I have a simple question today. I’m copyediting a book on early modern Hebrew and Biblical studies, and the author cites Paul Joüon’s A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew in a footnote. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out about Joüon: he was born in Nantes in 1871, he was a Jesuit, he taught Hebrew at the University of St Joseph in Beirut (1907-14) and at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome; and he died in 1940 (also in Nantes, judging by this Polish snippet from Google Books: “Paul SJ, ur. 26 II 1871 w Nantes, zm. 18 II 1940 tamże”). My question is, what the devil is that diaeresis doing there, and how (if at all) does it affect the pronunciation?


  1. There are two Joüon on facebook (actually, Joüon-Faÿ, who must beat some record one French diareses), you can always ask them… Their family apparently even has an hotel, not so far from Nantes. Very probably, relatives of your Jesuit.
    The most likely “legal” French meaning would be to break the -ou- and make the pronunciation into jo-u-ons, but then it could also be quite cosmetic.

  2. Joüon was mentioned in the introductory lectures at the last SBL international meeting (the one by James Kugel), but I can’t recall how his name was pronounced. There’s some more information on him on the back jacket of his book on Ruth.
    As for the daeresis, I’d guess the Dutch way, i.e. what Linca said.

  3. Could it be Breton? According to its Wikipedia article, Breton orthography uses ü, and Nantes is in historic Brittany.

  4. I tried to pronounce it with three syllables, but it sounded so silly I decided that couldn’t be right. I’ll keep working on it, and maybe I’ll get accustomed to it.

  5. I’d go ask my former Hebrew instructor if he knew, but he’s on sabbatical this year.
    But yeah, beats me. Never actually looked into the guy’s nationality and I had thought it looked Finnish (although since I don’t know any Finnish or its grammatical structure that was pure speculation on my part).
    Yeah. I got nothing on it.

  6. As for a pronunciation used by a Canadian Hebrew teacher, how about 1:35 into Coal Mine Letters?

  7. The rule he formulates for the coal mine example is: “sometimes you will find the dagesh forte, sometimes you won’t”. With the rule schema “sometimes X, sometimes not” I could write an entire book on Hebrew orthography without knowing Hebrew. The scientific goal of finding testable statements that are as general as possible makes life so much easier.

  8. mollymooly says:

    One Camille Bessette agrees with Linca. From her name and the mailing list topic, I trust her opinion. But she may be a spambot.

  9. Never actually looked into the guy’s nationality and I had thought it looked Finnish (although since I don’t know any Finnish or its grammatical structure that was pure speculation on my part).
    As a native Finnish speaker, I am rather amazed at this. Finnish has no ü (although we do have ä and ö). Neither has the most widely used orthography of Breton, as far as I know (I am fluent in Irish, but my Breton is very elementary, although Breton is the only other Celtic language I have made anything resembling a serious attempt to learn).

  10. …and, linking to yesterday, there is the mystery of Brontë.

  11. FWIW, I can’t see anything against it just being three syllables, especially if it’s a Breton surname (don’t know if it is). Drop an intervocalic [h] (which, in Breton, you get from *g and *s and *x and, in Vannetais, *ð – which, in turn, you get from *d and *j), and you might well get this hiatus overkill.
    To dw’s comment, ü is only very occasionally used in Breton, and, AFAIR, only in modern orthographies in blatant French borrowings. Nantes is anyway in Upper Brittany, i.e. it was never a Breton-speaking area, and pretty much no-one would use Breton orthography then.

  12. In this clip from Armor (Brittany) TV,,8,1786.html , the presenter introduces at 3:00 Isabelle Joüon des Longrais, who owns and runs a medieval chateau in Brittany. He speaks very fast and rather mumbles her name, but doesn’t make a three-syllable of it. She doesn’t correct him (but then getting free publicity on TV, she wouldn’t…). [But see below]…
    She’s the daughter-in-law of Frédéric Joüon des Longrais, a historian who bought the chateau in 1931.
    Frédéric was a historian with particular expertise in early Japanese documents, it seems:
    JOUON DES LONGRAIS, FRÉDÉRIC. Age de Kamakura. Sources (1150-1333).
    Tome III : Archives, chartes japonaises (Monjo).
    Tokyo et Paris, chez l’auteur, 1950. In-4 demi-toile crème, 449 pages. Pages en partie non coupées [someone got bored].
    Tome troisième seul. 1. Archives japonaises. – 2. Diplomatique générale des actes japonais. – 3. Classification et examen critique des actes japonais particuliers. – 4. Etudes des actes de la procédure judiciaire et particulièrement du procès foncier.

