Croissant: How Do You Say It?

How do you say CROISSANT?

Do you use a special-sounding French pronunciation? Like kwu SAHN ?

Or, do you use a more American pronunciation, like kruh SANT?

Do you go with the super-American, CREscent?

Or even, CROIscent?

What is the best choice?

Given my previous posts, it might be obvious that how you say this word depends on what kind of impression you want to give, where you are, what sort of event you are participating in, and how flexibly aware of language you are. But how might one gain the awareness to use this word and its myriad possible pronunciations effectively?

In Citizen Sociolinguistic fashion, we can start by turning to the Internet:

A question to Google like, “How should I pronounce ‘Croissant’?” leads to a few possibilities. One woman from confidently explains that if you are speaking American English, you must say kruh SANT:


Another YouTube video features this same pronunciation, a simple picture of the typed word, and a cold and lonely wind blowing in the background for 16 sad seconds:

But other Internet posts carefully explain the truly French way to say this word.

For example, this response, from Karma Chameleon, to the question “How is ‘Croissant’ pronounced?” (posted under the “ethnic food” category on Yahoo answers) was designated  the “Asker’s Favorite”:

Phonetically – ‘ Kwar-sor’ -spoken fast.. Haha, best way I can describe a French accent in type!

So, both the “American” kruh SANT, and the “French” kwu SAHN (or kwar-sor) have proponents (no sites seemed to condone “CREscent” or “CROIsent”).

Narrowing it down: kruh SANT or kwu SAHN?

Continuing my Citizen investigations, I talked to a few students and friends, and a common answer I got when I asked them about “croissant” was: I say “kruh SANT.” But my mom uses “kwu SAHN” no matter what the context. So, one mom from Long Island might say something like this (rough replication of her daughter’s rendition):

Greab me a cup a cawfee and a kwu SAHN

Another Mom (from Boston) would say something like this:

 I’ll take heam and cheese on a kwu SAHN. And a cup a cawfee, skim milk, two sweetnuhs.

Now why do American moms say this one way, but the YouTube teachers of “American English” insist on kruh SANT? What does this tell us about language?

Finally, I happened to ask an Ivy League French Instructor: What do you think when an American says, in the midst of a Ham and Cheese type sentence, Kwu SAHN ? She smiled:

I think it sounds cute.

This expert on The French Language did not choose to say “exquisite” or “correct.” But, smilingly, “cute”! And, when my friends discussed their mothers’ pronunciation of the word, I sensed them also glowing with sentiment for this lovable feature of their mom’s repertoire.

So, as usual, Citizen Sociolinguistics reveals the nuance of ways with a word, but no absolutes about how we must say it or what counts as “American” or “English” or even “French.” Instead, we forge on, learning new ways, and new understandings of languages in conversation with each other, with one another.

What do you think of Kwu SAHN? How does your mom say this word? What does this type of pronunciation conundrum tell us about language these days? Weigh in here and comment below!

Modern Day Poetics: Internet Memes

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Eyebrows on fleek

All your base are belong to us

I’ll get you my pretty…and your little dog too

One does not simply…walk into Mordor

Do you recognize any of these phrases? Do images come to mind when you hear them?

My guess is that most readers can identify these as common Internet memes:  Phrases that drop from seemingly nowhere and are suddenly said everywhere.  (If you don’t recognize them, google a few and you will soon discover a new world.)

Why do these exist?  You may be thinking now, “who knows?”  “who cares?” or perhaps even:


I would like to humbly suggest that all these phrases build a common culture, a shared poetics, capable of spreading ideas, laughter, joy, idiocy, wisdom, and general being-together-ness, the same way adages (“A stitch in time saves nine”  “Early to bed…” “Haste makes waste”), poetry, folktales, or fables provide a medium for sharing ideas among a social group.

Why call it “Poetics”?   Isn’t this elevating the super-mundane to the arch and sublime?

Like poetry, memes lose their thrust when paraphrased or translated literally word for word. Memes get meaning not from individual words, but from the way words (and images, fonts, sound, music) are put together. As an astute student of mine pointed out, the expressive power of “Ain’t nobody got time for that” does not come through in a translation like, “Nobody has sufficient time to do that.”

And why does this matter?

Memes provide us a new way of thinking about how language works.  A way that is not homogenizing or reliant on a standardized set of rules or definitions.  To the contrary, memes often accumulate their meaning by combining ways of speaking that we don’t typically think of going together.  The arid diction of “One simply does not walk into Mordor” and the earthy “Aint nobody got time for that” combined give us joy!  The fantastical “I’ll get you my pretty” from Wizard of Oz lends an extra hint of evil when it is layered onto a more contemporary political rivalry:


Now, take this view of memes and modern day poetics and think of everyday communication: Expressing ourselves can be more effective, creative, joyous and communicative when we combine words/languages/gestures and images so freely;  When “Aint nobody got time for that” can be used in the same sentence as “the quadradic equation”;  Or when phrases from Spanish, French, Tagalog, and English can rally one another in new, yet recognizable, combinations.So, memes, while functional as poetic chunks, also take on meaning in these creative combinations.  They provide the medium for continued snowballing of expression.

