Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning I took interest in the "...and finally" piece discussing the name of the new Russian president, Medvedev a tricky one for our English mouths to get around apparently.
What interested me most was the process by which we, as a nation, decide to pronounce foreign words. It has always been a great mystery to me why we don't just say a foreign place name how it seems in English. We don't for instance say "Par-ee" for Paris. We pronounce it: Par-is. No problem there is there? Well no, but the expert from the pronunciation unit of the BBC maintains that policy is to keep older forms such as Paris the way we say it, but for names we encounter now we have to make an effort to form the correct localised pronunciation. Radio announcers don't have to sound exactly like a native speaker as the BBC is broadcasting to primarily a British audience. Which makes me wonder why we go to all this bother? The market for the BBC is British- can't we say it the way it seems? I tried out the words on the pronunciation unit's page without looking at the explanation and I made a pretty good job of it. The main errors I made were of stress not phonetics. John Sergeant, who was also contributing to the show, made the point that the French refer to Mrs Thatcher as "Szatsher". The French know who they are talking about and an English person listening probably would too (despite having a little giggle). Famously London is Londres and Edinburgh the improbable Edimbourgh (said Edimboor)... So why do we do it?
I feel it's to do with a mis-guided feeling of not wanting to offend. A desire to make sure everyone is ok. "Everyone ok, got everything you need? Cup of tea anyone?". Driving a car in England is a pleasure compared to many other European countries, but if you don't obey the unwritten rules of the road of being courteous then you incur the wrath of the English driver: they snub you! Or try and block you out. Why? Because you didn't follow the rules!
Interestingly I also find Britain to be one of the most creative places I have lived and worked. Creative in terms of risk taking: let's push boundaries, analyse deeply in order to find a solution and really "think laterally". I've been in many technology brainstorms where ideas flow freely and creatively without inhibition, where there are no rules to knock you back if you say something a bit outlandish or creative. This, I feel is where the true nature of the Brit lies. A free, creative spirit- not the stuffy bowler topped business man who spends half his time wondering how to say Medvedev .
If you wear a bowler hat then follow this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Ru-DmitryMedvedev.ogg