How To Pronounce “Nonchalant” and “Sans”

NOT all French words are pronounced the French way.

Nonchalant, for instance, is pronounced French: non-shuh-LON.

Sans, on the other hand, as I had discovered only recently, doesn’t sound like how a French would say it: , that squiggly worm above the ‘a’ denoting a nasalized sound, one you’d make rather easily when you’re stuffed up with a cold, or if you’re trying to sound like a cat. It sounds a little like saw, with its vowel pulled into a nice nasal note.

So, there I was, two weeks ago, reciting Shakespeare’s famous “All the world’s a stage” monologue by Jaques from As You Like It, for a student, who was desperately looking for a monologue she could recite to fulfill a three-part exercise that required her to perform tasks according to a read-write-speak rubric.

I suggested Jaques’s musing for its thematic poignance and its length (it was neither too short nor too long). As we walked through his portrait of the seven stages of life, from infant right up to the “second childishness” of old age, we paused intermittently to appreciate the images and jot down vocabulary.

Then came our concluding line, when Shakespeare made a knelling effect out of the word sans, which hits home the stark “mere oblivion” reality four times:

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

This isn’t , as it turned out. I consulted Oxford: you’re supposed to say it like how it’s spelled. Where have I been?

Here’s Oxford’s phonetic guide: 

・American English: |sænz|
・British English: |sanz|

The best way to explain the difference between the |æ| and the |a| vowel is the way Americans and British pronounce “can”. Do it the American way, you get a flattened and more rigorously stretched vowel, like a short, abrupt “air.” Do it the British way, you get a rounder, fuller, more robust vowel, almost aristocratic and terribly proper.


I invite you to write to me at  viv@mywritinghome.com if you have any word ideas you’d like to share.

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