Lefebure.

Many years ago I bought and enjoyed Molly Lefebure‘s book Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Bondage of Opium, and ever since I’ve wondered vaguely about her surname — it was obviously equivalent to French Lefèvre, but how did that -u- get in there? Now it occurred to me that with the resources of the internet I could probably find out, and sure enough, I found that Saussure (see this LH post) had addressed the issue in his Cours de linguistique générale (Course in General Linguistics):

Ainsi pour le nom de famille Lefèvre (du latin faber), il y avait deux graphies, l’une populaire et simple, Lefèvre, l’autre savante et étymologique, Lefèbvre. Grâce à la confusion de v et u dans l’ancienne écriture, Lefèbvre a été lu Lefébure avec un b qui n’a jamais existé réellement dans le mot, et un u provenant d’une équivoque. Or maintenant cette forme est réellement prononcée.

So for the family name Lefèvre (from Latin faber) there were two spellings, one popular and straightforward, Lefèvre, the other learned and etymological, Lefèbvre. Thanks to the confusion of v and u in the former writing system, Lefèbvre was read as Lefébure, with a b which never really existed in the word, as well as a u which came from an ambiguity. And now this form is actually pronounced.

He goes on to complain that in Paris, you can already hear sept femmes [seven women] with the t pronounced, which apparently appalls him (an odd attitude for a linguist); frankly, I had no idea it was ever silent. Thus we see once again the pointlessness of peevery!

Incidentally, the English name Lefebure is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable (LEFF-ə-byoor), whereas Lefebvre is lə-FEE-vər (according to the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names).

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    I am surprised that Saussure wrote Lefèbvre with è (which might be a Swiss spelling). I have only seen it as Lefebvre, since the middle e before the apparent consonant cluster /bvr/ would have the sound of è anyway. Otherwise the explanation for the u is correct.

    The fèvre part (however written), from Latin faber, probably used to mean ‘smith’. It survives in orfèvre, still literally ‘goldsmith’, The Southern French (Occitan-derived) equivalent is Fabre, still a common last name. Favre and Faure are intermediate dialectal forms, also very common.

    sept femmes” : I and most people in France pronounce the final “t” in all positions, but at one tine the “t” was silent before a consonant. The conservative pronunciation is still used in Québec, for instance there is (or was) a weekly magazine called “Sept-Jours” ‘Seven Days’, pronounced without the t. But Sept-Iles ‘Seven-Islands’ has the /t/, because the next word begins with a vowel.

  2. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I likewise had no idea that the t in “sept” was ever silent: how would Saussure have liked us to say it, pronouncing the p instead, or pronouncing it as if written “sé”? Maybe Marie-Lucie will enlighten us.

    Any, the explanation of where “Lefebure” came from is fascinating. I imagine that the traditional combining of v with u (and i with j) must have produced other similar errors: any examples?

  3. marie-lucie says:

    (Sorry, I was writing with the Canadian French keyboard and forgot to adjust the last paragraph – here it is again)

    sept femmes : I and most people in France pronounce the final t in all positions, but at one tine the t was silent before a consonant (the p was probably lost centuries before) . The conservative /t/-less pronunciation is still used in Québec (at least in some instances): there is (or was) a weekly magazine called Sept-Jours ‘Seven Days’, pronounced without the t. But Sept-Iles ‘Seven-Islands’ has the /t/, because the next word begins with a vowel.

    The pronunciation of sept as “set” in all positions contrasts with that of huit ’8′: compare huit ans ’8 years’, with /t/, and huit jours ’8 days, a week’ without the /t/.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    Athel, the pronunciation of sept in Sept-Jours is not ‘, thus the name of the magazine is not pronounced identically with the word séjour ‘stay, sojourn’. This is because only the /t/ is omitted from sept, not the vowel quality.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    I guess Saussure pronounced sept femmes as “sè fam”.

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Thanks. I hesitated between sé and sè, but selected sé because I don’t know of any words that end in è, though I realized that the sound in sept was that of è, not é.

    Anyway, you’d already posted your answer before my question appeared: they crossed in the post, as we used to say when letters were written on paper and delivered by people.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    the traditional combining of v with u (and i with j) must have produced other similar errors: any examples?

    I am not aware of any. It is barely possible that Faure (now /for/) as an alternative to Favre results from such a confusion, but on the other hand Faure as an Occitan word would be pronounced with a diphthong (/fawre/), and both /v and /w/ are possible reflexes of Latin /b/ depending on the dialect, so I don’t think that this case is the same as for Lefébure instead of Lefebvre.

    The reason why Lefebvre has survived as a spelling (giving rise to Lefébure) is that proper names have often not been subjected to orthographic standardization which affected some common words. The same thing happened in English, as with Smith and Smythe, which may be pronounced the same or differently while smith is the only accepted spelling for the common name.

  8. Sorry, I was writing with the Canadian French keyboard and forgot to adjust the last paragraph

    Fixed. (I wondered why that weird stuff was there!)

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Cross-posting happens a lot here too!

