The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bruschetta, Marinara, and Mascarpone – The Three Most Egregiously Mispronounced Italian Food Words

Something Wrong Remains Wrong, Regardless Of “Actual Usage”

It's been awhile since I wrote anything about how badly people mispronounce Italian food words. I think it's been at least a week. Anyway, I have cause to once again take up the gauntlet. I was watching one of those cooking competition shows on TV and the contestants were mercilessly massacring one of the most often mispronounced words and it just tripped my trigger. Although I could find dozens of candidates, I consider these to be the top three most egregiously mispronounced Italian food words.

Bruschetta. It is not “broo-SHET-uh.” “Broo-SKET-ah” is an acceptable pronunciation. “Broo-SHET-uh” is simply wrong. I don't care how common it's become, it's wrong. And if your server corrects you after you have pronounced it correctly, complain to the manager on your way out the door. If you want to be excruciatingly correct, the word should be pronounced “broo-SKAYT-tah” or “broo-SKEHT-tah.” The “ch” in Italian is always a hard “k” sound. Think “chianti.” You wouldn't say “shee-AHN-tee” would you? The “e” in Italian is generally sounded as “ay,” although it can also sound like “eh.” And unlike English, each letter in a double consonant has a separate sound; they don't both run together. The first letter is the ending sound of one syllable and the second letter is the beginning sound of the next one.

I found this clueless comment online from a woman who called herself “Eva:”“Well, if we're going to get into it, what makes it so wrong to say bru-shet-a? Yes, it's an Italian word, but it's become adopted as an English word as well now. If the bulk of English-speaking folks say bru-shet-a, then colloquially it becomes correct. Languages are always evolving based on actual usage, so if everyone knows it as bru-shet-a, then bru-shet-a it shall become.”

Let me get this straight; if I get enough people to say that 2 + 2 = 5, does that make it correct through “actual usage?” How about if I go down to the Mexican place and order some “fuh-JEE-tahs” or some “kwes-uh-DILL-ahs? How long do you think it will be before that catches on and “evolves?” The “languages are always evolving” line is nothing more than a convenient excuse for the intellectually lazy. Something that is wrong remains wrong, regardless of “actual usage.” Ever hear “two wrongs don't make a right?” And, by the way, a colloquialism is simply a word that is used in an informal or relaxed manner. It does not supersede or replace proper language.

Marinara. Fingernails on a blackboard. I physically cringe over this one. English is the only language that has “long” and “short” phonemes for the vowel “a.” In Italian, and most other languages, “a” has only one sound – “ah.” And “i” is always sounded as “ee.” So again, regardless of “actual usage” among the linguistically impaired, this word is pronounced “mah-ree-NAH-rah.” It is not and never will be “mare-uh-NARE-uh.” Period.

Mascarpone. This is the word those TV cooks were mangling. Look at it. Does the “r” come before the “s”? No. So how come everybody says “MARS-kuh-pohn.” It's “mah-skar-POH-nay.” “MASS-kar-pohn” doesn't work either. Remember, no short vowels. “Ah” not “ă.” There are also no silent vowels. Italians pronounce 'em all, especially those at the ends of words. And, as noted, “e” sounds like “ay.”

In fact, let me give you a little tip; anything that ends in the letters “o-n-e” is going to be pronounced “OH-nay.” Calzone, provolone, lampone, limone, panettone – you pronounce the last syllable “OH-nay” in each and every instance. The final “e” is never lopped off and the word never ends sounding like “own.”

I get cranked to the highest level of frustration when I hear culinary service people mispronouncing these words. I don't expect or demand that cooks and servers in Italian-American restaurants be fluent enough in Italian to be able to hold lengthy conversations, but they should at least be able to pronounce what they are cooking and/or serving. And it frustrates me even more when I realize that Italian is the only language being so casually abused. The all-American teenage counter help at even the lowliest chain taco stand can roll “r”s like a native Spanish-speaker and correctly pronounce the most exotic Mexican dishes on the menu. But I was eating at an Italian place the other day and was served by a waiter who had been on staff there for sixteen years who still mispronounced “bruschetta.” Go to any French restaurant and you'll hear perfect intonations of “foie gras” and “croissant.” Nobody says “FOH-ee-grass” or “CROW-sant,” now do they? Visit an Asian restaurant and the non-Asian servers will rattle off dishes in perfect approximations of Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Thai or whatever cuisine is being represented, but put those same servers in an Italian place and they'll assault your ears with ugly, flat-accented words like “mare-uh-NARE-uh.” Why do other languages merit proper pronunciation while Italian gets to “evolve?”

Italian is one of the most flowing, beautiful, poetic, lyrical languages in the world. It is the language of Dante, the universal language of music, the language of love and the language of food. As such, it certainly deserves better treatment in “Italian” restaurants and on TV cooking shows.

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