Jack Windsor Lewis has brought up the subject of the letter ‘j’ and its interpretation by English speakers when it comes in non-English words. It is a problem: in the Germanic languages, plus Polish, Czech and Italian it is regularly pronounced [j] (i.e. like the English consonantal ‘y’), but in Spanish it is a voiceless velar fricative [x], while in French and Portuguese it is a voiced palato-alveolar fricative [?]. Only in English, among the languages best known in English-speaking countries, does ‘j’ (and sometimes ‘g’) represent a palato-alveolar affricate [d?]. So, what are English speakers to do when confronted with ‘j’ in a word or name of foreign origin? Jack mentions adagio, Beijing, Gigli, raj, and Taj (Mahal). To these, I can add an even stranger one: Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, in which the letter combination ‘dj’ makes it quite clear that the affricate is intended. Nevertheless, BBC reporters – even those stationed in West Africa – frequently pronounce this with a fricative rather than an affricate.
In one name, where the orthography has initial G, the ‘mistake’ is to use a velar plosive instead of the affricate: Genghis Khan. The -gh- in the middle gives away the fact that we have borrowed this spelling from Italian (perhaps as far back as Marco Polo), and that therefore while the medial consonant is a velar plosive, the initial one is intended to be an affricate. Confirmation of this comes from the German spelling given in the Duden Aussprachewörterbuch: Tschingis, and the names of various present-day Central Asians: Chingiz, although oddly, French seems to have opted for the opposite to the English mistake, and gone for two fricatives: Gengis, pronounced [????is] – at least according to the Larousse Dictionnaire de la prononciation. We are obviously afraid of the affricate – perhaps we know that it is rare in European languages, and assume that therefore it can’t ever be the right sound in a foreign word. But to my ears the result is not that we replace the affricate with the straight forward palato-alveolar fricative [?] that occurs in pleasure ['ple??], which is usually lip-rounded and laminal, but with a less lip-rounded, and often apical articulation.
Has anyone else noticed this?