  10. marie-lucie says:

    LH, thanks! There may be a way to do italics with the Canadian French keyboard, but if so I don’t know it. Usually I write with the English keyboard and then adjust the French words, but occasionally (especially if I am going to use French examples) I do the opposite. Here I could not see the last para on the screen before hitting the Post button, and that’s how I forgot that I needed to fix it.

  11. Still, why Lefèbvre? Are there any other examples of -bv- in French? Wouldn’t a “learned, etymological” spelling be something like Lefèbre? Are there any other French names with intentionally antiquarian spelling?

  12. And our friends surnamed “Lefeuvre”? It’s the same?

  13. Jim Parish says:

    One small note on pronunciation: there have been, to my knowledge, two major-league baseball players surnamed “Lefebvre”. Jim Lefebvre, who played infield for the Dodgers 1965-1972, pronounced his name “lə-FEE-vər”, as you say, but Joe Lefebvre, a journeyman outfielder in the early ’80s, pronounced it “lə-FAY”.

  14. Knew I’d heard this name before somewhere..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_James_Alfred_Lefébure-Wély

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Lefeuvre: Catanea, most likely! perhaps a dialectal form from somewhere in Northern France.

    Y, “why not Lefèbre?”

    The b in Lefebvre is one example of the addition (not replacement) of lost Latin consonants to the spelling of French words during the Renaissance, a time when many consonants were no longer pronounced at the end of words or in former clusters, so there were already examples of silent consonants in written French words. In Old and Middle French all the written consonants correspond to the then pronunciation (making these languages easy to read aloud), but if you read, for instance, Rabelais in the original spelling, numerous words have additional consonants not meant to be pronounced, for instance (il) dict ‘(he) says’ (with extra c because of Latin dicit). Some of these extra consonants have remained in French spelling, as with the extra g in doigt ‘finger’ (previously doit, from OF deit, from Latin digitus), or vingt ’20′ (from Latin viginti, so the French g is in an awkward place). In Lefebvre the b was never meant to be pronounced, only to recall the b in Latin faber, until some half-educated people started to take it literally and reinterpreted the v as u.

    At the time when the Académie was charged to prepare a dictionary, spelling was a controversial topic among educated people. The Académie issued a statement according to which it would uphold the old (= Renaissance) spelling which (it said) distinguished learned persons (who knew the original Latin words) from les ignorants et les simples femmes (‘uneducated [men] and mere women’). There have been some spelling changes since, but some of the incongruities due to this attitude still remain.

    Similar reasoning is responsible for the b in English debt and doubt (from det and dout, borrowed from OF dete (now dette) and doute, from Latin debita and dubitus respectively).

  16. marie-lucie says:

    Jim P: Joe Lefebvre, a journeyman outfielder in the early ’80s, pronounced it “lə-FAY”

    Wisely, when in doubt, abstain.

  17. Actually, that seems to be a common pronunciation; e.g., “my family doesn’t say ‘Luh-Feb-Vree.’ We say, ‘Luh-Fay’ with an accent on the second syllable.” I know there are parallel examples of consonant losses in names but I’m not coming up with one at the moment.

  18. Lots of them: Featherstonehaugh > Fanshaw, Cholmondeley > Chumley, Fotheringay > /fʌŋgi/, Cockburn > Coburn, Waldegrave > Walgrave, Magdalen > Maudlin, Dalziel > /diɛl/, Hulme > Hume, Leveson > /lusən/, Marjoribanks > Marchbanks, and Wriothesley, which has varying two-syllable pronunciations.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    Leveson > /lusən/

    This would make immediate sense for “Lewison”.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    JC, most of those are very old English names, but an American called Lefebvre must descend from a French immigrant not more than two or three hundred years ago.

    Dalziel: I remember reading that some Scottish names with the letter z are not supposed to have a z sound at all, since the letter, like the y in Ye representing ‘the’, is a misunderstanding from some other, obsolete letter. Menzies is another spelling which apparently represents another z- less name.

    Wriothesley : I have only heard thisname pronounced by one of my (French) English literature teachers, who said it with four syllables! How else is it pronounced?

  21. Indeed, Dalziel, Menzies are properly Dalȝiel, Menȝies, with a yogh, which represented the fricative g now lost in English. The former name is also spelled Dalyiel. I excluded names with consonant losses that are general in the language, like Maugham > /mɔm/, but included Dalziel because the first /l/ is lost.

    Per Wikipedia, Wriothesley can be /ˈrɪzli/, /ˈraɪzli/, /ˈroʊzli/, /ˈrɔːtsli/ or /ˈrɒksli/.

  22. Thanks, M.-L. A very clear explanation.

  23. @Athel Cornish-Bowden: Re: “I don’t know of any words that end in è”: If you mean, words that end in the è sound (/ɛ/), then it’s actually quite common (e.g., most words in <-ais> or <-ait> traditionally end in /ɛ/), though nowadays I think many speakers do raise it a bit. If you mean, words that end with a written <è>, then it’s very rare in standard spelling, but not absolutely unheard-of: the Academy recommends « puissè-je », for example, where traditional spelling has « puissé-je ». But more to the point, even if it’s not found in real words, it’s a perfectly normal way to represent final /ɛ/ in pronunciation spelling.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    Ran is right. Words spelled with final è can only occur in transcriptions from some foreign languages, and even then, that is rare. It could be used in spelling words from some African languages, for instance.

