HABANERO.

From the Jon Lee Anderson New Yorker article “Castro’s Last Battle” (July 31 issue, now online): “Many of the police are drawn from Cuba’s rural eastern provinces, where the government has strong support, and are held in contempt by many of the comparatively cosmopolitan habañeros.” OK, listen up, people, I’m only going to say this once: there is no such word as “habañero.” Regardless of the fatal attraction the tilde appears to possess for Anglophones, the Spanish adjective meaning ‘of or pertaining to the city of Havana‘ (said city being La Habana in Spanish) is habanero, pronounced a-va-NEH-ro. No tilde, no -ny- sound. That goes for the pepper as well. And New Yorker, you should be ashamed of yourself. We’ve discussed your slipping standards before, and I know you’re aware of the problem. Hire back those fact-checkers and get some editors who know what they’re doing, stat.

Comments

  1. Reminds me of a conversation from My Name is Earl:
    Randy: “This is for a family! At Christmas! You know, Feliz Naviblah!”
    Catalina: “That means nothing.”
    Randy: “To you maybe, but in American that means Christmas in Mexican.”

  2. I saw an annoying linguistic goof in the New Yorker in May, in an article on Libya.
    The writer talks about attending an event at which the former deputy minister of defense gives a speech: “Abdul Akbar Muhammad took the lectern to speak about American racial injustice, mentioning that, under segregation, blacks and whites had had to use separate hammams, or public steam baths, a detail previously lost on me.”
    Hammam means steam bath, but it also means “bathroom” in the mundane sense.
    This error really grated on me because of the writer’s smug tone: he’s saying, look how misinformed those Libyans are, but in actuality, he’s the ignorant one.

  3. Oh hear bloody hear.

  4. Actually, I would say that the pronunciation is a-ba-NEH-ro. What you wrote would be the Latin American pronunciation of the non-existent (as far as I know) “(h)avanero”. The Spanish pronunciation would still be a-ba-NEH-ro, since we lost the distinction between ‘b’ and ‘v’ some time ago.

  5. we lost the distinction between ‘b’ and ‘v’ some time ago.
    Yes, and between vowels they both are pronounced as a bilabial fricative which sounds much more like a v than a b to English-speaking ears. I could have said /aβanero/, but I try to avoid special symbols, since I’m not writing (primarily) for linguists.

  6. OMG seriously. I yelled when I heard that pronunciation in some kind of fast food restaurant commercial.

  7. If you were using special symbols, though, Hat, wouldn’t [aβanero] be better than /aβanero/, if β is an allophone of b?

  8. LanguageHat, some classify that sound as an approximate, not a fricative.

  9. Maybe I’m alone in this, but to me the Spanish [β] sounds more like English [w] than like English [b] or English [v].

  10. José: yes, in Spain the b and v are pronounced the same. And I thought it was different in Latin America (where I’ve only been a couple of times). Yet when I put this to a Mexican colleague once he said no, they pronounce b and v the same too.

  11. Ran, you’re not alone in this. From my northwesterneuro-centric and linguistically misinformed view, it looks like a mediteranean thing. Sounds like it, too.

  12. Asked two colleagues, one from Spain (Castilian Spanish), one from Ecuador.
    Former: distinct “b” and no tilde.
    Latter: clear “nier” and sort of watered down “b”, which is more “w” than “b”.
    Thanks for the idea, LH, I’ll go get me some hot peppers after work. Вышибить клин клином, in this weather.

  13. The excessively precious morning music host on Atlanta’s NPR station refers, every so often, to the ‘habañera’ from Carmen which I find annoying. My wife has so far restrained me from calling the station and asking if there’s a city of ‘Habaña’ anywhere in the world.

  14. Yeah, I caught that one, too. Since Anderson talks about having lived in Havana for long enough to presumably know better, I figured it must have been an overzealous copy editor (no offense) who changed the original text.

  15. Vaguely relevantly (and quite currently), what about the pronunciation of Hezbollah? On Australian radio and television, one hears it with the stress on any of the three syllables pretty well at random. Often the very same speaker will cycle through the possibilities in just a couple of sentences. (And no one shows evidence of noticing or caring! That’s what I find depressing.)
    SOED puts the stress on the third syllable, and the BBC seems to agree. So, it seems, do many Israelis. But Lebanese go for the second. What’s going on? Is a Farsi pronunciation somehow implicated?

  16. Yeah, in Farsi the stress is on the final syllable, in Arabic on the penultimate. I’m not sure why the former pattern is so widespread except it has that “foreign-sounding” air so satisfying to English speakers. Like habañero.

