A Lesson in Linguistics

by Andrew Brown - February 18, 2012, 6:16 am PST
Total comments: 21

Or: One quick way to irritate Andrew.

It's not uncommon to come across some ambiguous names throughout Nintendo's many franchises, and some of them can be quite hard to pronounce given their obscure spelling, especially since many of them are derived from another language.

That said, it's one of my pet peeves to hear something heavily mispronounced over and over, but often if someone's lingual mutilations are politely pointed out to them, they'll fly into a rage and angrily defend said errors.
As a language teacher and holder of a LOTE certificate in Japanese, I feel I have at least a reasonable understanding of how these names are intended to be pronounced.

I've put together a small guide to help nudge people in the right direction. This is in no way intended to insult anyone, simply to help and educate. For anyone who's familiar with the phonemic alphabet, I've included the pronunciation there to help.


SUPER MARIO SERIES:


Mario – mɑ:rɪəʊ (MARket, shIp, Open)


This is surprisingly one of the most common mistakes I've heard. Even after hearing “It'sa me, Maaario!” so many times over the years, people still persist on pronouncing his name as “marry-oh”. The name actually comes from the legend of the Roman god Mars. On top of this, his name is identical in Japanese as it fits perfectly into the language's phonetics and can easily be written in Katakana.


Lakitu – lɑ:ki:tu: (LAh, KEY, TWO)


This one's open to interpretation. Lakitu's name is actually Jugemu in Japan, which is a reference to an ancient folk tale about a baby with a ridiculously long name. Read the story here!
It was actually one of the early translators from Nintendo America who decided on this name, and the reasoning behind this remains a mystery to this day. I however feel that they intended the name to sound a little Japanese, in which three-syllable names often have the stress on the middle syllable if it ends in an i. LahKEYtoo. I've also heard it pronounced “lackey-too” but in my personal opinion that's a difficult, unpleasant way to say it.


THE LEGEND OF ZELDA SERIES:


Almost all names in the Zelda games are direct translations of their Japanese counterparts, and as such the language carries over perfectly. Stalfos, Rope, Like Like, Goron, even Link himself have the same names in Japanese as they do English. If you want to hear some examples of the names being said out loud, watch the E3 videos, especially the first Skyward Sword gameplay demonstration. It would therefore be fairly accurate to assume the Japanese pronunciation is the intended one.


Ganondorf – gænəndɔ:f (GAllon, NUN, DOOR, F)


Epona – epəʊnɑ: (Epic, POstman, NArnia)


Deku – deku: (DEad, KOOpa)


Contrary to popular belief, this is not “dee-koo”. The singular e denotes an “eh” sound. Think about it like this - “The Deku tree is dead.” Unfortunately in a recent episode of Nintendo Show 3D, host Jessie Cantrell herself mispronounced the word, imaginably spreading a false impression to many viewers who don't know any better.


Zora – zɔ:rɑ: (Z, OR, Ah)


Gerudo – geru:dəʊ (GEt, RUde, DOughnut)


The stress here is on the middle syllable, as mentioned before. GeRUdo.


Kotake and Koume - kɔ:tæke and kɔ:u:me (COrk, TArp, KEttle) (COrk, lOOp, MEtal)


The two witch bosses from Ocarina of Time and several other games.


I could go into detail about the names of the sages, or random side characters, or more enemies, but it's pretty clear – learn Japanse phonetics and you'll never be confused with a Zelda name again.

To be fair, there are a few instances where characters have had a slightly different name in Japanese.
For instance, Tatl and her brother Tael from Majora's Mask were named “Chatto” and “Toreiru”, which seems to stem from “Chat” or "Chatter" and “Trail”, maybe a reference to how little Tael speaks as opposed to his sister...


METROID SERIES:


Samus Aran - sæməs ærən (SAlmon, MUH, S, - Apple, RUH, N)


I've heard all kinds of weird pronunciations here. “Same-us”, “Sa-moose”, “Orion”, “Erran”, the list goes on. The easiest way to remember is that you could easily call her “Sammy” and nobody would look twice at you.