    As for « puissè-je », which is not exactly part of everyday vocabulary (only found in some very high-register contexts, approximately like English “would that I”), the Académie must have changed it from « puissé-je » because using the sound é before a final consonant (such as j since the e is silent) is alien to current Sandard French, which has the vowel è in that position.

  25. marie-lucie:

    The conservative /t/-less pronunciation is still used in Québec (at least in some instances): there is (or was) a weekly magazine called Sept-Jours ‘Seven Days’, pronounced without the t.

    Actually, to me Sept Jours sounds correct both with and without the ‘t’ sound, but I would personally pronounce it. And looking at the videos on their website, I came across this one where you can hear the interviewer pronounce it as well (in the first few seconds). I guess this is the common pronounciation, but you may have talked with somebody who used a variant one.

    There may be a way to do italics with the Canadian French keyboard, but if so I don’t know it.

    I use HTML tags, so that doesn’t depend on the keyboard. How do you do it?

    Jim P: Joe Lefebvre, a journeyman outfielder in the early ’80s, pronounced it “lə-FAY”

    Wisely, when in doubt, abstain.

    It seems common for Americans to pronounce French words as ending with a long ‘ay’ sound, and with the accent on the last syllable. This seems to be how French is perceived by the American ear.

    As for Brett Favre (a related name, as marie-lucie points out), his name is pronounced “Farv” I believe. Is the ‘vr’ combination hard to pronounce by Americans? This reminds me of the common Acadian name “Chiasson” which is usually pronounced “Chaisson” by English speakers. This is the same phenomenon as occurs in the pronounciation of Terri Schiavo.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Sept-Jours

    Marc, I was told to use the t-less pronunciation some years ago, so it is quite possible that the pronunciation with the t is a more recent one, meant to be in keeping with the “metropolitan” or “international” pronunciation.

    This reminds me that when I was a child, many older people (such as my paternal grandparents, who were Parisians) pronounced the 19** in years (eg ’1950′) as dix-neu cent not dix-neuf cent like my parents (also Parisians). I went to school in Southern Normandy where there was a similar generational difference.

    In both these cases, the pronunciation of the final consonant makes the identity of the number word clearer.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    I was told to use the t-less pronunciation: not just by one person, but by colleagues who were more familiar than I was with current practice in Québec. But this was more than 20 years ago, so I was prepared for this pronunciation to have changed in the meantime.

    how to do italics

    According to LH’s recommendation (to me and other people), with arrows surrounding the letter i (and similarly for “bold” with b). This works with the US or Canadian keyboard layout, but not the Canadian French layout, even though that layout is otherwise quite close to the English one (unlike the “French” one which is substantially different).

  28. Marie-Lucie: The location of the < and > characters in the Canadian French layout is on home row, on the key which is two keys to the right of the ; key and immediately to the right of the ` (grave) key. On some keyboards, this key is found in the QWERTY row, three keys to the right of the P key and immediately to the right of the ¸ (cedilla) key. One or the other should be present on your physical keyboard. In either case the < is typed without shift, and the > is typed with shift.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    JC, Thank you for the suggestions. I did not find what you said I would find where you said to look for it, but I found the arrows and some other useful non-letters through “option”, either lower or upper case. Now I just have to memorize a few locations and I should be able to use a single layout for everything.

  30. Ian Press says:

    Needless to say, perhaps, but both the ‘p’and the ‘t’ are pronounced, so far as I know, in ‘septante.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    If you mean, words that end in the è sound (/ɛ/), then it’s actually quite common (e.g., most words in <-ais> or <-ait> traditionally end in /ɛ/), though nowadays I think many speakers do raise it a bit.

    Not just a bit: most or all Parisians have completely merged the phonemes /e/ and /ɛ/ so that, regardless of spelling, [e] appears in open syllables and [ɛ] in closed ones. Monnaie can come out as [moneç].

    Some have done the same to /o/ and /ɔ/, so gauche comes out as [gɔʃ].

  32. marie-lucie says:

    septante

    Possibly (the word is not part of my vocabulary), but not necessarily historically. Of course the t would be pronounced in any case since it precedes a vowel, but not necessarily the p.

    Both are pronounced in in adapter ‘to adapt’ and related words, in Septembre, in le septennat ‘seven-year term of office’ (the current term for French presidents), and le septentrion ‘North’ (a rare word) and its adjective septentrional (a more common one in geography).

    The p is not pronounced in compter ‘to count’ and related words, and in sculpter ‘to sculpt’, sculpteur and sculpture.

    It is pronounced in Assomption ‘Assumption’ (of the Virgin Mary into heaven), but the following t has the sound [s] not [t] in all the words in -tion.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    David: What you describe is most likely due to the influence of Southern French (with its Occitan substrate, which had fewer vowels), as a result of inner migration from South to North, especially to Paris. As I mentioned before, the Parisian melting pot has greatly affected “Standard” pronunciation by erasing differences and simplifying the sound system. As a result, I no longer speak “Standard French” (and neither do most members of my family still in France). I have not changed my pronunciation, the language has. But not everyone in France speaks like young Parisians.