  17. L Hat,
    You sound like an old copyeditor. Don’t you know computers do a better job of proofreading and editing than humans, especially humans involved with languages and using them correctly, even if what you’re editing is pure drivel. I’m old enough to remember how if that spelling of habanero got through to a printing of the New Yorker your rear-end would have been immediately deleted from the office site.
    And copyediting used to be such fun and copyeditors and proofreaders have to be some of the smartest whips I’ve ever met–writers, poets, actors and actresses, even women drummers, and symphony conductors…and sometimes the most unpretentious “intellectuals”–brought up from Doubleday’s basement or perhaps the hallowed halls of a southeastern Massachusetts college whose acronym rhymed with “schmoo.”
    “Schmoo” comes from the language of “Lil Abner,” an American classic cartoon strip of the WWII years drawn and written by a big old goofy rightwing pervert (he was later convicted of child molestation) named Al Capp.
    Have you ever heard of a dictionary of comic strip languages? I do think there was a book on the language used in the Pogo strips of Walt Kelly back in the fifties.
    One of Charles Edward Berry’s greatest compositions is Havana Moon–you gotta hear it; it’s linquistically dreamy.
    Ur fiend,
    thegrowlingwolf

  18. My girlfriend (from western Spain) clearly, to my ear, pronounces “b” and “v” both as in the English “b”. But during the ubiquitous Adidas advert that ran nonstop throughout the World Cup, I heard the (Latin American) boy say “Tú, al banquillo”, and each time I couldn’t but hear the “b” as a “v”. It struck me as interesting that while the two letters are noncontrastive in each case, across the different accents both English sounds can be found. This thread seems to suggest that there are shades in between, too. Intriguing.
    I’m a newcomer to the site, by the way, so sorry if this minor discovery of mine seems old hat (as it were!) to most people here… :)

  19. salt_bagel says:

    I’ve heard both firsthand and from people who have traveled a lot that the Spanish differs quite a bit even within South America. Anyone I know who is fluent in Spanish has a good deal of trouble with the Chilean accent, for example. Does anyone know if these accent differences apply to the b/v distinction and if indigenous South American languages have something to do with it?

  20. Hezbollocks: I can give a flying…ehm how they’re properly called; soon there will be nothing left of this scum.
    In the purely academic interest, though, let me introduce a short video that Israeli Defence Forces perioducally play on Lebanese TV. I think I can trust IDf in correct prononciation – they are in close, almost intimate proximity to the subject. You can clearly hear the stress on the last syllable. Interesting, though, that the Farsi theory doesn’t explain why nasrallah’s name is pronounced with Arabic stress.
    Another amusing thing: I wonder if nasrallah ever knew how his name sounds to the Russian-speaking.

  21. Hmmm, Tat. I note that Israelis consistently stress the final syllable. But Lebanese commentators seem to use only what LH confirms as the standard Arabic pronunciation, stressing the penultimate. Here in the Antipodes the confusion of tongues continues, but with many in the media now leaning towards the least supportable third way: HEZB-ollah. No doubt there is a complex of causes for all this: phonetic, sociolinguistic, political, and other.
    I, of course, will hold off from any comment that could be construed as political.
    (!)

  22. Israelis consistently stress the final syllable.
    This was my thought as well.

  23. I laugh at your silly concerns, Hat. I am **The New Yorker.**

  24. Curse you!!
    *shakes fist impotently*

  25. Israelis consistently stress the final syllable
    Right, but why then they pronounce NasrAlla in that video? F.ex, a Russian-speaker would consistenly put the stress on the last syllable in any Turcic-soundidng names (AbdullA, MustafA, HezbullAh, etc)
    Oh, and for those not familiar with Russian: nasrallah sounds [literally] as “[she]shited on”; or, in this case, “someone who’s been shited on”. Fitting, at the very least.

  26. Siganus Sutor says:

    LH : Regardless of the fatal attraction the tilde appears to possess for Anglophones
    Seen last Sunday, in a libretto printed in the USA several decades ago, above the famous aria sung by the fiery Carmen outside the tobacco factory she works in, this subtitle: HABAÑERA.
    L’amour est un oiseau rebelle; the tilde too.

  27. Eli Loewenstern says:

    Bravo! Great explanation. I am from Colombia, and am just reading a Faye Kellerman book in English where she repeats many times the word “habañero”. It seemed weird but had to look it up before making conclusions.
    You are right about Americans being transfixed with tildes. As in any country, exotic things are always attractive. But, by the way, the symbol over the Ñ is not a tilde but a “virgulilla”. Don’t worry, most of us Spanish speakers can’t even remember the name of the damn thing. I just had to look it up again.
    Tildes are only these: á é í ó ú. Saludos desde Colombia !