Please keep in mind that these are simply my personal opinions (except that first one. Get it right people!) and some future in-game content may prove me to be completely off. King DeDeDe in the Kirby series was "deh-deh-deh" in Japan and it was assumed to be the correct pronunciation, until Super Smash Bros Brawl called him "dee-dee-dee". If HAL themselves say their character is pronounced deedee or dehdeh or even dopedope I'm obligated to believe them.
I personally blame 4kids and their horrible handling of the TV show in this particular case. Fololo, my butt!

Nonetheless I stand by my opinions and I feel they best represent the characters, and if nothing else I hope my semi-educational rant has been entertaining.
Now, class; For homework I want you to go out and have gaming conversations with 20 people, even if they are game store clerks, and see how many oddly pronounced words you come across.

Yeah, I drew that 5-second sketch of Mario. Like it?

Talkback

YoshidiousGreg Leahy, Staff AlumnusFebruary 18, 2012

A couple of examples of people who still persist in pronouncing it "marry-oh"

1/ Italian manager of Manchester City FC Roberto Mancini speaking about his Italian striker Mario Balotelli
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/17069877

(Edit: alternative link if BBC content is region-specific)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLjw3DRzL3c

2/ "The Man Who Laughs"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfqAzCcQRlk

KDR_11kFebruary 18, 2012

In German that's the natural pronounciation for all those words.

Jet PilotFebruary 18, 2012

Mario pronounces his own name correctly...and that is how it should be pronounced.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorFebruary 18, 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQO2VtV1PNg

This many people can't be wrong.

Killer_Man_JaroTom Malina, Associate Editor (Europe)February 18, 2012

How did you address Nintendo pronunciations without addressing how to pronounce Yoshi?

I've had many people over to play Mario Kart, Smash Bros and the like over the years, and the pronunciation of Yoshi has always been a divisive issue. For me personally (and this goes for most of my friends as well), I say Yoshi with the 'Yo' pronounced like the sound of 'yacht'. This is how the character himself says his own name in every game he's had a voice in.

However, some of my friends pronounce it the way most, if not all, Americans say it, which is "YOH-she". I don't know where America got this pronunciation from - probably the same place it got the pronunciation for aluminium. *crickets* *tumbleweed*

Ultimately, the correct pronunciation is the one that Japan uses. I don't know which that is, so I'll leave that for Andrew or a Japanese speaker to answer.

The marry-oh thing is, from my experience, partially a New York area phenomenon. I grew up in New Jersey, and as a kid, it was always pronounced marry-oh. It's just how I learned it, and how my friends and family said it.

I continued this, until someone from Nintendo (I want to say long-time marketing guy David Young) corrected me. Since then, I've said it correctly. My friends/family from the NY/NJ area still say it marry-oh despite my constant corrections.

Also, My-yamoto and Eye-wata appear to be NY/NJ constructs as well. Jonny Metts pulled me aside during my first E3 and was just like "c'mon dude. That's wrong." Once again, most people I know from the NY/NJ area say My-yamoto and Eye-wata.

UltraClaytonFebruary 18, 2012

Australians must pronounce "ship" differently than Americans. Is it safe to assume you pronounce the 'i' in that word similarly to the vowel sound in "cheap"?

I'm with you on a lot of these, but personally differ in that I also accept a long "e" for the start of Epona (E-POE-NA rhymes with REE-CO-LA) and for Samus' last name I prefer A-RAN instead of A-RUN.

Quote from: UltraClayton

Australians must pronounce "ship" differently than Americans. Is it safe to assume you pronounce the 'i' in that word similarly to the vowel sound in "cheap"?

No, then we would be saying "I go sailing on a sheep", and that just makes me think of Speedy Gonzales. The Australian pronunciation is the same as in US.

But, I can't believe I didn't think of Yoshi!
The Japanese is correct, "Yaught", not "Yodel". Yoshi himself says his name quite frequently in recent games.

Similarly - Miyamoto - "ME, YArd, MOAT, OH". Iwata - "Igloo, WAh, TArnish".

As with Samus, the A is the stress in Aran, making the second half of the word a lazy schwa - so "-ran" or "-run" are both acceptable, as they sound the same in this case.