    Monnaie can come out as [moneç]

    Are you sure about the final [ç]? If you are right, it has nothing to do with the vowels but is influenced by the verb monnayer [moneje] ‘to turn (something) into money’ (la monnaie ‘currency, small change’). Or do you have other examples not compatible with this explanation?

  34. marie-lucie:

    JC, Thank you for the suggestions. I did not find what you said I would find where you said to look for it, but I found the arrows and some other useful non-letters through “option”, either lower or upper case.

    What John Cowan is referring to is the Canadian French keyboard layout. The characters are found at the right of the home row, just left of the Enter key. Is this the one you’re using?

    I was told to use the t-less pronunciation: not just by one person, but by colleagues who were more familiar than I was with current practice in Québec. But this was more than 20 years ago, so I was prepared for this pronunciation to have changed in the meantime.

    Interesting. I’ve never heard this. In which city (cities) were you told to do this? Maybe it’s a regional variant.

    This reminds me that when I was a child, many older people (such as my paternal grandparents, who were Parisians) pronounced the 19** in years (eg ’1950′) as dix-neu cent not dix-neuf cent like my parents (also Parisians).

    You know what, dix-ne cent or mille ne cent (transcribed something like [nə]) works for me as well, it’s something I would say, although I may very well pronounce the ‘f’ as well. I consider both to be correct.

    The p is not pronounced in compter ‘to count’ and related words, and in sculpter ‘to sculpt’, sculpteur and sculpture.

    So you pronounce sculpter the same way (except for the initial sound) you’d pronounce occulter? I wouldn’t say I pronounce a full on ‘p’ in the first word, but there is certainly a difference in the way I pronounce both of them. Unfortunately I don’t know enough to be able to transcribe it.

  35. I suspect that sculpter is a back-formation from sculpture. The underlying Latin verb is sculpere, with no /t/, which comes from the perfect participle. Indeed, the English verb sculpt is a back-formation first recorded in the 19C; the older verbs were sculpture itself and sculp.

    The thread on said-bookisms reminds me of the line from La Traviata I.v: “His words deep within my heart are sculptured!” as an example of massively overdoing it.

  36. Etienne says:

    1-About the /t/ in “sept femmes”: one factor which probably played a role in the re-introduction of /t/ in this context was the need to eliminate the ambiguity of /sefam/, which could be the realization of “sept femmes” or “ces femmes”. But for Saussure not to have thought of this is understandable: the work of Gilliéron, who beautifully documented the role of homophony avoidance in language change, was yet to come.

    2-The magazine “Sept jours” is one who name I would always pronounce with a final /t/ in careful speech, and I am very surprised that someone recommended a /t/-less pronunciation to Marie-Lucie.

    3-The merger of /e/ and /ɛ/ is quite common outside of Paris too, especially in Southern France. It makes French spelling that much harder (for children with this merger in their speech) to learn, of course. Canadian francophones are not the best spellers in the French-speaking world, if on-line comments are any guide, but I am often struck by misspellings in Europe which would be well-nigh impossible in Canada because our phonology is more conservative. I remember a case of “épais” (thick) misspelled (I suspect with the help of a spell-checker) in an on-line comment as “épée” (sword), which completely baffled me until I realized that both words were probably both realized as /epe/ by the speaker (whereas in more conservative usage, including Canadian usage, only the second word would be so realized, with /epɛ/ the realization of the first).

    I shudder to imagine how computer translation would handle that sort of error…

  37. David Marjanović says:

    Are you sure about the final [ç]? If you are right, it has nothing to do with the vowels but is influenced by

    No, no – for a few people, [ç] comes automatically after every utterance-final [e], [i], or [y]. I deliberately picked that as the least traditional pronunciation.

    I wouldn’t say I pronounce a full on ‘p’ in the first word, but there is certainly a difference in the way I pronounce both of them. Unfortunately I don’t know enough to be able to transcribe it.

    How about an “unreleased” [p], [p̚]?

  38. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Ran: I meant the spelling, not the pronunciation, but thanks for alerting me to puissè-je.

  39. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Marc: “It seems common for Americans to pronounce French words … with the accent on the last syllable. This seems to be how French is perceived by the American ear.”

    That is certainly how it is perceived by the American ear, but not, oddly, by the British ear, which tells us to put (an equally wrong) stress as early as possible. The Nobel prizewinner Jacques Monod, who was on everyone’s lips in my field 50 years ago was called Mno by Americans and Monno by Brits.

  40. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Does the Quebec French layout treat numerals and the full stop (period) as upper case? I found those very hard to get used to when I was first in France (as well as putting m in a weird place), but now I don’t notice it, and can adapt back very quickly to a QWERTY keyboard when I need to.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: I am very surprised that someone recommended a /t/-less pronunciation to Marie-Lucie.

    As I wrote above, this was more than twenty years ago, so things have probably changed in the meantime. Our (small) department included one colleague from Québec (the most junior among us) and that was his pronunciation. I am not sure if the others had learned it from him or independently.

