Thursday 14 October 2010


The eyes of the world have been on the dramatic and inspiring mine rescue in Chile.

It has been very gratifying to see the BBC deploying Spanish-speaking reporters able to interview the miners and rescuers in Spanish while translating the questions and answers into English as they do so. Let’s hope that this not only does something to rescue us from our reputation of being unable to speak foreign languages but also demonstrates to today’s young people the value of learning languages.

Not all reporters and not all TV channels managed to get the names right. The name of the second man out was Sepúlveda, Spanish seˈpulβeða, properly anglicized as sɪˈpʊlvɪdə; but I kept hearing him referred to as ˌsepl̩ˈveɪdə. The name Acuña, Spanish aˈkuɲa, got its tilde ignored as it became English əˈkuːnə, and Esteban, Spanish esˈteβan, ehˈteβan, was misstressed as ˈestəbæn.

There is also an issue with the name of the country. The traditional English pronunciation of Chile is ˈtʃɪli, homophonous with chilly and chil(l)i (pepper). That was the only pronunciation known to Daniel Jones for BrE and to Kenyon and Knott (1944) for AmE. But in Spanish it’s ˈtʃile, and in recent years the revised anglicization ˈtʃɪleɪ has come increasingly into use, at least in AmE. That was how President Obama pronounced it in his message of support.

And what about the corresponding adjective? Traditionally Chilean has always been ˈtʃɪliən. But now some people have started saying tʃɪˈleɪən. I’m not sure why this should be: no other words in -ean are treated in that way (think of Shakespearean and c(a)esarean on the one hand, European on the other hand, and variable Caribbean on both). Spanish chileño offers no support.


  1. Right (of course), though I'm not sure 'Esteban hasn't a certain tradition in English, or that this shift of stress isn't at least still "legitimate" when foreign words are anglicised.

    There's an American family of actors by the name of Estevez (ie Estévez, stage name for some is Sheen). I think I heard it with initial stress in English contexts, but I'm not sure.

  2. A small correction... the Spanish adjective is not chileño but chileno instead. We use the ñ a lot, but not every time...

  3. Hardly anyone seemed to get the right stressing of Copiapó.

  4. alfanie: Collins dictionary gives both possibilities: chileno, chileño.

    1. You are right Mr Wells about the existence of that term, but nobody says 'chileño' in Chile. It would sound really odd. I currently live in Santiago, but I lived in the south (Osorno) and I have visited the north, but I have never heard 'chileño' among my compatriots.

  5. Not a phonetic question, but has Prof. Wells ever published anything about language teaching in Britain that might be available online? I'm always interested in hearing people's views on this.

  6. I find quite interesting that Collins dictionary gives 'chileño' as an option for 'chileno' since RAE (Real Academia de la Lengua Española) does not recognise the former as a word.
    Anyway, I like you put the chilean pronunciation of Esteban, because many say we tend to 'eat' the /s/sound, when in fact it is aspirated to [h] when it is at the end of a syllable.

  7. @Francis Drake: We'll treat loanwords just how we like, thank you ;-) In this example it's presumably a kind of hypercorrection - we know Spanish words sometimes have a ñ, but we're not sure when, so this is just a way of saying 'We know this word is Spanish!'

    So Collins are being descriptive, not prescriptive...

  8. I was referring to the big Collins Spanish-English English-Spanish Dictionary (my copy is dated 1975). So the question of loanwords does not arise. Perhaps I need a newer Spanish dictionary.

  9. Interesting -- I've always pronounced Chile homophonous with "chilly", yet I've always said Chi'lean (as in LAY).

  10. Hmm... The Oxford online English-Spanish gives 'chileno' only, and the Spanish-English version corrects 'chileño' to 'chileno'. But allows both.

    Interestingly, Googling 'chileño' brings up a lot of place names with it in the title (Cerro Chileño in Guatemala, Rancho El Chileño Preciada in Mexico, Playa Chileño (also Mexico), etc). Note also the headline here.

    There's a dissertation in this for someone...

