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I have encountered on many occasions French pronouncing foreign words according to French reading rules, rather than the way the word is pronounced in the original language. I didn't bother to collect the examples, and the only one that I can readily think of is Kärcher (initially I mistakenly took it for something like English car-share, since you often encounter this device when washing a car.)

What is the traditional way of pronouncing foreign words in French: close to spelling or close to the original? What is the recommendation of the Académie Française in this regard?

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  • the Académie's recommendation isn't relevant. They are no experts. Oct 7, 2023 at 18:23

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There's no general rule, usage makes the rule. The pronunciation of foreign words varies a lot, depending on language of origin, popularity, field, date of borrowing, among other things.

English words borrowed a long time ago usually have a different pronunciation from ones borrowed more recently, as people are more familiar with English pronunciation in general.

Many words also have multiple coexisting pronunciations. For example, Uber can be pronounced /ybɛʁ/, /ybœʁ/, /œbœʁ/ and more rarely /ubœʁ/.

Generally, I'd say it's a balance between somewhat respecting the pronunciation in the origin language (or what we think it is) and ease of use. If it's a pain to say "correctly" people will tend to use an easier pronunciation.

Sometimes a word is introduced arbitrarily introduced with one pronunciation, from an ad or a movie, and there's no debate or hesitation, even if it's not "accurate".

Usually, there's more hesitation when a word is introduced only in written form, nowadays mostly from the internet. Like Twitter's "threads" (/tʁɛd/ or /sʁɛd/) or Instagram's "reels" (/ʁe.ɛl/ or /ʁil/).

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  • The use of "threads" in French is older than Twitter, and I hear "frèd" quite a lot (more than "trèd"). Oct 7, 2023 at 18:24
  • You will also find regional differences for the same word. This is audible when a Québécois and a Français use a word which comes from the English language. In Québec, where we hear more English, the pronunciation is usually more English-like.
    – MasB
    Oct 9, 2023 at 14:57

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