    Southern French
    Again as I wrote above, Southern French has an Occitan substrate which does not make a meaningful difference between mid-high and mid-low vowels. This lack of a difference does not result from “Parisian” influence, it is the opposite, as people from the provinces, especially the poorer Southern ones, gravitate to the Paris area (like my maternal grandparents).

    The French linguist Henriette Walter, who has written several general interest books on French, mentions the following anecdote from the French revolution. The poet André Chénier, a Southerner, was living in Paris at the time. He was arrested by the local revolutionary committee and asked if he had been in a certain house. He replied no, he was in another house, which the interrogator understood as la maison à Cottée ‘Cottée’s house’ (as written in the records). Chénier was accused of lying, since there was no homeowner named Cottée, and ended up at the guillotine. Obviously he had meant la maison à côté ‘the house next door’ (lit. the house on the side), but the Parisian interrogator was not familiar with the Southern accent and its different use of vowels.

    Canadian French keyboard layout

    I have a Mac, with a Qwerty keyboard. By looking at System Preferences you can find keyboard layouts for lots of languages, including “French” and “Canadian French” (the latter easiest to use if you frequently switch between English and French). I found out that doing italics is very easy once you know how: keep Option pressed while hitting the arrows (lower case) and the slash. That’s it! No need to learn another location since the keys are the same as for English italics. But I understand from JC and others that not all keyboards are laid out in the same way even if the plain letters are in the same places.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Athel, the Canadian French layout is very similar to the US English one (QWERTY), much more so than the French one (AZERTY). I don’t use the French one except if I am at a French computer, for instance one belonging to one of my relatives (in France).

  43. Are you sure about the final [ç]?

    I know I’ve heard Sept-Isles pronounced “Sets-Eel” and gratuit pronounced “gratsis”.

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    This is almost totally off-topic (apologies) but was suggested to my mind by the discussion ot sep(t):

    Could one of you erudite Francophones tell me whether the final s is silent in the name of Proust’s remarkable creation, the Baron Palamède de Charlus? I have intermittently fretted about this for about ten minutes a year for many years, and my Google-fu has never been up to finding the answer.

  45. As you know, we welcome off-topicness here at the Hattery. This site says “D’après l’animateur de radio Raphaël Enthoven, on devrait théoriquement prononcer Charlu, mais la plupart des gens prononcent Charluss, et Enthoven lui-même prononce Charluss,” So you pays your money and you takes your choice. I myself usually say Charlu, but I think I’m not always consistent.

  46. David Eddyshaw says:

    Infnitely obliged. I suspect Proust would have loved the confusion. If I remeber right he has a whole section involving somebody falsely claiming (par snobisme indeed) that the final -p is pronounced in Saint-Loup.

  47. You’re most welcome, and I’m quite sure Proust would have loved the confusion.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    PO: I’ve heard Sept-Isles pronounced “Sets-Eel”

    Because a plural noun is often preceded by a plural article, adjective, etc whith ends in the pronunciation [z] before a vowel, some people add this consonant to words such as numerals which do not have it. The plural suffix at the end of the noun is of course silent.

    An instance of this in France is the colloquial phrase regarder (quelqu’un) entre quat(re)-z yeux, lit. ‘look at (someone) between four eyes’, actually ‘staring/glaring’ at someone while facing them closely prior to giving them a talking-to. This is because the plural yeux is normally preceded by a word apparently bearing the plural suffix, including the numeral deux ‘two’, and it is rare to refer to more than two eyes (pronounced “deu-z yeu”). Quatre yeux, without a plural suffix before the noun, sounds strange, although for instance quatre enfants sounds all right, probably because it is much more common.

    Another instance occurs in the old folk song Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre ‘Marlborough is going to war’, where the hero soon gets killed and the army holds his funeral: Il fut porté en terre / Par quatre-z- officiers ‘He was carried to the grave / by four-s officers’.

    … and gratuit pronounced “gratsis”

    The word you have heard is not the adjective gratuit ‘free of charge’ but the adverb gratis ‘gratuitement’ (originally a Latin word), in which the final s is always pronounced. The middle [ts] is the typical Québec pronunciation of /t/ before i or u (and similarly [dz| for /d/ in the same position).

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Dmitry: Baron Palamède de Charlus

    I have not studied Proust or paid attention to the pronunciation of this name if I did hear it, but I would spontaneously say “Charluss”. If I heard “Charlu” I would think that the speaker is a Southerner who has been schooled to think that French (as opposed to Occitan) words do not pronounce a final s, hence would say “un rébu” where Northerners say “un rébuss” since the word is originally Latin not French. (It is possible that this Southern pronunciation is no longer used, since the speakers would have been teased about it for a long time). There are some French place names ending in us pronounced “uss”, such as Tournus and Caylus, which are both in the South.

    The Classical first name of the baron also makes it more probable in my opinion that he is from the South rather than the North, where names of saints would be more likely.

  50. marie-lucie says:

    David E, sorry, I confused your name with Dmitry’s.