I don't think local dialect or accent is a reasonable excuse - if someone were to call me Undraw and then say "Sorry, it's because of my accent", I would still say "no, that's Andrew". If they continued to say it wrong without trying to make an effort, it could be seen as disrespectful.

How do you guys say yacht and yodel? Because the English and Japanese (see SSB announcer or Yoshi himself) both sound like yodel in American English (long o like moat).

FreudianLemurFebruary 19, 2012

Quote from: MegaByte

How do you guys say yacht and yodel? Because the English and Japanese (see SSB announcer or Yoshi himself) both sound like yodel in American English (long o like moat).

Yeah, I (being english) think it sounds much more like the o in moat. Although tbh I'd say it's not exactly either. It's somewhere between the two, but I think it's closer to "moat". That's what all official pronunciations sound like to me (both SSB and when he says it himself). As for Mario, whilst "marry-oh" is wrong, I definitely wouldn't say what you said is quite right either. Once again, I think it's in between (possibly the cause of all the disagreement in the first place). I'd say the best way to spell it would be "Mah-rio", (but only in my accent, so it doesn't really solve anything). Really, we should all just say it how he says it himself.

If you really want a lesson in linguistics, check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_IPA for the English variants and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_phonology for the Japanese, and you should be able to see exactly how it should be pronounced. i.e.: if you're going to use English words as examples, you have to be very careful since they are pronounced differently in different countries, and the Japanese is often in between. Of course, there are obvious incorrect pronunciations like Merry-o.

Wait, US English pronounces yacht as "yoat"? Like, rhyming with boat?
....

Oh, I see - I read that wrong.

No, Yoshi as in "Yodel" is a more popular pronunciation in English cause it fits better with our phonemes, and I myself am guilty of saying it like that. It should have less accentuation on the "o" but the sound is ambiguous enough, when listening to voice clips of him saying his name it can swing both ways depending on what you expect to hear.

I will admit an error though - in Epona I said the "po" should be pronounced as "postman", but it's closer to "porn". Epic Porn Narnia sounds illegal.

For the record, I chose words that are generally pronounced the same in different accents, with an exception of New Zealand... fush and chups.

eggwolioFebruary 20, 2012

What about bob-omb? I grew up pronouncing it "BOB-omb," but was corrected by a friend a few years ago that it should be "buhBOMB," similar to "buhbye." Which is correct?

YoshidiousGreg Leahy, Staff AlumnusFebruary 20, 2012

Another poor soul in need of an elocution lesson:


http://themushroomkingdom.net/sounds/wav/lm_mario_01.wav

ShyGuyFebruary 20, 2012

That sounds like Mall-Rio

Quote from: eggwolio

What about bob-omb? I grew up pronouncing it "BOB-omb," but was corrected by a friend a few years ago that it should be "buhBOMB," similar to "buhbye." Which is correct?

Given the hyphen, your friend's doesn't make any sense.

TJ SpykeFebruary 20, 2012

Quote from: MegaByte

Quote from: eggwolio

What about bob-omb? I grew up pronouncing it "BOB-omb," but was corrected by a friend a few years ago that it should be "buhBOMB," similar to "buhbye." Which is correct?

Given the hyphen, your friend's doesn't make any sense.

I think his friend is right, I always hear everyone say it that way.

CericFebruary 20, 2012

I think this article is in some desperate need of some Audio to go with it.

StardustFebruary 21, 2012

But this all stands as to whether Nintendo wanted him to be pronounced Mar-shIp-O (which is kinda hard to pronounce if you ask me) or marry-oh. If they want Italian (which he is right?) then its definitely MARket-REap-Oh, because that is how an Italian would say it.  http://www.forvo.com/word/mario/ (just some pronunciations.) if you get into semantics about how to pronounce it, then it just becomes a potato, potato thing.
Personally, Mar-ee-o just sounds right, i can't really pronounce it the other way :P (just my opinion)

Quote from: TJ

I think his friend is right, I always hear everyone say it that way.

Says the man from New York, home of terrible Nintendo name pronunciation. :-p I think it's probably bob-OMB, which if you slur it, could sound maybe sound like what his friend thinks.

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