Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Monsieur Saint-Saëns

Can anyone explain to me why we pronounce the final "s" in the name of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns? All the authoritative references agree that we should, but it seems to violate the rules of French pronunciation. Am I mistaken on the rules? Is it one of those cases where a family member simply decided it WAS TO BE SPOKEN THUS and the (mis)pronunciation became accepted?

Every time I think about this I'm reminded of my junior high orchestra teacher, who during a rehearsal of the "Carnival of the Animals" quipped, "We're going to play Saint-Saëns sans conductor!" Unfortunately, her remark went right over the heads of the roomful of twelve-year-olds who'd never studied French.

8 comments:

Marve said...

Odd. That wasn't how I learned to pronounce his name and I can't recall the last time someone did. *'Twilight Zone' music plays*

Language Lover said...

Most if not all of the KDFC hosts pronounce the final "s", and if you Google "Saint-Saëns pronunciation" you'll find links to a bunch of references and discussions that all seem to agree that this is the preferred way. Here's a particularly detailed one, though it doesn't really address the question of "Why?"

http://listserv.cuny.edu/Scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind0503b&L=opera-l&T=0&P=2230

Marve said...

Weirdness! And that just goes to show you how long it's been since i listened to KDFC, because I could've sworn they all pronounced without the "s". That does leave me with the question of where the deuce I picked up the pronounciation "CaMEE San-SOHN". My old private teacher for violin trained in Paris but I'm pretty sure I didn't learn any Saint-Saëns pieces with her.

bookfraud said...

i've always gave saint-saens the final "s." i just followed the lead of my musician friends. i guess i haven't thought about it much, and don't invoke the name that often to think about it. then again, i knew someone who insisted another composer's name was pronounced "bee-to-VEN." i didn't ask how he said "ludwig van."

Language Lover said...

I need to find a musician who's also a native French speaker to weigh in on this. "bee-to-VEN" makes absolutely no sense. Germans pronounce "ee" like a long "a"; the long "e" sound is written "ie".

Ellie said...

Funny, I've always pronounced it cam-EEL SANT-san with a weird "T" thing in the middle of his last name. I must have picked up this strange pronunciation from my childhood French exposure. Since my parents only spoke French to each other and neither were native speakers, I guess I've got all sorts of weird ideas about word and name pronunciations now.

victoria said...

There are two dots over the E: Saint-Saëns. These marks are to tell us how to pronounce a word. There are two dots over the E in Moët & Chandon. This is correctly called mo et.
The two dots tell us that two distinct vowels and the last consonants are to be pronounced.

Sa ens with a nasal n is the correct pronunciation of Saëns.

William Shauck said...

Thanks, Victoria; that makes perfect sense. What doesn't make sense is why no one pronounces it this way, even native French speakers. :(