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    I am not worthy …. I have no objection at all to being mistaken for MOCKBA, though I doubt if I could carry it off for long …

    Proust actually gives a (presumably made-up) etymology of the name – he loves that sort of thing – with the second element being Germanic “hus” “house.”

  52. Ah, then he probably did envision the -s being pronounced. I’ll try to retrain myself.

  53. Etienne says:

    Marie-Lucie (and whoever out there is interested in the finer points of Canadian French phonology and morphology): the “Sets-Eel” pronounciation Paul Ogden refers to might have nothing to do with a non-etymological plural-marking /z/ prefixed to the “îles” in “Sept-îles”, but may simply be an assibilation of the /t/ to /ts/ because of the following /i/, just as in the case of the word “gratis”.

    I’d expect “Sept-îles” with a plural prefix to be realized as /sɛtzil/, versus /sɛtsil/ with assibilation of /t/ to /ts/. Of course, the tricky part is that the /z/ in the first instance would be devoiced to some degree by the /t/. In my own speech the two forms differ chiefly in that the realization of the first of the two forms involves a slight pause between /sɛt/ and /(z)il/, whereas there is none in the second.

  54. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, you must be right about the [tsi] from /t-i/ in both Sept-Iles and gratis.

  55. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Names are not subject to rules when it comes to the pronunciation of final s. Not far from where I live there is a town called Cassis, for which the final s is silent (unless spoken by Parisians or others who don’t know any better). Elsewhere in France there is a drink made from blackcurrants that is called cassis, for which the final s is strongly pronounced, as /s/. The greatest of all French Prime Ministers (then called President of the Council), Pierre Mendès France, pronounced the s in Mendès, but as a /z/. (I didn’t know him, of course, but I have met one of his sons, a mathematician in Bordeaux, once or twice.)

  56. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    M-L. It’s probably different in more western forms of Occitan (and I certainly won’t argue with your superior knowledge), but here in Provence final s is not only not pronounced, it is not even written. The Provençal names of Nîmes and Arles, for example, are Nime and Arle, and there are doubtless others. In Mistral’s orthography Provençal nouns don’t add s in the plural.

  57. Sept-iles et al

    Thank you, Etienne and marie-lucie.

    In early 60s Toronto we of course studied only “Parisian” French in high school (some of our parents even driving Pontiac Parisiennes), and none of us had ever encountered a Quebecois — then known only as a French-Canadian. Although I vaguely knew that French was pronounced somewhat differently in Quebec, I was surprised to realize how little I could understand when I finally did hear it. I presume that the Quebec dialect is more widely taught today.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    Athel:

    Pierre Mendès-France, pronounced the s in Mendès, but as a /z/.

    I remember him! I was young but just beginning to notice adult life and concerns, such as politics. My father thought very highly of him, so I heard his name many times, both on the radio and from my father. I never heard a final [z], but it could be that before the [f] it was more weakly articulated than at the end of an utterance. Of course Mendès was not originally a French name (perhaps Portuguese), and that is why the s was pronounced. I think he was somehow related to a famous man of an earlier generation called Catulle-Mendès. In both cases I always heard [s] not [z].

    Provençal vs other Occitan

    You are right. Provençal, the Occitan dialect of Provence, which Mistral spoke and wrote, is an exception to the other Occitan languages or dialect in that it does not use s for the plural of nouns and their associated articles, adjectives, etc. Nìmes, Arles and Cassis are the French names of those cities and towns, and of course like other French words they have lost the final s in pronunciation, but the rest of Occitan still has the s, and older Provençal must have had it too.

    The limits of medieval Provence and of “Old Provençal” (the older literary language or koinè) were much more elastic than they are now, encompassing the whole region of langue d’oc ‘language of oc’ (eg in Dante’s classification according to how to say ‘yes’), a region sometimes called Occitania (a term revived in modern times, from which Occitan was coined to replace langue d’oc and also refer to its speakers). Although there were already several major dialects, they were not as differentiated as nowadays (except for Gascon which may be classifiable as a different language, as Etienne mentioned on another thread).

  59. marie-lucie says:

    PO: in Quebec, I was surprised to realize how little I could understand

    The same thing happened to me the first time I went to Montréal! Even though I grew up in Normandy where older rural speech is (or was) quite close to the older Québec pronunciation.

    …. I presume that the Quebec dialect is more widely taught today.

    Rather, the current Quebec pronunciation, especially among educated people, is much closer (though not identical) to what I would consider the “Standard” French I always thought I grew up with. Not to the pronunciation of younger French folk though, with the collapse of vowel differences (and other innovations) as described earlier.

  60. David Marjanović:

    How about an “unreleased” [p], [p̚]?

    Looking at the examples on this page, yes, that sounds like it could be what I’m describing. Thanks!

    Etienne:

    Canadian francophones are not the best spellers in the French-speaking world, if on-line comments are any guide

    Not to try sparking a debate here, but what makes you say this? Quebecers, and other Canadian francophones, are notoriously ashamed of their language skills; if you ask 100 of them if they, as a group, speak (or write) French correctly, you’ll probably get all but a handful responding that no, they don’t at all, and how awful and shameful that is. But I believe this is mainly due to the fact that to this day we haven’t managed to rid ourselves of this sense of France being some sort of lost paradise, and of every deviation from what they do there as being a moral wrong. In other words, are there studies comparing the spelling skills of French speakers by country?

