Monday, August 19, 2019

The Proper Pronunciation of Placenames

Have you ever experienced the embarrassment of mispronouncing the name of a town or city while traveling abroad? Well you now no longer have to worry about how a difficult place-name should be pronounced. Using the Spoken Word interactive map you can now just simply click on a location to listen to the place-name being spoken by a native speaker.

The Spoken Word was created by Michael McNeil for his masters degree at the University of Kentucky. The map uses recordings from Forvo to provide clips of native speakers pronouncing place-names around the world. Forvo is an online pronunciation reference website. The site compiles recordings of pronunciations for words in different languages. These recordings include the pronunciations of place-names around the world.

The Spoken Word is a great idea for an interactive map. However I think the map could be improved by simply replacing the markers on the map with the actual place-name labels for each location. This would be an easy enough task in Mapbox. You could even use a different color for these labels so that these locations couldn't be confused with the underlying place-name labels on the map.


Anonymous said...

Being from Ohio, it was one of the first places I checked. As of 20AUG2019, the map’s pronunciation of Lima is wrong. The map says it is pronounced “Lee-ma”, as it would be for Lima, Peru. It is actually pronounced “Lie-ma” in Ohio. I didn’t try to find additional errors, but it made me wonder how they are checking the pronunciations for accuracy.

Michael McNeil said...

^Great observation! One of the challenges with using the Forvo API to access place-name pronunciations is when there is duplication with the spelling of place names -- like your Lima example -- especially when those places are different culturally, linguistically, geographically, etc. Place-name pronunciations are local, so unfortunately for you Lima, Peru, is ranked higher than Lima, Ohio, in Forvo's estimation.

This is a known issue but I am glad you brought it up because it reminded me of the map I wanted to create at the outset: One in which users from around the world could create accounts, submit place-name pronunciations for their places, up-vote and down-vote other local pronunciations, etc. That way there is an open-sourced, localized, community-based quality control effort happening live on the map.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply, Michael. The up/down-vote thing sounds like it would allow a better opportunity for smaller towns with weird local pronunciations to be accurately listed. I now reside in Texas and there are a lot of places with Spanish names, but with anglicized pronunciations being used by most locals. On the other hand, there are some places that stick closer to the proper Spanish pronunciation. I assume this could be common in other southern border states. Voting might help sort that out.

I’m sure there are a lot of things for you to consider in a project like this. Seems worthwhile, though. Good luck to you.

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