  28. Hi, Eli, glad you enjoyed the post! Actually, tilde is definitely the name of the symbol over the ñ. I’ve never seen it called anything else in English, and I just looked it up in the Oxford Spanish Dictionary to be sure, and it says “tilde f (a) (acento) accent (b) (sobre la ñ) tilde, swung dash.” But maybe in Colombia you call it a virgulilla — the variety of dialects is one of the great things about Spanish!

  29. marie-lucie says:

    haBanero/a

    I think that whether you hear a [b] or an “approximant” (since the lips are barely touching at best) depends on how fast the word is spoken. If you ask someone to say the word very slowly, separating the syllables, you will hear a – ba – ne – ro/a, but in normal speech the /b/ is greatly weakened as it occurs between two vowels. This weakening is part of a general pattern also applying to Spanish /d/ and /g/. This also happens in Occitan.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    Anyone I know who is fluent in Spanish has a good deal of trouble with the Chilean accent

    I am fluent in Spanish and have met and conversed with people from several Latin American countries, including Chile. I had no problem understanding the Chilean women, but the men were unintelligible.

  31. LH, re your 2006(!) comment on stress in ‘Hezbollah’ – “in Farsi the stress is on the final syllable, in Arabic on the penultimate. I’m not sure why the former pattern is so widespread except it has that “foreign-sounding” air so satisfying to English speakers.” – just cross-posting a comment from the Costello thread:

    “I wonder if spelling has something to do with it. I bet that, shown the word ‘Hezbolla’, most anglophones unfamiliar with the word would give it penultimate stress, while ‘Hezbollah’ would more often elicit final stress. That would make a nice little pseudoword experiment.”

  32. I think that whether you hear a [b] or an “approximant” (since the lips are barely touching at best) depends on how fast the word is spoken. If you ask someone to say the word very slowly, separating the syllables, you will hear a – ba – ne – ro/a, but in normal speech the /b/ is greatly weakened as it occurs between two vowels. This weakening is part of a general pattern also applying to Spanish /d/ and /g/.

    I think you are giving too much credit to the people who claim to hear a “b,” since in practice nobody ever separates syllables enough that a stop would actually be heard. I think it’s much simpler: people assume that since there are two letters, b and v, they must represent two sounds. Which they do, but the same sounds are heard for both letters in the same contexts; this is unacceptable to people’s understanding of how language is supposed to work, so they often convince themselves, and try to convince you, that b and v are pronounced differently.

    I wonder if spelling has something to do with it. I bet that, shown the word ‘Hezbolla’, most anglophones unfamiliar with the word would give it penultimate stress, while ‘Hezbollah’ would more often elicit final stress. That would make a nice little pseudoword experiment.

    Makes sense to me!

  33. marie-lucie says:

    LH, with a – ba – ne – ra I did not mean slow but otherwise normal speech, but as said if you asked a speaker to deliberately separate the syllables of the single word, as in my transcription here, or if you prefer: a, ba, ne, ra .

  34. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @marie-lucie:

    if you asked a speaker to deliberately separate the syllables

    Well, that’s true, but only because voiced stop lenition only happens in intervocalic position. Once you make them utterance-initial, they become stops again.

    @Ran:

    Maybe I’m alone in this, but to me the Spanish [β] sounds more like English [w] than like English [b] or English [v].

    I think you’re spot-on. The main difference is the lack of rounding in [β], but there is no audible frication going on as there is in English [v].

    This is especially noticeable in some non-prestige dialects, such as rural Litoraleño in my native Argentina, where the lenited forms of /b/ and /g/ merge into something like [w]. Eye-dialect typically represents this pronunciation by replacing 〈b〉 with 〈g〉, e.g., “güeno” for “bueno”:

    Siempre me tuve por güeno
    Y si me quieren probar,
    Salgan otros á cantar
    Y veremos quién es ménos.

    (J. Hernández, Martín Fierro, 1:63–66

    Incidentally, I think that interference from the 〈ñ〉 in the typical demonym suffix “-eño” is what causes the hypercorrection in “Havañero”.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Alon: haBanero/a: of course, that’s my point in separating the syllables: the b in ba is no longer between vowels.

    I think you are right with the suffix -eño affecting habañero.

  36. I’d say it’s not just the generic -eño suffix but specifically the one in jalapeño.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    K, for the US perhaps, but that does not explain it being used in Bizet’s Carmen.

  38. It almost sounds like the implicit eña in Russian нет when it turns into American nyet :)

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