Proʊnʌnsiːeɪʃʌn (pronunciation) of Laos, Phở, etc…

If you are travelling or planning to travel (or even if you just have a diverse group of friends), then you are bound to have had this (or a similar) conversation with someone before:

Friend: “I hear you are going to Lao.”

Adam: “Where?”

Friend: “Lao.”

Adam: “Umm, you mean Laos?”

Friend: “No, it’s pronounced Lao.”

Adam: “Oh. I see. Yes, we are going to Lao…” 

The thing is, I’ll tend to take their word for it, because they usually sound sure enough of themselves that I have no real reason to question them.

But, I’m still curious, so later on I’ll generally jump on the interwebs and do a cursory search to see what Wikipedia has to say about the matter.

Although Wikipedia is obviously the font from whence all knowledge flows, it’s also interesting to see what people have to say in various forums and comment sections of pages devoted to these sorts of questions.

It doesn’t always make the answer more clear, but knowing that others pronounce things the way you do will allow you to feel nice and smug when talking about questionable places/things/etc… like Laos or Phở or tomato.

If there’s one thing that became abundantly clear during my brief research into this matter (thus far), it’s that British folk are staunchly opposed to calling what us North Americans call english, english.

In Britain, and if you are from Britain (ex-pat?) then you speak english, and pronounce words in english.

If you’re NOT from Britain and are speaking english, then you are actually speaking North American and/or Canadian english (because I’m pretty sure we can all agree that American english is distinctly different than Canadian english eh?), but Brits don’t really make that distinction.

It’s either Kings or American…

So, when it comes to learning how to pronounce words that are foreign to both Britain and North America, who is actually ‘right’?

The jury is still out on this matter, but I’d like to quote user firsttimer_1980 for one particularly concise argument for pronouncing the ‘s’ in Laos:

“First, “Lao” in English refers to the language spoken in Laos, or the people living in Laos (like saying the Canadian people/the American people/the French/the Lao). So saying “I’ve been to Lao” is like saying “I am going to German” or “I am going to English,” or a French dude saying “Je viens de francais.” 

Second, even if it’s true the Lao people say Lao for identifying the name of the country in their own language, would English speakers analogously say “I am going to Deutschland?” When one speaks English, one says the English name for a country, regardless of how it is spoken in the country’s native tongue.”

Apparently Lao-Ocean Girl agrees with him, and I too find myself agreeing with these arguments.

But, for the sake of completeness, I’ll throw in a couple arguments against pronouncing the ‘s’ in Laos courtesy of cmw1:

“I tend to say Lao. Nothing to do with smugness. That just tends to be how I pronounce it.

If people add the ‘s’, well I can not say that I’ve ever been tied up in knots about it.”

and courtesy of backontheroad:

“In the Lao language the country is called “Phateet Lao” – the country of Lao. The people are called “Kon Lao” – the people Lao and in less formal conversations both of these can be abbreviated to “Lao”.

When the French wrote the Lao language in a Roman script there [sic] did it using a French transliteration. So “Lao” was written “Laos“. My understanding is that the French don’t pronouciate the ‘s’ at the end of a word and so their pronounciation is still “Lao”. 

When the English spoke the French transliterated written words they anglicised the pronounciation. Therefore it became “Laos”.

Ok, hang on, that last argument actually makes me consider that perhaps the legacy of ‘White Conquerors’ of olden times should not be allowed to propogate further, and that we should start respecting other cultures’ naming conventions…

Dammit.

So, effectively, if you pronounce it Laos, you are a foreign devil who has bastardized a culture to fit your own, but if you pronounce it Lao, you are a foreign devil who thinks they are somehow being respectful of a culture but are in fact just being a smug foreign devil.

I give up.

Oh, and ditto argument for Phở.

Is it phOH, or phUH?

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