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Dear Matthew:

All the TV commentators made it abundantly clear that Nagano is pronounced NAG-a-no. In my Random House Unabridged, 1971 edition, the verdict: Na-GAN-o. Merriam-Webster dictionary on the Internet, the verdict: Na-GA-no. I have this sinking feeling that today's TV commentators never learned how to use a dictionary but now are the de facto arbiters of pronunciation. The other possibility, that the dictionaries are wrong, is equally disquieting. Please, Matthew, can you provide some words of comfort?

-- John Terrell, Mad as hell and Nagano take it anymore

Words of comfort, eh. Well, how about, "They're all wrong." Feel better? The Japanese language has no formal system of stressed syllables. So the textbook "Nagano" should be "Na-ga-no," no inflection. CBS Sports in New York says they arrived at NAG-a-no after consulting with Japanese linguists and coming as close as they could to a true native Japanese pronunciation. Apparently many people put a nearly imperceptible emphasis on the first syllable. NAG-an-o, hitting the first syllable full force, is the best we lumbering Americans can do with this nuance of Japanese speech. Your dictionaries offer the Anglicized version of the town's name. English generally stresses the next-to-last syllable of a word, so we can't overcome the urge to do it to Nagano too.

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