    This said, I completely agree with Etienne about the pronounciation of “Sept-Îles” and why it’s pronounced this way.

    Athel Cornish-Bowden:

    Elsewhere in France there is a drink made from blackcurrants that is called cassis, for which the final s is strongly pronounced, as /s/.

    Cassis is actually the term for blackcurrant (the fruit) in French. And yes, the ‘s’ is definitely pronounced.

    Paul Ogden:

    I presume that the Quebec dialect is more widely taught today.

    Well here’s the thing: the French spoken in Quebec, and the one spoken in France, are not two different languages. The formal standards are actually quite similar, but the colloquial language, in all French-speaking countries, actually differs in many ways from the standard, and in different ways from country to country. I don’t know if in school you really learned “Parisian” French, in the sense of the French they would speak on the streets of Paris, but quite possibly you learned a rather formal, book-like way of speaking. Which of course should be understood by the vast majority of French speakers, and if they are reasonably educated they should also be able to tailor their own speech to make sure you understand them in return. But regardless of the country in which you are, being able to follow actual conversations where a more informal dialect is used requires practice. I don’t know if this is commonly offered today to speakers of French as a second or foreign language.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    French spelling skills

    I often read Le Monde online, a French newspaper with a reputation for having high standards, yet even regular articles often contain misspellings. As for readers’ comments, they run the gamut from highly educated to functionally illiterate.

    There is a popular magazine called Télérama which not only gives TV schedules and comments on programs but also has interesting articles on a variety of topics (it is not a counterpart of the American “TV Guide”). A few years ago one issue had the usual mix of reading matter, but the articles were chock full of appalling mistakes! Readers wrote en masse to protest and ask how that could have happened: the editor in chief had decided that for this one issue the magazine would publish the articles as submitted, without asking copy editors to review them. Of course the authors had not known this would happen, and some of them explained that they wrote fast and counted on the copy editors to make the necessary corrections, so they did not feel they had to worry about their spelling.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t know if in school you really learned “Parisian” French, in the sense of the French they would speak on the streets of Paris

    English-speaking Canadians who have told me that they learned “Parisian” French in school usually learned no such thing, as they were taught mostly by anglophones whose command of French was quite far from that of any French speaker in any respect. In France itself, what is referred to as “le français parisien” is not considered a model to imitate, as it is something like the equivalent of Cockney English, a lower-class dialect with its own pronunciation and intonation, spoken not throughout the city but in certain areas, especialy on the Right Bank. You can hear a version of it in recordings by Edith Piaf, which of course are now somewhat dated, but the main features of the dialect still exist. However, nowadays the most stigmatized dialect is that of the working-class suburbs, heavily influenced by the speech of the many immigrants from North and Central Africa.

  63. as they were taught mostly by anglophones

    There was barely anyone else to do the job. There were plenty of people in Toronto with a Quebec/French surname, but they were always so assimilated into the anglo culture that they no longer knew French. The one teacher who was not an anglophone was a woman of Czech origin. She would have been born about 1930, so it’s possible she lived in France for some years in her youth and had a native or near-native fluency. My recollection is that her English had a slight accent.

  64. Quebecers, and other Canadian francophones, are notoriously ashamed of their language skills; if you ask 100 of them if they, as a group, speak (or write) French correctly, you’ll probably get all but a handful responding that no, they don’t at all, and how awful and shameful that is.

    I suspect this is true throughout la Francophonie, especially in the matter of writing. I think of it as similar to the tendency of L2 English speakers to start an Internet posting by apologizing for their awful English, which four times out of five turns out to be impeccable. See the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  65. marie-lucie says:

    Paul O: English Canadians taught French by anglophones: There was barely anyone else to do the job

    Oh, I am not blaming the students or the teachers, it was neither of them’s fault that they did not learn actual “Parisian French” (or any native variety of French) but only thought they did.

  66. Marc: my “not the best spellers” is an impression, nothing more: do note that I didn’t write that we are the worst ones either! Nor would any such claim be credible if it is based on spellings found on-line: controlling for other variables (social class, education…) would be well-nigh impossible.

    And as a teacher of French in anglophone Canada I second Marie-Lucie’s comment on “Parisian French”. I think the entire claim that “Parisian French” is what is taught to anglophone Canadians (and its ancillary claim, that francophone Canadians speak a “French patois” so different from “Parisian French” that the two are mutually unintelligible) arose to solve a contradiction. Simply put: Francophone Canadians are an unprestigious group. French is a prestigious language. Anglophone Canadian learners of the latter cannot understand the former. How can the contradiction be solved?

    Solution: the speech of the former is deficient, and what anglophone Canadians are learning is proper (=Parisian). It makes perfect sense. It bears no relationship whatsoever to reality, of course (recent research has shown that historically Quebec French is not just Parisian French, but the upper-class, aristocratic variety of Parisian French: yes, I can give references to whomever is interested), but it is internally coherent.