    Heavy stuff.
    Anyway … I decided as I’m in France that I would just ask the lady directly about the pronounciation. She told me that it is definitely Jou-on, and specifically not in three syllables, ju-u-on. She sounded busy and so I didn’t go into the reason for the spelling in that case. throws up lots of Jouons, mostly without the accent.
    LH: Whether that pronounciation applies to the Jouon in question for you remains a question, but it would seem to be good guidance.

  13. Bill Walderman says:

    Where is Marie-Lucie when we need her?

  14. John Emerson says:

    Finnish has no ü….
    And yet the Finns love heavy metal.

  15. Il s’agit sans doute du maintien dans un nom propre d’une convention orthographique ancienne pour distinguer “u” et “v”, ces deux lettres ayant été longtemps confondues dans l’orthographe française, ainsi que les deux lettres “i” et “j”. La distinction entre les formes “u” et “v” n’était pas phonétique, mais dépendait de la position de la lettre : “v” en position initiale, “u” ailleurs.
    On en trouve des traces sporadiques, par exemple une plaque de rue gravée au XVIIIe siècle à Paris “Rüe de Bieure”, l’orthographe actuelle étant “Rue de Bièvre”.
    On prononce bien /u/; sans tréma, on aurait pu hésiter avec Jovon.
    Pardon my french.

  16. the rule schema “sometimes X, sometimes not”
    the rule that proves the exception?
    Stu, somebody once told me about a German saying, a piece of folk wisdom that went roughly
    Wenn der Hahn kraeht auf dem Mist, dann aendert sich da Wetter oder es bleibt wie es ist.

  17. Dominique trumps me ….joux l’atout…

  18. Merci bien, Dominique ! Between you and Paul, I now feel comfortable pronouncing it in two syllables, just as if that dreadful diaeresis weren’t there.

  19. Panu: I expressly claim sheer and utter ignorance on my part. :-)

  20. marie-lucie says:

    Well, I just got back last night after two months in California (not a drop of rain).
    It is true that French does not have many words with ü, but this is because the tréma is only used when there are two vowels together that could be confused with a digraph, as in Faÿ pronounced as [fa-i]. Here the situation is complicated by the fact that the pronounced vowel /u/ is written ou with two letters, but the tréma can only occur on one of them.
    I have never seen, let alone heard, the name in question, but it seems to me that the most likely pronunciation would be Jou-on, in two syllables (as someone is quoted as saying), rather than Jouon in one syllable (same as in the forms of the verb jouer ‘to play’ (zhwe), thus nous jouons ‘we play’ – which some people do pronounce with two syllables). The person cited who gives jo-ü-on probably does not mean to indicate three actual syllables, but jo-uon, also in two syllables, which looks like a possibility for this name, but I think less likely.
    There are other names of persons or places with initial Jou followed by other vowels, for instance the towns of Jouy and Jouais: for Jouy or Jouis the most common pronunciation is a diphthong [wi], but with other vowels there can be fluctuation in how to pronounce written ou (as the vowel /u/ or the semivowel /w/), especially since there is some regional variation in that respect. I remember a person by the name of Jouaud who pronounced his name Jou-aud, but seeing the name written one could hesitate about using one or two syllables. Perhaps the Joüon family added the tréma at some point in order to indicate a two-syllable pronunciation.

  21. Marie-Lucie!!! We’ve all been pining for you.

  22. Empty: the rule that proves the exception?
    The rule that embraces the exception. More like unrule. The old German saying is spot on, and the frowning version of it is: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  23. Welcome back, m-l, and your explanation makes perfect sense.

  24. Marie-Lucie, if the dieresis is to keep the two vowels from being pronounced as a diphthong, and if “ou” is being treated as a single vowel, then shouldn’t the dieresis go on the last vowel, so that “Jouön” would match “noël” and “naïf”?

  25. marie-lucie says:

    KCinDC: shouldn’t the dieresis go on the last vowel, so that “Jouön” would match “noël” and “naïf”?
    Theoretically, yes, but Jouön might also be taken to indicate that the on should be pronounced with the o and the n separate. In any case, the word is a family name, presumably fairly old, and family names usually keep the spellings with which they were first recorded, even if those spellings don’t quite follow present-day rules.
    The name Joüon des Longrais suggests that a bourgeois family named Joüon acquired a property called Les Longrais, the name of which they added to their original name in order to show their title to this land (this was quite common in the two centuries before the revolution, especially for men who had had official government or judicial functions and were thus rewarded with a noble title and a piece of land to go with it – or bought the land and were then given a title to go with it). The name would have been first recorded in deeds and other documents from a period when spelling was not standardized, and later maintained in writing. (In contrast, names of uneducated country people who migrated to the city might be recorded differently in different places, as happened with some of my ancestors).