What role do Internet memes play in your life?  Do they facilitate communication?  Thinking? By analogy, do combinations of ways of speaking make communicating more facile? Do you know any multilingual memes? Add your comments, memes, examples here!

How Do People Use Language to Get Taken Seriously?

Is speaking-like-others-expect-you-to-speak the best way to get them to take you seriously?

In response to my last post (Freedom of Speech: What you Say and How you Say it) one thoughtful reader, I’ll call him Mr. MiddleOfTheRoad, took issue my rhetorical question: Why should we let others define the way we speak?

I had asserted that we shouldn’t let others define the way we speak, because when we do, we can’t express ourselves fully, and our unique perspectives may not be heard. The more we police how we say things, the more we circumscribe what gets said.

Mr. MiddleOfTheRoad asserted to the contrary, that

“…it’s in our own interest to learn how to speak as others do. We may WANT them to teach us.”

Two questions came up for me:

  1. Which “others” are you talking about? Teachers? Police? Parents? Bosses?
  2. Why wouldn’t they also want US to teach THEM? (Don’t Teachers, Police, Parents, Bosses learn new ways of speaking from Pupils, Citizens, Children, Employees?)

Mr. MiddleOfTheRoad continued…

If you wish to be taken seriously as, say, a lawyer then you had best learn how to speak as lawyers do, etc., etc.”

Yes, perhaps you must speak “as lawyers do” to be taken seriously as a lawyer. As another wise reader (I’ll call him City Kid) put it, a defense lawyer shouldn’t go before the judge and jury saying things like “Bobo here ain’t got no problems with the law.”

But aside from basic protocols for speaking in court or other professional settings, two problems immediately come to this mind:

  1. How do generic “lawyers” speak?(I suspect there are multiple nuanced versions Lawyer-Speak, just as there are multiple nuanced ways of speaking as a politician, a poet, or a preacher.)
  2. Is just speaking as some approximation of a generic lawyer really enough? (If you have something to say, something unique, that your addressees have not understood before, if you wish that unique perspective–your own–to be taken seriously, don’t you need to add something more than what “they” taught you? Might you not need to pull out some new expressive chops?)

There are more alternatives than speaking “like a lawyer” or “not like a lawyer.”

Yet, Mr. MiddleOfTheRoad went on to make a restaurant analogy:

“What would be the sociolinguistic equivalent of going into a restaurant and eating your meal with your fingers? That’s terrific if you want to offend people but if you don’t then you’ve got to learn and practice certain things.”

Again, the same two problems rankle:

  1. What is generic restaurant behavior? (Just as there are different ways of being a lawyer, politician, poet or preacher, there are many different ways of restaurant eating. Do you eat with your fingers at McDonalds? Lorenzo’s Pizza? Dunkin’ Donuts? Ben & Jerry’s? Might you grab an endive with your fingers at a Fancy French Restaurant if you had already asked the waiter for cutlery and wanted to make a point?)
  2. Is just knowing some generic approximation of restaurant behavior enough? Don’t we acquire new ways of eating when we go to new places? For example, I use spongy bread to eat my food when I’m in one of Philadelphia’s countless delicious Ethiopian restaurants. I use chopsticks when I’m in Chinatown, but, I may ask, diplomatically, for forks for my children.

How does this apply to using language to speak our minds, to command respect, to get people to take us seriously? Speaking on the bus, or as a lawyer, a mother, a politician, teacher or poet—speaking as an individual—takes awareness and finesse. As does eating with your fingers at a Fancy French Restaurant, asking for a fork in Chinatown, or learning to use spongy bread at an Ethiopian place.

Using language flexibly and to make points, but in ways that might be unfamiliar, that may require some extra reflection, or even require our addressees to ask questions, is not the same as being ignorant or uncivilized.

Not speaking exactly like others is not “the sociolinguistic equivalent of going into a restaurant and eating your meal with your fingers.” Not speaking exactly like others can be infinitely many other things, including being

  • poetic
  • creative
  • multilingual
  • flexible
  • intelligent.

Speaking differently can also be, even when a little off-putting, a way of getting people to take you and what you have to say, seriously.

Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we are celebrating today, spoke in such a way that millions of people took him seriously, though he was also off-putting for many. He did not let others define either what he said or how he spoke. Yet, he was serious. And, he was taken seriously (in one sense, very sadly so).

How do you use language to get people to take you seriously? Are the only alternatives Offending or Not Offending? Proper or Not Proper? Correct or Incorrect? English or Not English? What other resources do you draw on? Post your responses here!




Freedom of Speech: What you say and How you say it

Freedom of speech has been in the news quite a bit lately. In the context of the recent Charlie Hebdo attack in France, such freedom relates primarily to the content of the message. Freedom to say what you want to say—about religious figures, politicians, the State, demographic groups…

But does this sentiment also apply to How people speak? Which language they are using? How they use that language? If they choose to say “ain’t” or “y’all,” or varieties like “Konglish” (see previous post on The Konglish Accent Tag)?

