And never mind the fact that the station in question broadcasts not in Spanish but in English. As I said, the subject vibrates with the potential for debate.

So who can say Phil is wrong with his Alethandros and Maurithios?

We can.

First, note that Phil is probably misapplying his ounce of knowledge about native pronunciation in the former case and perhaps in the latter one, too.

Second, note that it’s commonplace to adopt a modified form of foreign names when they’re spoken in another language. So even if Alejandro were pronounced Alethandro in a major dialect of Spanish, it would be more appropriate for an English-language broadcaster to adopt a version that conforms to a standard translation. In English, Alejandro — the j sounding like an h — conforms to such a standard. (Here’s another example, French to English: Say the name of the capital of France. If you’re a native English speaker, we’ll bet you a shrinking U.S. dollar you did not unconsciously say “Pa-ree.”)

Third, note that no one else on the air with him shares his lisping habit with these names. His fellow broadcasters are conforming to the standard.

And fourth, consider one piece of evidence from Spain. We had the idea that maybe the website of the Spanish paper El Pais would have video clips from the Tour in which the names of Valverde and Soler might be pronounced by a real live Spanish person. We were not disappointed. The video clip from Stage 1 features Valverde, and there’s no question about how it’s pronounced: in the non-lisping, non-Phil way. The video clip from Stage 2 mention’s Soler’s crash. The evidence is less clear, but give it a listen. To our impaired American ears, it sounds like the voiceover says Maurishio or Mauricio, but definitely not Mauritheeo.

With that, we certainly hope the matter can be put to rest. Alas, we know Phil won’t let it be.

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Phil on the Tour de Franth

OK, these are small things. But: Yesterday we noted Phil’s insistence on pronouncing Alejandro (ah-lay-HAHN-droh to most English speakers trying to respect the name’s Spanish origin) as “Alethandro.” At first, you think, no, he can’t really be saying that. But he is, most of the time, and he persists no matter how many times his broadcast partner, Paul Sherwen, gives the correct (or at least less ridiculous) pronunciation.

But there’s a method to Phil’s lisping. When he says the name of Juan Mauricio Soler, the climber who won last year’s Tour King of the Mountains competition, he usually makes it “Mau-REE-thee-oh.” When I heard him saying this last year, I wondered whether he was on to some unique personal pronunciation of the guy’s name. Sometimes, though, he would make it “Mau-REE-tsee-oh” (as Sherwen does). I can’t figure any reason it would be anything other than “Mau-REE-see-oh.”

One can only guess that somewhere in the dim past, Phil decided or told that Spanish “j” and “c” are pronounced “th” except when you want to throw in some random consonant sound. What’s amazing to me is that for as long as the guy has been working bicycle racing, no one’s been able to correct him.

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