pronunciation: Chile as 'Chee-lay'

boardslide315

Senior Member
English, USA
Talking about the country of Chile.

Every English dictionary I have seen lists "chil-ee" as the preferred pronunciation, if not the only pronunciation. Yet on a few occasions I have been corrected or assumed to be ignorant/impolite for not saying it in the Spanish way, even though I am speaking in English at the time.

Those same people do not seem interested in saying the names of any other countries in the way that the natives do: There seems to be something special and unique to Chile that people think it must be pronounced in Spanish even when speaking in English. What could it be? Is it maybe a convenience to avoid confusion with the pepper or the adjective meaning cold?
 
  • natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I don't think this is true of Chile only. If you're used to your country being said in Spanish only, you might think that's the only correct pronunciation. People more exposed to different languages tend to be more accepting of different pronunciations.

    It could be the case that they want to avoid the name sounding like chilli or chilly, I suppose. For me, Chile is pronounced exactly like the chilli and chilly.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Interesting:) My sister moved there from the UK many years ago and speaks the local lingo. Speaking in that language she says chee-lay, but when speaking English she says chilly.
     

    bennymix

    Senior Member

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    There is something special about Chile. In 2010 there was a major news story about a large number of Chilean miners, trapped in the mine. The news event lasted 10 weeks before they were finally rescued. This story was featured on most TV news shows (in the US) almost every night for those ten weeks.

    I don't watch news, but I think that all the news announcers pronounced the country correctly, every time. Certainly the major networks did. It would be embarassing not to, since the same news reports had dozens of interviews with Chileans pronouncing it right.

    So that is my theory: this 10 weeks exposed millions of Americans to the right pronunciation, and repeated it so many times that they remember it, and many of them now think of it as "correct".
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Apparently the Brits pronounce it differently from us Yanks: chile Pronunciation in English
    In the link given, I see the same IPA symbols for UK and US: /ˈtʃɪl.i/

    I don't think British speakers have a long vowel for the first syllable.

    As a rule of thumb, if there is difference in relation to a Spanish-derived word, the American pronunciation is likely to be closer to the Spanish. Think of BrE Nicaragua as nick-a-RAG-you-uh as opposed to AmE nick-a-RAH-gwuh.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    They are both /ɪ/ vowels. The British speaker has a closer vowel compared to the American speaker, but this same vowel would also be used in bill or sit and so on. It is not the vowel in seat.
     

    Mr.Dent

    Senior Member
    English American
    They are both /ɪ/ vowels. The British speaker has a closer vowel compared to the American speaker, but this same vowel would also be used in bill or sit and so on. It is not the vowel in seat.
    Sorry. I suppose this link was tangential to the discussion. I only meant to add a 3rd pronunciation into the hopper. I did not mean to imply that the Brits pronounce it Chee-lay.
     
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    rhitagawr

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree with Natkretep. In BE, it's like chilly. Anything else would be pretentious, like saying Veen instead of Vienna.
     

    boardslide315

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Do you mean that they were exposed to the Spanish pronunciation?
    Agreed. That seems to be the crux of this, people think that the English pronunciation of chilly is somehow incorrect. It seems no more "incorrect" than it is to say "Germany" instead of Deutschland or "China" instead of Zhong guo. Countries have different names in different languages, why is Chile exempt from this fact?
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    Agreed. That seems to be the crux of this, people think that the English pronunciation of chilly is somehow incorrect. It seems no more "incorrect" than it is to say "Germany" instead of Deutschland or "China" instead of Zhong guo. Countries have different names in different languages, why is Chile exempt from this fact?
    It's an interesting point. I grew up in a neighborhood with many native Spanish speakers, so "Chee-lay" comes naturally to me, but anyone referring to France as "Frawnz" (or Paris as "Pah-ree") would be laughed out of the room, so it's not just a matter of spelling.

    I suspect it has something to do with the US history of having 1) a great many Spanish-speaking immigrants; 2) a perception, based at least somewhat on reality, that many of those immigrants are in the country illegally; 3) therefore a history of prejudice against Spanish-speaking immigrants; leading to, more recently 4) a backlash against such prejudice by what might be seen as overcompensation in trying to be culturally sensitive toward Latin American names.

    I may be completely wrong about that, though. It's just speculation.

    Edit: I do note that "Meh-hee-co" for Mexico is more often a term of derision than a legitimate attempt to pronounce the country's name. Is a puzzlement.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I have just overhead someone say 'Chile' in the ordinary English way followed by 'Chilean' with stressed [leɪ], and I've heard that adjective several times before. The speaker just now is fluent in Spanish, but other people have just picked it up.
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    I have just overhead someone say 'Chile' in the ordinary English way followed by 'Chilean' with stressed [leɪ], and I've heard that adjective several times before. The speaker just now is fluent in Spanish, but other people have just picked it up.
    I've never heard "Chilean" pronounced any other way, and I'm not sure what other way that would be. "Chilly-an?" That sounds awful to me for some reason.
     

    boardslide315

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    I've never heard "Chilean" pronounced any other way, and I'm not sure what other way that would be. "Chilly-an?" That sounds awful to me for some reason.
    Pronunciation of "Chilean" could be a good explanation, I hadn't thought of that. Saying Chilean (with eɪ) then saying "chilly" feels like a mismatch, whereas "Mexican" --> "Mexico" does not.
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    I've never heard "Chilean" pronounced any other way, and I'm not sure what other way that would be. "Chilly-an?" That sounds awful to me for some reason.
    That's how it would usually be pronounced in the UK, sounds perfectly normal to me.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Agreed. That seems to be the crux of this, people think that the English pronunciation of chilly is somehow incorrect. It seems no more "incorrect" than it is to say "Germany" instead of Deutschland or "China" instead of Zhong guo. Countries have different names in different languages, why is Chile exempt from this fact?
    There is an obvious difference. Germany/Deutschland and China/ZhongGuo are completely different words, spelled entirely differently.

    Chile/Chile are not completely different, and not spelled differently. They look identical in writing. It is similar to the situation with "France".

    But I admit that I would be surprised if someone told me saying it "chill-ee" was incorrect.
     

    Rhye

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I have just overhead someone say 'Chile' in the ordinary English way followed by 'Chilean' with stressed [leɪ], and I've heard that adjective several times before. The speaker just now is fluent in Spanish, but other people have just picked it up.
    I think this gets at the heart of the issue (for me anyway). To my ear "Chilly-an" sounds awful as well; "Chill-lay-an" is far more natural. With that in mind, I've tended towards saying "Chill-lay" as the default pronunciation.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I think this may be a social, rather than linguistic, question. I know an American man, native language English, whose wife came from Chile. He always pronounces the name of the country the Spanish way. All the other Americans I know pronounce it "chilly".
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    It's a matter of what you are used to as to what sounds natural:) chilly -> chillian, rhymes with million or Brazilian. Many BE speakers don't get exposed to nearly as much Spanish as AE speakers, especially those in the west. So a word ending in -ile is unlikely to be seen by a BE speaker as eelay or illay and the peppers are definitely chilly peppers.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I have just overhead someone say 'Chile' in the ordinary English way followed by 'Chilean' with stressed [leɪ], and I've heard that adjective several times before. The speaker just now is fluent in Spanish, but other people have just picked it up.
    To rhyme with Judaean? That has gone on from -dɪən to -deɪən. I'm wondering if it is part of this pattern, rather than doing a more Spanish pronunciation.
     
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