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« Mechanical ineptitude | Main | Different strokes para gentes diferentes »

September 29, 2004


language hat

Not only have I heard the metathetized "chipolte," I'm the only one I know (here in NYC) who says it the correct way. Hell, the Mexican restaurant we order our (delicious) chicken chipotle from even has "chipolte" on the menu. So it ain't Hume's invention.

language hat

I should add that I've never heard the two-syllable version.


1. Calvary vs. calvary?
2. I myself like to pronounce 'chipotle' to rhyme with 'yodel,' just because it amuses me, but I haven't heard others do it.
3. I don't believe Hume is claiming to have invented the metathesized version; just to have observed it. Also, I don't think it's a two-syllable version; I think it is "chee-POL-tay." I personally haven't heard anyone say it, either.

Semantic Compositions

Neal -- good catch! See, I do it myself!

Languagehat -- I didn't mean to imply that Prof. Hume was imagining it; I just haven't come across the "chipolte" version myself.

Actually, I might have and forgotten it. I tried to find a video clip of this Jack-in-the-Box commercial, where Jack goes through a whole bunch of mispronunciations, but I could only find still pictures from it. He might well have said "chipolte" in there.

Lupita Biskofski

"Chipotle" has been assimilated into Spanish from the nahuatl word "chilpoctli" (smoked pepper). The Nahuatl phoneme that is transcribed as "tl" does not exist in Spanish. The actual sound of /tl/ is somewhat like the second syllable in "lit-tle", that is, a single phoneme and not two as in At-lan-tic. A Spanish-speaker would have trouble with this phoneme, even more that a native English-speaker, and would tend to place a vowel between a /t/ and /l/ or omit the /t/ altogether. Of course, both English and Spanish speakers may pronounce "chipotle" however they wish, but this may be an explanation for such a diversity in pronunciations.


Lupita Biskofski is exactly right that "chipotle" comes to Spanish from Nahuatl "chilpoctli." The latter breaks down into 3 syllables: chil-POC-tli. /tl/ constitutes a phoneme distinct from both /t/ and /l/. It is hard to describe, but sounds a lot more like a "th" (as in "thimble") + "l" than anything else. Spaniards had a hard time rendering /tl/, so standards deviated early on. The volcano Popocatepetl, for instance, often shows up as Popocatepelt. I don't think this qualifies as metathesis; lt and tl are, in this case, competing to represent a totally different phoneme.

I guess there is no *correct* pronunciation of the word. Trying to emulate the original Nahuatl seems laudable, but is bound to meet with confusion and accusations of pretension, more serious even than those which one imagines would be directed at someone trying to emulate an authentic Spanish accent.

The irony is that English speakers end up getting closer to the original Nahuatl pronunciation of this word, and a few other Nahuatl-derived words, than Spanish-speakers. This is probably only true with Nahuatl words ending with /i/. Take, for example, the Nahuatl words: tamalli, chilli, chilpoctli. The Spanish versions, at first inspection, seem to change the final /i/ to /e/ in all cases. English seems to unwitting have correct these mistakes in its assimilation of all three words.

Actually, though, the final /e/ on words like these is not based off of the original Nahuatl ending of the word. Even words that don't end in a vowel (e.g. huexolotl, axolotl, cacahuatl, &c.) end up with a final /e/ in Spanish (e.g. guajolote, ajolote, cacahuate, &c.). This addition is made merely so that plurals can be formed according to Spanish convetions (i.e., -es).

So next time a Spanish-speaker tries to correct your pronunciation of "tamales" or "chiles"--correct them instead!


You say that people who pronounce the last syllable as the proper English pronunciation of the ending "le", as in "little" are butchering the word. We are not. We are giving it the proper English pronunciation. If a French speaker pronounces Paris as "Paree", are we English speakers butchering the word because we pronounce it Paris? Of course not. So stop butchering the language and pronounce it with the correct English pronunciation!


So....what is the French pronunciation of the word chipotle? Spelled phonetically. A co-worker and I were just having a discussion, comtemplating how a true French person would pronounce this.


Gute Arbeit hier! Gute Inhalte.


The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride f*cking with you. F*ck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.


I have to agree with Steve, and I pronounce chipotle as "chi-pot-le" where the last two syllables rhyme with "bottle". That is the proper English pronunciation.

Also, chipotle is not a Spanish word and has not been merged into the Spanish language. Anyone saying otherwise is full of horse puckey (rhymes with "duckey").

Daniel Dorado

Yeah, what you people don't know it's that all those words like tamal, chile, chipotle, aguacate, guajolote, and many others are not nahuatl, they're in fact nahuatlismos and they've been officially added to Spanish.

cialis online

I think it doesn't matter because the same thing occur with the chipotle sauce because one day my best friend wanted a taco with a lot of chipotle and he said chipotl.


Sure, so now you English speakers can pronounce Chipotle better than Spanish speakers? (or so I read somewhere above?) Maybe, but not better than Mexicans. Spanish speakers from other countries like Argentina, Colombia, Perú, will have problems reading Cuauhtemoc, Popocatepetl, Chipotle, Ixtaccihuatl, but not Mexicans. These words in Nahuatl and their pronunciations are native to us. Many of you who claim that can pronounce Chipotle correctly, in fact, can't.


Hey! I never thought about it, we Mexicans are kind of bilingual. Spanish and Nahuatl and perhaps some other Mexican native languages. In fact, Mexican customs and immigration officials can tell a Mexican from other Hispanics by asking them to speak out loud these words. (Foreigners can't).


Like Parangaricutirimicuaro. That's a town name in Purepecha, I believe. In Michoacán. Only Mexicans can say it. And quickly.

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