Figuring this out is an important task for the Citizen Sociolinguist. So, to explore, I sourced my Twitter friends:

 Is “Freedom of Speech” only about WHAT we say? or does it include HOW we say it?

A super-smart, zesty response came back from @nelsonlflores:

 @brymes Language policing should be reframed as an assault on freedom of speech!

What does this mean? What are examples of Language Policing as an assault on Freedom of Speech?

Here are some types of open, unconstrained, language policing mentioned by twitter friends or in stories told to me over the years:

Policing Language Code, as in, “English Only”:

  • Saying “Speak English!” to someone speaking another language when, for example, riding on public transportation.
  • Calling out to school-children speaking Spanish in the halls between classes: “Hey—English here!”


Policing Language Expertise, as in, “That isn’t even English”- or – “That is not Standard English”:

  • Describing “double-negatives” as “illogical” and thus “ignorant.” (Ain’t nobody got time for that!)
  • “Correcting” grammar in a way that impedes communication: Useful example provided from @joannaluz:

@nelsonlflores @brymes unlikely source: an ep of Masters of Sex depicts housewife correcting nanny–“ask” vs “aks”–as deeply violating — later the nanny deliberately uses “aks” in moment of defiance

Policing Language Boundaries, implying, “That is not Appropriate,” often done by authority figures:

  • Ignoring requests from someone younger until they follow with “sir” or “ma’am”
  • Ignoring what someone says, appearing not to understand, repeatedly saying “what?” when they sound “non-native” or simply different


These examples are about immediate acts of face-to-face language policing—hurtful to an individual, but momentary. However, the consequences of these acts of language policing, gradually, may significantly chip away at Freedom of Speech.

What? How? How do perhaps repeated slaps on our communicative freedoms like “speak English!”, “That’s not proper!”, or even simply passively waiting for an address term like “sir” or “ma’am” affect more substantive issues of Freedom of Speech?

This is how: The more we police how we say things, the more we circumscribe what gets said.

When we are worried about how someone is mixing English and Korean and Spanish, or sounding “ignorant” or “uneducated” or “disrespectful” in their diction, we might be missing out on what these people—who speak in a different way—have to say. I suspect we may also be missing out on an unfamiliar point of view.

The how and the what of Freedom of Speech are inseparable.

What do you think counts as Freedom of Speech? Is this freedom only about content? Is it also about how we say things? Have you experienced Language Policing that threatened your own freedom of speech? Leave your comments here!

The Konglish Accent Tag as Citizen Sociolinguistics

In my last entry, I made the assertion that, given the opportunity, people speak up about what they know about the language they use. And now, thanks to the Internet, we can bear witness to that speaking up—and learn something important about language from these Citizen Sociolinguists.

Take Kelly and her YouTube performance of her own “English” and “Konglish” ways of speaking. Here she performs the Accent Tag inventory—a list of words to pronounce (caramel, aluminum, mayonnaise…) and lexical prompts (“How do you address a group of people?”) that was developed by Serious Dialectologists decades ago, but has since been taken over by Internet People. Please take a look by clicking on this link:

While the list of words and lexical prompts could take about 60 seconds to recite, Kelly’s video lasts longer than eight minutes because, as a Citizen Sociolinguist, she takes time to contextualize her performance. She mentions that she grew up in North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia, that she was raised by Korean-speaking parents, and that at the age of 10, “when kids develop that whole language thing,” she went to Korea to live. Then, she moved back to Southern California as a teen. Because of her varied experiences with language, she performs the Accent Tag both in her “American” accent, and as a “Konglish” speaker.

One look at this video illuminates at least five critical and liberating points:

  • A speaker does not necessarily orient to one standard pronunciation, but selects between many possibilities.
  • The more experiences one has in different contexts, the more choices one has available—Korean? Texan? Californian?
  • How one pronounces or selects words can be an aesthetic choice—While Kelly does not (yet) use “Ya’ll” when she addresses a group of people, she has observed Texans say “Hey, how y’all doing,” and says she’d “like to pick up on that.”
  • How one pronounces or selects words can be a social choice—“People always picked on me,” she says, when she spoke English in Korea. And so she spoke differently there.
  • Speakers have awareness of what they want to sound like and why they say things in certain ways.

This video also yields one ominous observation: Despite these liberating aspects of Kelly’s performance, a sense of a judgment looms; A Standardizing Big Brother lurking somewhere, wanting to say someone sounds way off, really weird, FOBy, or jumbled up (all words Kelly uses to describe her own fluid language use).

As Kelly’s video exemplifies, under the imagined gaze of Standardizing Big Brother, sometimes people on line speak apologetically about their own language—voicing comments they have heard from other people. Other times, people speak out about more nuanced features of their own language. Usually, the same person does a little bit of both. Have you performed an accent tag video? Have you found one you appreciate? What did you think of Kelly’s?  Post your comments and findings here!