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Q: French Pronunciation ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   11 Comments )
Subject: French Pronunciation
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: mforster1uk-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 20 Oct 2005 02:14 PDT
Expires: 19 Nov 2005 01:14 PST
Question ID: 582491
How is the name Swann pronounced in Proust's famous novel Du Cote de
chez Swann? As in English, e.g. Flanders and Swann? or is it given a
distinctively French pronunciation?
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
Answered By: leli-ga on 21 Oct 2005 08:34 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello MForster

Proust himself helps with this question.

"The truth is that Gilberte had become a great snob. For instance,
another girl having one day, whether in malice or from a natural want
of tact, asked her what was the name of her real?not her
adoptive?father, in her confusion, and as though to mitigate the
crudity of what she had to say, instead of pronouncing the name as
?Souann? she said ?Svann,? a change, as she soon realised, for the
worse, since it made this name of English origin a German patronymic.
And she had even gone on to say, abasing herself so as to rise higher:
?All sorts of stories have been told about my birth, but of course I
know nothing about that."

Vol. 6 of Remembrance of Things Past
Marcel Proust
Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff
(Albertine disparue, Tome 6 of À la Recherche du temps perdu)

 ?C'est que Gilberte était devenue très snob . C' est ainsi qu' une
jeune fille ayant un jour , soit méchamment , soit maladroitement ,
demandé quel était le nom de son père non pas adoptif , mais véritable
, dans son trouble et pour dénaturer un peu ce qu' elle avait à dire ,
elle avait prononcé au lieu de Souann , Svann , changement qu' elle s'
aperçut un peu après être péjoratif , puisque cela faisait de ce nom
d' origine anglaise , un nom allemand ."

I started writing some sentences about how to pronounce "Souann", but
then I found you a link to someone actually saying "Swann":

I even found someone singing it! 
To hear part of "Du Côté De Chez Swann" by Dave, click on "Écouter le titre" here:

For the record, I'll put my remarks on pronunciation below with my
search strategy.

Hope this answer clears things up.

Best wishes - Leli

"Souann" confirms my distant memories of hearing Swann pronounced in
France, and seems to combine an acknowledgement of the name's English
origins with a fairly "natural" way for a French speaker to say the
word: i.e. with a "sw", not a "sv", without the nasal vowel "an", and
with a consonantal "n" at the end.

Double "n" after "a" suggests a sound like Anne, panne, manne, as in
Boulevard Haussmann in Paris (occasionally mis-spelt Haussmanne). I
can't think of any French word where a nasal vowel precedes a double
"nn", though someone may find an exception which proves me wrong. The
nasal vowel indicated by a single "n" vanishes before the double "nn"
in pairs like bon and bonne, or an and année.

(Presumably Klein/clin reminds people of frein, rein and other "ein" words.)

You will already know that "ou" before a vowel is similar to "w", as
in "oui", and "sw" is a sound which occurs in French words like
"soigner". Souahéli is the equivalent of Swahili.


swann svann souann

proust swann ecouter OR ecoutez audio

dave "chez swann" mp3

Also see:

Frequency of last name Swann in France:

Discussion of Swann as first name which led me to the song:
mforster1uk-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $3.00
Absolutely brilliant, Leli. I particularly liked the song!

Funnily enough I now remember years ago reading the passage you quote.

Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: leapinglizard-ga on 20 Oct 2005 03:35 PDT
When you read Agatha Christie novels featuring the detective Hercule
Poirot, how do you pronounce his name? Do you give it a distinctively
French pronunciation? I suspect that you, like most English speakers,
are unable to pronounce either syllable of Poirot the way a Frenchman
would, but you endeavor to give it a foreign twist to indicate its
provenance. A Frenchman would act similarly when asked to pronounce
the English name Swann, which has no native French pronunciation.

Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: tendernight-ga on 20 Oct 2005 04:43 PDT
Thank you for your answer. However I think your analogy with Hercule
Poirot falls down because, in spite of his English-looking name, Swann
is not an Englishman but a Frenchman. So his name, even if foreign in
orgin, would almost certainly have been given a French pronunciation.
Just as the quite common surname in France, Klein, is pronounced
"clin" as in clin d'oeil, not in the German way (though it is German
in origin).