  11. And here's a message sent by some Patricia Rosas (randomly taken from

    ...ento de
    saber del terremoto. Ella se ha comunicado y está
    bien. Rezo por todos los
    chileños... Patricia

    [Edited at
    2010-02-27 16:00 GMT]

  12. @ Francis Drake: Have you tried the "Diccionario de americanismos", also by RAE? Collins dictionary is not perfect but I rely on it much more than on the classic RAE code whenever I want to find out about living Spanish, especially when it comes to the language spoken in "ultramar".
    A Spaniard

  13. Interesting. The same happened when the English-speaking reporters pronounced the names of the other miners (the case of Carlos Mamani, Ávalos, etc.) and some towns near the mine. This reminds me of the lessons from Héctor Ortiz (he wrote an interesting work concerning the differences between Spanish and English pronunciation).

  14. "The name of the second man out was Sepúlveda, Spanish seˈpulβeða, properly anglicized as sɪˈpʊlvɪdə; but I kept hearing him referred to as ˌsepl̩ˈveɪdə"

    I'm not sure why it would be more accurate to anglicize e as ɪ and not e or eɪ, when clearly the second two are more phonetically similar. Is there some history of Spanish anglicization that I'm unaware of?

  15. I'm chileNo (Chilean) and I've never ever heard the word "chileÑo" for my nationality. Not from anyone in Chile nor the rest of the Spanish speaking countries. I wonder why Collins dictionary gives that form. Anonymous showed Patricia Rosas' message and I'm sure that it was a typing mistake.

    About getting the names right, I heard "Darío" as /̔ˈdaɾio/. The correct is /daˈɾio/.

    Another thing. In LPD, 3rd edition, you provide /tʃɪˈleɪən/ for Chilean...

    Another thing. The pronunciation of the city Copiapó in Spanish is /kopjaˈpo/. What I heard was something like /kəˈpjæpəʊ/. Correct me If I'm wrong. And, as JWL said, nobody got it right. Almost. Even though, the BBC Spnish speaker got it right and some others too ( at 2:35.

    PD. are you going to include some of these words in LDP 4?

  16. I'm not sure why it would be more accurate to anglicize e as ɪ and not e or eɪ, when clearly the second two are more phonetically similar. Is there some history of Spanish anglicization that I'm unaware of?

    I think it's rather that unstressed e is more usually ɪ than e (do you mean ɛ?) or in RP English.

  17. CD,
    It's an unstressed vowel, and has been reduced.

  18. The various forms of Darius show variable stress: on the middle syllable in Spanish and German, on the first syllable in Italian, and in English...? Well, traditionally (and correctly as per Latin pronunciation rules) dəˈraɪ.əs, but probably more frequently ˈdæ.ri.əs. The latter pronunciation seems to be (nearly) universal in the case of the Pop Idol singer Darius Campbell.

  19. Other Chilean lastnames usually mispronounced in English are Pinochet and Bachelet. They are treated like Spanish surnames, albeit they are French and pronounced as such in Chile (not like the Swiss Frei, which tends to sound Spanish here).

  20. I'm Chilean as well. I remember hearing a teacher telling us about the existence of the adjective "chileño", but no one uses it. It must be an archaic form of "chileno". I once corroborated this in a Spanish dictionary called "Sopena". Regarding the issue of the pronunciation of Pinochet and Bachelet, you can hear some variations here in Chile. Some do pronounce the final T, others just drop it.

  21. It seems to me the American commentators more often say ˈtʃi:leɪ than ˈtʃɪleɪ.

  22. Oon a point of information, more modern editions of the Collins Spanish Dictionary don't seem to show chilenõ. Not that the earlier editions were wrong to include it on Spanish–English, if it exists at all, which it clearly does. There's an important difference between that and recommending it as an "encoding" translation on English–Spanish. Later revisions have clearly taken the view that it was not worth bothering with.

  23. I often find the online RAE disappointing (or is it the exact same as the print version?) Numerous times, my 1964 Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado has included a more obscure meaning, which was the meaning I happened to be looking for. Anyway, they write: "chileno/na" mejor que "chileño/ña


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