Monday, October 23, 2006


Foreign Names in Singapore: A Pedant’s View
(A shorter version of this post was published in TODAY, 27.10.06)

How should VivoCity be pronounced? According to the megamall’s press office, it is ‘VeevoCity’, presumably because vivo is Italian. However, this is a somewhat awkward Anglo-Italian hybrid that begs to be completely anglicized: ‘Viv-oCity’ or ‘Vie-voCity’ are much kinder on the ears.

Incidentally, vivo in Italian means ‘alive’, among other things. (It can also mean ‘I live’, from the infinitive vivere.) Since adjectives in Italian agree in gender with nouns, and city is feminine (la città), the name should more accurately be VivaCity — which ends up as a rather nice play on vivacity. Similarly, we have viva voce because la voce (‘voice’) is feminine. (Admittedly, though, all this is splitting hairs!)

We are reliably informed that a Zara salesgirl, like many Singaporeans, prefers to say ‘BeeboSeetee’. (Perhaps she has a better excuse than most — and her Spanish employers to thank — since ‘v’ is pronounced like ‘b’ in Spanish?)

Biennale has also proved problematic, not least for the festival’s promoters themselves, who mangle it completely in one of their ads attempting to transcribe its pronunciation with phonetic symbols. The truth is closer to /biε'n:a:le/. (If this looks rather like the word itself, it is because Italian spelling is phonetic.)

Although Mediacorp, as our national broadcaster, is our closest equivalent of the BBC, its name is routinely mispronounced as ‘Mediacore’, especially by its own presenters. It is worth remembering that corp is short for corporation and has nothing to do with the French corps. Hence, the final ‘p’ should be sounded, as in Rand Corp and Shin Corp. While the preferred pronunciation of a name should be the prerogative of the organization or individual involved — ‘Coe-lin’ Powell springs to mind — an aberrant pronunciation is somehow harder to justify when it is based on ignorance.

For sheer ignorance, however, nothing comes close to name of the Swiss-themed foodcourt, Vil'age, which we are told is French and hence pronounced ‘vee-lah-jay’. For the record, it does not exist in any known language; neither should it be dignified with a faux French-Italian pronunciation.

But all is not lost, however. The recent renaming of Fusionpolis as ‘Fusionopolis’ is cause for celebration. Whereas the old name was impossible to pronounce elegantly (where exactly is one supposed to place the stress or stresses?), the new name rolls effortlessly off the tongue, with stress falling naturally on the third syllable. Quite obviously, Fusionpolis was the creation of Singaporean bureaucrats, and a reflection of syllable-timing in Singapore English, while Fusionopolis (the way many Westerners had unwittingly been mispronouncing the original name) is more in keeping with stress-timing in older ‘native’ varieties of English. What a difference an extra syllable makes!

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