The trouble is that there are so many different ways Swann could be
pronounced in French (is the w pronounced w or v? is the vowel
nazalised?). Since the name appears in the title of one of the most
famous French novels, I am sure there is a standard way of pronouncing
it. I want to know what it is!
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: mforster1uk-ga on 20 Oct 2005 05:04 PDT
Sorry! The previous comment was from me (the asker of the question). I
signed in under the wrong name by mistake.
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: senatus-ga on 20 Oct 2005 15:27 PDT
Vowells in French never "Nasalize" this means that a non-nasal vowell
has a slight nasal sound caused by a nasal consaont. This is what
happens in English with "Man" or "Hand" -- In french you either have a
nasal vowell and the consonant drops off entirely (As in the
pronounciation of "Mon") or your have a normal vowel followed by a
nasal consonant (As is the case if it were "Mon ami" where the link
pulls the nasal consonant from the vowell).

If you were to read this like a french word, you would probably have a
nasal vowell with a dropped off consonant. I'd also guess they would
pull the w sound from the English version using the /w/ phonetic
symbol version of the sound which is common in French. But, there is
no reason to think the French would pronounce this like a French word.
Most of them would recognize it as a foreign word and probably just
alter the vowell to a more french sounding version of /a/ and leave
the nasal consonant cluster at the end. Just a guess though.
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: mforster1uk-ga on 20 Oct 2005 17:00 PDT
I don't really want to get into a discussion about French
pronunciation in general - I am only asking about the pronunciation of
one particular word - but I can't let the comment about French vowels
not nasalizing go unchallenged.

Petit Robert gives the following examples of "nasaliser": 

- M, n, devant une consonne, nasalisent la voyelle qui les precede
(ex. rompre, bande)

- La premiere syllabe de "dandy" se nasalise en francais.

What I would really appreciate is someone who *knows* how the French
pronounce the word - rather than just theorise about it (I can do that
for myself!)
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: senatus-ga on 20 Oct 2005 19:23 PDT
When m, n proceed a non-nasal consonant in a French consonant cluster,
the vowell becomes nasal and the nasal consonant vanishes. The vowell
becoming nasal and the vowell becoming nasalized are different terms
in phonetics.

Petit Robert is a dictionary type application and is designed to be a
reference for the average person. By calling it Nasalization they are
making it easy for English and many other language groups to
understand what is going on. If you want a in depth study of French
phonetics to get an analytical understanding of what is going on, try:
D'Accord: La Prononciation du français internationale
French Phonetics, by Trudie Maria Booth
Bien Entendu! Introduction a la prononciation francaise

All of which are fascinating texts. D'Accord was my personal favorite,
and the choice of a professor of French Linguistics that I studied
Phonetics under.
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: mforster1uk-ga on 21 Oct 2005 02:11 PDT
To quote "Nasal Vowel Evolution in Romance" by Rodney Sampson (Oxford
University 1999), Section 1.1 The Phonetics of Nasality:

"Some phoneticians do make such a distinction, describing as 'nasal'
those sounds with an exclusively nasal airflow and as 'nasalized'
those with simultaneous oral and nasal airflow. However, as the term
'nasalized' will be much used by us in a historical sense to indicate
sound types whose articulation has changed in the course of time from
oral to partly or wholly nasal, it will be safer not to use it as well
with a synchronic value. Synchronically, therefore, only 'nasal' will
be used."

Since I was using the term "nasalised" in the sense of how the vowel
in Swann may or may not have changed from the (presumably) original
English pronunciation, I was using it precisely in the way that
Sampson is using it. I suggest you take it up with him, not me!

If you've got such good French linguistic contacts, perhaps you would
be willing to call one of them and ask them how "Swann" is pronounced?
I would much appreciate it!
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: frde-ga on 21 Oct 2005 09:25 PDT
That is the joke
- someone who understands East Europeanische schprache would V it
- a Russian in France would 'U' it (unless he thought the guy spoke Russian)

The two 'nn's are delightfully ambiguous - designed to confuse

Stick it in historical context - and the answer will be blindingly obvious
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: mforster1uk-ga on 21 Oct 2005 12:28 PDT
Ne dites pas de paroles oiseuses. Au fait! au fait! et vivement! (Balzac)
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: myoarin-ga on 21 Oct 2005 18:50 PDT
Not only erudite but well read!
One has to wonder if you have been hovering in the wings all the time,
or if the GAR community sent out a call for your expertise.
Cheers, Myoarin
Subject: Re: French Pronunciation
From: leli-ga on 22 Oct 2005 01:19 PDT
Thank you very much, MForster.

I'm glad you liked the answer - and especially the fine song!


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