Diane Sawyer mangled the pronunciation of the relatively simple name of the Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic the other night. Maybe she thought that since he "allegedly" massacred many, it was OK to commit the same crime on his name. More likely, I think, she just couldn't do it, and her trouble reminded me again how much trouble Americans have in pronouncing foreign words.
For example, it's hard to think of a French word that IS pronounced correctly in the U.S. -- Lingerie? Déjâ vu? Chaise longue? Pierre L'Enfant? Nope, none of those. (On the subway in our area, the drivers have to announce "L'Enfant Plaza" and it usually comes out sounding like "Lawn Fawn," so you get off expecting to find a selection of concrete Bambis somewhere on the street above. This is what they mean by "lenfant terrible," I guess.) Other languages fare no better. We do with them what we will and leave them broken and disheveled on the sidewalk behind us.
We come honestly by our tendency to commit mayhem on foreign languages. It is inherited from the Brits, who do the same thing and have been doing so for centuries, perhaps because political-military imperialism fosters linguistic imperialism. Otherwise, how did München become "Munich," Mumbai "Bombay," or Firenze "Florence?" But whatever its origin, long experience with the practice has enabled the average Brit to mispronounce foreign words without a second's hesitation. A London newscaster would have mispronounced "Mladic" the same way Diane Sawyer did but he wouldn't have stumbled a bit in doing so.
Having noted the phenomenon of twisting foreign words, however, I'm really not looking to wage a big campaign to correct things. We can't expect everybody to know the pronunciation rules of dozens of languages, and some foreign sounds don't exist in English, so a degree of error is natural and predictable. The same occurs among speakers of other languages when they try to pronounce English. We can, however, expect at least those whose job is to present foreign news to try to get it right.
NOTE: When the Pronunciation Grump returns (soon!), he'll talk about some problems we have with pronunciation in our own language.