In the last days and weeks I've stumbled over the pronunciation of the Wikileaks activist Julian Assange in German media. Here it is common to pronounce it "the French way" as [a'sãʃ] (with the final consonant devoiced as usual in German). I wonder whether Australians and other native speakers of English also use a nasal vowel in the second syllable or whether they use [ɑn] instead - as indicated on the Wikipedia page. Any hint?
In reply I told him that British newsreaders, too, mostly seem to attempt a French-style nasalized vowel. What I hear on the radio and TV news is generally aˈsɑ̃ːʒ or something similar.
As with other French names, though, we also see some degree of anglicization through
- reduction of the first vowel to ə;
- replacement of the nasalized vowel by a sequence of vowel plus n;
- use of an affricate dʒ rather than the fricative ʒ; and
- confusion about which of the French nasalized vowels is involved.
As we know, standard French has up to four distinct nasalized vowels, conventionally represented in IPA as ɛ̃ œ̃ ɑ̃ ɔ̃ but in practice pronounced more like æ̃ æ̃ ɒ̃ õ. In BrE-accented French they usually come out as nasalized versions of English æ ʌ ɒ ɒ respectively. That is, we tend not to distinguish cent-sang from son-sont, though unlike many French people we do distinguish brin from brun.
When we actually borrow French words and names into English, though, a further confusion seems very typically to happen. We confuse the front nasalized vowel, French ɛ̃, with the back one, French ɑ̃ ~ ɔ̃. Thus lingerie, French lɛ̃ʒʀi, is often pronounced in English as ˈlɒnʒəri rather than the more accurate ˈlænʒəri.
It is this confusion (or the same confusion in reverse) which has enabled Steve Bell to pun on Mr Assange’s name and the French word for a monkey, singe sɛ̃ʒ. He draws both him and his lawyer as simians.