  26. J’ai longtemps pensé comme Marie-Lucie, “Perhaps the Joüon family added the tréma at some point in order to indicate a two-syllable pronunciation.” C’est la seule hypothèse pour un français contemporain, depuis que le tréma a pour unique fonction la diérèse, ce qui s’est produit fin XVIIIe-début XIXe siècle. Mais l’histoire du tréma est plus compliquée, il avait en fait une fonction plus large de simple discrimination. Tous les usages différents de la diérèse ont par la suite été considérés comme des “abus” par les grammairiens normatifs.
    Voici deux citations, accessible dans Google Books, qui appuient mon point de vue (je modernise l’orthographe, sauf des exemples) :
    Traité de l’orthographe françoise, en forme de dictionaire… / Pierre Restaut, 1775, p. XCI-XCII :
    “On écrivait aussi autrefois avec un ü tréma les mots loüer, joüer, Loüis, boüillon, grenoüille, joüir, et plusieurs autres semblables, et cela, disait-on, pour empêcher qu’on ne prononçât lover, jover, Lovis, bovillon, grenoville, jovir, et ainsi des autres. Mais aujourd’hui où la figure de l’u voyelle et de l’v consonne est aussi différente à la vue, que le son l’est à l’oreille, il n’y a que les gens qui ne savent pas lire, qui puissent s’y méprendre.”
    Cette citation est très claire : ce tréma, qui n’avait pas de fonction de diérèse mais de discrimantion graphique entre “u” et “v”, s’est perdu quand on a commencé à distinguer ces deux lettres. Son usage n’était de toute façon pas systématique, car un locuteur natif distinguait à la lecture les noms communs. Le problème était plus délicat pour les noms propres, d’où son maintien dans quelques cas dans les registres d’état civil (actuellement, une actrice française s’appelle Brigitte Roüan, c’est en me demandant comment prononcer son nom que je me suis intéressé à cette bizarrerie).
    Abrégé de la grammaire française / Noël François de Wailly, 1806, p. 157 :
    “N’écrivez pas non plus loüer, joüer, boüillon, grenoüille, etc. parce qu’on ne prononce pas lo-uer, jo-uer, bo-uillon, etc. ou se prononce dans ces mots comme dans genou; ainsi écrivez simplement, jouer, bouillon, etc.”
    qui confirme la prononciation.
    On trouvera sans doute d’autres corroborations (recherche tréma dans Google Books sur la période 1750-1820 à peu près).

  27. It’s only remotely related to your post, but I was reminded of the village of Buoux in the Luberon (Provence), which is pronounced like “dukes” (as spoken by a British person, i.e. with a y sound before the u) with the d replaced by a b.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Merci, Dominique.
    So the Joüon family is indeed preserving an archaic spelling, and a pronunciation Jo-üon is out of the question. But this spelling may also have been preserved in order to emphasize the fact that the name is pronounced with two syllables (as Paul heard it from a person named Joüon), rather than just one as in jouons. That may be the case also for the name of Brigitte Roüan (if her name – which I have never heard – is pronounced differently from that of the city of Rouen).
    Athel: Buoux pronounced as Byoux (silent x): in Southern French (the pronunciation of which is heavily influenced by that of the Occitan varieties), most of the Northern (standard) French diphthongs are pronounced as sequences of two vowels, as in jouer ‘to play’ pronounced jou-er, or tuer ‘to kill’ pronounced tu-er. So locally the village would be Bu-oux, while Northern French speakers would interpret the vowel sequence as a diphthong. But this diphthong is very awkward to pronounce, especially after a b, because of the very close positions of the lips and tongue, and the u can easily be mistaken for a y sound in this context.

  29. ”shouldn’t the dieresis go on the last vowel”…
    Based on proofreading scans of 16th and 17th century texts, I can confirm that many printers didn’t care whether they put the dieresis on the first or second of the two vowels, and might, indeed, capriciously use both options on the same page. In fact, I recall one case where the same word (was it jouir?) was spelled both joüir and jouïr on the same page.

