Monday, April 13, 2015

Harry Potter and the Alveolar Approximant

Q: You know that thing where Germans have trouble saying "squirrel"? What does the German edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone call Professor Quirrell, then?

A: Harry Potter Und der Stein der Weisen (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) calls him . . .

And now we wait for the reveal.

. . . Professor Quirrell. Sometimes there's a trace of a kv sound. An audio clip from the movie shows that at least one actor (and one YouTube reviewer) can say "Quirrell" pretty much like the English pronunciation. And that's more or less like the British English pronunciation of "squirrel." Which is pretty cool because, as /r/linguistics commenter Sabremesh points out, a bunch of those sounds don't even exist in German. Commenter H-Resin raises a squirrel/Quirrell quibble suggesting that the soft w is present in German and that the combination of s and qu is the real problem. Well, whatever the problems with squirrel, it seems there wasn't enough of an issue with Quirrell's name to change it to Kvirrell, as it was in Russian (Профессор Квиррелл), which has no w sound or letter.

Uhhh, if any pedants are reading this, I used "poisonous" and "venomous" interchangeably in an earlier post. Sorry! It was alliterative! Poisonous platypus!