The other night Karen and I had dinner with a couple of friends, one of whom was telling us something about her research involving Latin America. All of a sudden, in the middle of this stream of English, [onduɾas] pops out instead of [hɑndɚəs] (for ‘Honduras’, of course). A little later, I decide to ask her: why does she feel compelled to pronounce a place name like that in Spanish rather than in English? We spent most of the rest of the meal on this topic, which turned out to be more interesting than I initially imagined.
Her immediate answer to this question was what one might expect: Honduras is a Spanish-speaking country, the name is pronounced [onduɾas] in Spanish, and thus this is the correct pronunciation. Putting aside the fact that many Hondurans (or, if you prefer, Hondureños) aspirate word-final /s/, I countered with this: “But you wouldn’t say [paʀi] instead of [pæɹɪs] for ‘Paris’, and you wouldn’t substitute ‘Germany’ with ‘Deutschland’.”
The rest of the conversation went on to reveal the real, and mostly non-linguistic, reasons why one might choose to pronounce place names (and, more obviously, personal names) in some approximation of the original language. Many of these reasons amount to showing respect for people from those places (or with those names). The selectiveness (why Spanish, but not French) has a lot to do with the fact that my friend has Spanish-speaking colleagues and students — her research and teaching interests involving Latin America, as I noted. And finally, Spanish being her second language, my friend just enjoys practicing its pronunciation, and doing so with appropriate words even while speaking English is fun for her personally.
As both dinner and this conversation were coming to an end, though, my friend had a question for me. “So Eric, there’s a fork next to your plate there. Why did you choose to eat your dinner with chopsticks?”