  30. mollymooly says:

    I note “l’v consonne” rather than “le v consonne”. intéressant.

  31. Buoux pronounced as Byoux (silent x). It wasn’t silent on the lips of the person who introduced me to the place, and who had a house not far from there. She pronounced it just like an English x. However, a sample of one person isn’t much to go on.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Athel, I assumed that the x was silent because it is in most French words, but if it turns out that people in the place do pronounce it, then I withdraw that part of my comment.

  33. I am always confounded by the 19th century crystallographer, René Haüy. I never know how to pronounce his name.

  34. Hmm. Based on what we’ve learned here, I’d guess /oi/, two syllables (“oh, ee!”).

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Even though there is a street and a subway station named after his brother in Paris, I had never heard the name pronounced and I hesitated between [o-i] and [aɥi] (= a-ui), but here it is, from Wikipedia:
    Valentin Haüy (pronounced [aɥi]) … was the founder of the first school for the blind. His brother, René Just Haüy, is considered a founder of modern mineralogy.
    The phonetic symbol [ɥ] is the semi-vowel which the letter u represents when followed by a vowel, most typically before i as in nuit, lui but also before other vowels, when it and that other vowel are pronounced together in the same syllable. But when pronouncing the name especially slowly and carefully, a French person might say a-u-i.

  36. My experience is that Americans pronounce it both ways. As dramatic confirmation of this, in a single, extremely entertaining 3.091 lecture, Prof. Sadoway pronounces it first (13:02) in French, more or less per Wikipedia, then (14:15) as a-u-i, and then (17:00) as o-i, and then back again (19:14). (Well, he’s actually a Canadian; listen to how he says “about.”)

  37. marie-lucie says:

    It is not as if this name was in daily use outside of very restricted circles. Maybe Prof. Sadoway had first learned the correct pronunciation, then someone told him he should use the other one, and he got confused as to which one he should use, so he was trying to cover all bases.

  38. Prof. Sadoway pronounces it first (13:02) in French, more or less per Wikipedia
    Actually, it sounded to me more like /aui/ “ah-OO-ee.” But yes, he’s very entertaining, and it’s great that they make these lectures available.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    Prof. Sadoway may be Canadian, but that does not mean that he speaks French natively: he sounds like an English Canadian to me, so it is not surprising that he would not pronounce the name as a native French speaker would (but he gets points for trying).
    (Does anyone know what so many online videos say everything twice, with sentences overlapping with each other? it makes following the speaker very difficult – I can’t stand more than a few seconds of it).

  40. marie-lucie says:

    (I mean: does anyone know why…)

  41. Right. I pointed out that he is Canadian because I had begun with the claim that Americans say it both ways, and not to imply that someone from Toronto would speak French natively. And, again, when I said he pronounced it in French, I meant in the L2 French of a native English speaker, which is probably why LH doesn’t hear an authentic enough semivowel. This I opposed to the two later times, which I took to be the two natural pronunciations one hears among American scientists.

  42. When is someone going to write a pronouncing dictionary of French names? Or is there one already that I haven’t heard about?

  43. m-l: Does anyone know why so many online videos say everything twice, with sentences overlapping with each other? it makes following the speaker very difficult
    When this happens to me it is because there are two versions of the video opened within seconds of each other and they are both playing at the same time. Usually the first one is embedded in some text and is playing automatically and the second is from clicking through to the YouTube which also plays automatically. The solution is to click the stop button on one of them. I usually stop the one in the embedded post on the theory that the YouTube version will load faster since it doesn’t have to go through more layers of software.

  44. Late to the party, but I thought of Haüy too. (I used to try to be a crystallographer.)
    I was introduced to him with the three-syllable pronuncation.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    Sili, in what language was the conversation?
    I could see even French people using the three syllables, because the name is so unusual, but [a-üi] does sound more natural.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    (I wrote this before): at the age of six I had a teacher whose name sounded very strange to me. I remember announcing it to my parents as gou-a-gou. In fact it was Goigoux pronounced gwa-gou.

  47. Danish. And as such it was prolly closer to /æyi/ than /aɥi/ (I need to practise that one. Well, French in general, really.)
    I’ve just dug up my old introductory text, and there isn’t a pronunciation guide. Now I’m wondering if I’ve made up the pronunciation, myself, based on my limited knowledge of the trema.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    If a there were saying the name very slowly they might say /a-y-i/ but the normal pronunciation seems to be /aɥi/.

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