Monday, 6 July 2009

heavy metal Brüno

David Marsh, the Guardian style guide editor (and, I’m proud to say, my former student), had a nice piece in the paper a few days ago about umlauts.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest avatar, after Ali G and Borat, is called Brüno (sic). Although he is supposedly Austrian, and therefore German-speaking, spelling this name with ü is linguistically entirely un-German.
"There is absolutely no precedent for the name Bruno to be written with an umlaut, and to do so contravenes a general rule of German phonetics"

The two dots above the vowel letter here are purely decorative. David refers us to the entertaining Wikipedia article on metal umlaut.
This article lists a whole lot of rock bands and the like that have ornamented their names in the same way: Mötley Crüe, Motörhead, Maxïmo Park and many others. There’s also the American punk rock band Hüsker Dü, whose name comes from the Danish/Norwegian phrase “do you remember?”, correctly written Husker Du? (but that way it wouldn’t look so excitinɡ).

But why would Brüno want to project a heavy metal image? That’s not the sort of character he is at all. Confüsing.

28 comments:

  1. Oh, this is simply uber-German. Umlauts just look German or Nordic to many people, nothing more to it.

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  2. I don't think "Häagen-Dazs" were going for a "Heavy Metal" flair, either, when they picked their name...

    I agree with Lipman; I think he was merely going for an "oh, that looks German" note.

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  3. Also, while this is not the German form of the name, it's not at unthinkable. Certainly not phonotactically, and it could in theory have been loaned from one of those Romance languages or dialects that have the fronted vowel, even as an inner-German delevopment (dialect, hypercorrection).

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  4. Hüsker Dü are named after the Danish boardgame "Husker du?", which on the box featured macrons over the u's. Since macrons are unusual, the band thought that they were supposed to be umlauts. Or so the story goes, anyway.

    A picture of the game:
    http://www.educationallearninggames.com/images/husker-du-game.jpg

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  5. It's worth bearing in mind that the umlaut is purely a visual thing in this case (thanks, presumably, to the marketing department), and is almost certainly not intended to be linguistically accurate. Indeed the lettering in Borat was much further away from any sort of accuracy than Brüno, using faux cyrillic. [Example: BOЯAT]

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  8. I always find it annoying when English- speaking people (usually women) write their names with unnecessary umlauts/ diaeresis/ accents to try to look 'cool' or be different... e.g. Zoë, Zoé, Chloë, Tiannà, Tiàamii (Jordan's daughter)etc etc... it just looks plain silly in English!

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  9. 1. The name Bruno has a homosexual tinge in the English-speaking world, has it not?
    2. Pronouncing the name with /y:/ enhances this effect. So the two dots may be decorative, but they also have socio- and psycho-phonetic consequences.

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  10. The quotation "There is absolutely no precedent for the name Bruno to be written with an umlaut, and to do so contravenes a general rule of German phonetics" is from a letter by a Mr. Somers, a Guardian reader. I don't understand why this gentleman believes that the ü breaks a rule of German in the face of Brüder, brünieren, Brüste, brüsk, brüten, Brühe.

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  11. Haven't seen the film yet, but is the name actually pronounced with an [y]? I thought that was merely graphical.

    I'm not sure it would enhance the poncy (rather than homosexual, please) effect either, unless it's pronounced the French way without reason, but that wouldn't fit the mock-German spelling again.

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  12. Well, there seems to be a tendency for us Northerners and the German to consider the fronted vowels more ... 'effeminate'/weaker. So to us the heavy metal-ness is hilariously inappropriate.

    I'll favour the "it just looks German" school of thought, but I wonder why they didn't go for "ßrüno" in that case. (That's supposed to be an Eszett.)

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  14. Question by a non-Brit:
    Does "Bruno" sound poncey or homosexual to native British ears and the brain between the latter?

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  15. @jssfrk: Macrons (or breves) are sometimes used in Danish handwriting over lowercase 'u' (to distinguish it from 'n'), but it's unusual to see it in print (such as on the board game box you linked to).

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  16. I also think it's probably just a question of look. Umlauts are one of the things that people who haven't learned German know about it. When I was at school I took part in an exchange with a school in Wuppertal. My brother, then aged nine, wrote the name of this place one day, and put an umlaut on the u. He'd never learned any German or had anything to do with it, but even at that age he knew that umlauts happen in German.

