It doesn’t seem like a topic that really needs that much explaining, but after suffering through this weekend’s MotoGP race coverage here in the United States, it would seem there is some confusion on how to properly pronounce “Lorenzo”, as in Jorge Lorenzo’s last name. Continue reading if you want to see a leviathan description of Spanish language and how it relates to motorcycle racing in an admittedly over-the-top and pretentious sort of way.
This Isn’t Mexico
The best place for us to start is with the fact that us Americans, by-in-large, are accustomed to Spanish with a Mexican dialect. This due partially to the fact that a large population of Americans don’t travel to Spain with any sort of regularity, but has more to do with the influx of immigrants from our country’s southern border, who have accustomed us to thinking of Spanish words in a particular way. As such, we are comfortable pronouncing names like Lorenzo, in a way that ends similarly to a fine Italian car: Enzo. This is actually an inaccurate pronunciation, but audibly indistinguishable by many non-spanish speaking Americans (the more proper pronunciation would be Enso, but close enough for government work).
Regardless of this slight mispronunciation, south of the border an American ear is going to have a hard time deciphering between words like casa and caza, as we don’t have the natal predisposition to these different phonemes. Unless you grew up with Spanish being spoken around you, you’re going to hear pretty much the same word, and will have to rely on context to dicypher what’s being said.
The Castillian Lisp
However European Spanish, as a general rule, noticeably differs in the pronunciation of these words, with casa being pronounced as you’d expect with an “s” sound, but with caza being pronounced differently. Replacing the “z” sound is what’s called an unvoiced “th” sound (think, theory, etc). Called the Castillian lisp, this difference in sounding is the case for the majority of Spain, and as such the casual student of European Spanish would pronounce Lorenzo with a “th” sound, or ‘Lorentho’ if we’re spelling things phonetically.
This is the same reason why you will hear the Spanish track of Jerez pronounced “Hereth” (the “j” being properly pronounced as an “h”, and the “z” pronounced as a “th” as we just explained) by international commentators. But these same announcers seem to flub the rule when pronouncing Lorenzo’s last name, so what gives?
As we said before the “th” pronunciation is only a general rule, and there are pockets of Spaniards who ignore this rule completely, or have varying forms of it. Primarily located in southern Spain, we have dialects that practice ceceo, seseo, and distinción dialects. These three dialects vary as to whether they pronounce words like casa and caza the same and with a “th” (ceceo), the same but with an “s” (seseo), or differentiate between the two with “s” and “th” (distinción). While the majority of Spain uses distinción dialects, the southern portion of the country sees the use of ceceo and seseo.
But Wait, There’s More
Knowing which regions uses what dialect helps us understand what people indigenous to that region use in their own speech, and for many linguists this is the measuring stick on how to assess the proper pronunciation of a local word or name. Since Jorge Lorenzo was born on the Palma de Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands, it’s this geography that seems appropriate when choosing a dialect.
Since nothing is as straight-forward as it should be, it is of course unsurprising that the Balearic Island residents speak with a seseo dialect, and thus use an “s” sound when pronouncing the letter “z”. Thus the phonetic spelling would be “Lorenso” or “Lorenzo” for us Americans who still want hang onto those “z” sounds when speaking Spanish. So in a roundabout way, many MotoGP fans in the US have probably been pronouncing Jorge Lorenzo’s name properly (unless you’ve been calling him George all this time), but didn’t realize the complexity in the vocalization of the Spaniards name. So there you have it, it’s “Lorenso”, not “Lorentho” as we’ve been hearing as of late on certain TV broadcasts that will go unnamed. We hope that settles it, and if not take it from the man himself.