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  17. I don't think the name Bruno has any specifically homosexual/gay/poncy/effeminate connotation in English.
    It was the name of a teddy bear I had when a child. I've always supposed it to be a stereotypically appropriate name for bears in the way that "Fido" and "Rover" are appropriate names for dogs and "Tiddles" is for a cat (even though these pet names are objectively very rare).

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  18. I think the "umlauts" on the second vowel-letters of Zoe and Cloe indicate diaerisis (a seperate pronounced vowel) and so are not unnecessary.

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  19. Isn't one point of these films that his characters are absurd and unrealistic, a play on sterotypes, yet people believe those stereotypes and so also believe he is the real thing? He also uses the word "ich" instead of "I" when speaking English as this character, which is also a very unlikely mistake, yet he fools people precisely because they have heard of "ich" and it fits with the image they are expecting of an Austrian. The use of the "ü" fits the same pattern and might even be an ironic nod to those who know anything about German.
    I also don't understand how a rule of phonetics has been broken - surely the name Brüno is not impossible; it just happens not to exist.

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  20. Levente:

    You are correct that the dots above the 'e' of Zoë and Chloë should indicate diaeresis but I would disagree that they are "not unnecessary"...

    Everyone knows how to pronounce "Zoe" and "Chloe". We don't need the dots to remind us to say the two vowels separately, and (in my view) they just seem archaic and a bit pointless.

    We don't generally use diaeresis with words such as Noel, cooperate, naive and even archaic (!) (etc) ... so why with Zoë and Chloë?

    I reiterate my previous point that most people nowadays just do it because they think it is cool, exotic, makes them seem more interesting etc.

    I'm sure if you asked most of them WHY the 'e' in their name has two dots above it, they wouldn't know the real reason why.

    NB I'm not completely intolerant, though! Although I find it a bit annoying, each to their own! :-)

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  21. - diareses: Fowler was of the rather convincing opinion that you can do without them, simply because usually there's no danger of ambiguity. Nobody who knows English would mistakenly pronounce cooperate with an [u:].

    - poncy /u/: It occured to me that it's actually more the other way around. Chüth is, today, [ʉ] has replaced [u] as the neütchal (all right, I'll stop that) pronunciation, and even though I don't quite understand it, when people look for a poncy pronunciation, they often go for URP of the Gielgud/Sewell subtype with the Continental [u:]. In other words, Brünäö is middle-of-the-road, while Brunou has a higher chance to be perceived as poncy.

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  22. As to the so-called umlauts in Zoë and Chloë, unlike Sally, I would not disagree that they are "not unnecessary". I once lived in a council flat where the post for the whole block of flats was delivered to the warden who would then distributed to the individual flats. He once told me of a tenant; for some time, he didn't know her given name, but knew it began with Z. One day he learnt from post for her that her name was Zoe. Next time they met, he addressed her as ['zoui], and she answered "My name's [zou]".

    There are also stories of parents who have named their babies with names that have their standard spellings but unique pronunciations, not because the parents deliberately wanted to be different, but because they had read the names but never heard them, and genuinely did not know how everyone else pronounces them. Among these babies was a Chloe, pronounced [tS@lu:]

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  23. Regarding dieresis, remember cooperation with dots over the second "o"? I prefer the sans version in English in all cases, eg reseume without slash and backslash ahovering ;)

    An intersting parallel exists with metal umlaut in Venezuela, where apostrophe ess (on signs) is added rather arbitrarily to words, not just English ones, often simple plurals, just to add a "a little flair" (my interpretation).

    By the way have you read about the US Supreme Court ruling regarding treatment of the genitive of final "s" words?

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  24. However, I do prefer the correct spelling of 'resume' :)

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  25. Interestingly, spelling seems not to matter too much to me after all. Gulp.

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  26. I had felt tempted to suggest writing the name of my hometown, Des Moines, with umlaut 'i' as a sort of historical vindication of the oft rebuffed dieretic pronunciation, the idea being that it reflects the French transliteration of the Miami-Illinois word mooyiinkween. This until I read that the word is an insult (poo-face) in that language, having been supplied to the French as a means of defaming the rival tribe (purportedly). In light of that I decided I prefer to stay the course and be thought of as a bumpkin.

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  27. Or just monk kin (or would that be Muenchen?)

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