    As for the very low-prestige Parisian “Langue des banlieues”, which Marie-Lucie spoke of: Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 movie, “La haine”, is mostly in this variety, should any hatters wish to hear it. It’s an excellent movie too, I might add.

  67. It is indeed an excellent movie, but very depressing.

  68. the speech of the former is deficient, and what anglophone Canadians are learning is proper (=Parisian). It makes perfect sense.

    Precisely. We were being equipped to visit the City of Light, not the Province of Blight.

  69. John Cowan:

    I suspect this is true throughout la Francophonie, especially in the matter of writing. I think of it as similar to the tendency of L2 English speakers to start an Internet posting by apologizing for their awful English, which four times out of five turns out to be impeccable. See the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    The difference is that native French speakers feel that their command of the language is inadequate. I can understand this when it comes to written French (which isn’t very phonetic, and isn’t intuitive for many people), but I think it’s sad that somebody would believe that they cannot speak their native language correctly. But as Etienne says: “Francophone Canadians are an unprestigious group,” and they’ve internalized this idea, so that it’s now basically a truism. (This is also why I asked Etienne why he said Canadian francophones are not the best spellers in the French-speaking world.)

    I can certainly believe that African francophones also demonstrate this effect. European francophones? It may depend on which social class they belong to.

    Oh, and I hope this post is readable despite my non-native English. ;-)

    Etienne:

    (recent research has shown that historically Quebec French is not just Parisian French, but the upper-class, aristocratic variety of Parisian French: yes, I can give references to whomever is interested)

    I’d be interested to see where you found this recent research. I knew that the French spoken in the Saint Lawrence valley (the French colony of Canada) had been uniformized, and towards the Parisian dialect, earlier than the French spoken in France. When you have colonists coming from many different French regions (mostly in Western France, but still a large territory), they have to settle on a particular language, and the capital’s dialect is as good a choice as any. But what specifically aristocratic features did their language adopt, and why?

  70. I think it’s sad that somebody would believe that they cannot speak their native language correctly.

    So do I. But every single person who lives in a country with true diglossia, unless instructed in sociolinguistics, actually does believe this. By “true diglossia” I mean to exclude Alsace-type situations in which although Alsatian may be thought of as “bad German”, nobody thinks of it as “bad French” because it has too much Abstand from French.

  71. Marc: see Jean-Denis Gendron, 2007. “D’où vient l’accent des québécois? Et celui des parisiens?” Québec: Les Presses de l’Université Laval.

    In a nutshell, he shows that in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Paris there existed two competing prestige pronunciations: an older one associated with the aristocrats and the royal court, and a newer one associated with the bourgeoisie. Quebec French is historically a transplanted variety of the former, which disappeared in Paris itself and was replaced by the latter as a result of the French Revolution. As for the “why”: it is very clear that the prestige of this upper-class pronunciation was such that it must have spread very quickly throughout the entire colonial population.

    This is quite normal whenever dialect mixture involving a prestige variant happens: prestige trumps demographics. There is an interesting parallel in New Zealand English: this is a non-rhotic variety of English, despite the fact that it is clear that a majority of the first generation British settlers in New Zeland spoke rhotic varieties. Non-rhotic speakers were a minority, but the association of non-rhotic speech with the standard meant that a generation or two later New Zelanders’ accent was a non-rhotic one.

    And the reason for this shift was because the belief that one’s L1 is inherently deficient is indeed sad, but it is extraordinarily common: obviously the vast majority of the colonists who came to New France believed it, for example. This is clear because even non-standard features shared by a majority of the colonists and absent from aristocratic parisian speech are not found in Quebec French (Yves-Charles Morin has done some excellent work on the topic. Disclaimer: I was his student once).

    Thus, the colonists must have collectively believed that aristocratic parisian speech was inherently better. The same must be true for the colonists who arrived in New Zealand: in their case they must have thought that pronouncing their R’s, even though a majority did so, was a mark of non-standard speech, and thus something to get rid of.

    And is linguistic insecurity more pronounced in francophone Canada than elsewhere in the French-speaking world, and in turn is it more pronounced in the French-speaking world than elsewhere? Good question. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that this kind of insecurity is difficult to quantify. If anyone out there has knowledge of any good comparative study on the topic, do post it, I’d be interested!

    Anecdotally, the most extreme manifestation of linguistic insecurity I have ever been made aware of was in the Anglophone world, when I was teaching in the American South: one of my students had been sent to a private boarding school in New England, and didn’t seem scholastically remarkable. But her Southern accent was somewhat less pronounced than her peers’. A colleague of mine told me that from the vantage point of a certain class of Southerners, having their children shed their accents, even partially, is the entire point of sending their children to private boarding schools in the Northern U.S. I thought this was sad, especially since to my ears the Southern American accent is quite attractive.

    But perhaps linguistic insecurity is a linguistic universal: as two fine scholars (Jules Gilliéron and Mario Roques)put it-

    “A tous les degrés le langage est l’objet de préoccupations où se mêlent à la volonté d’être pleinement intelligible, la conscience de la diversité de parlers individuels ou locaux, le sentiment confus d’une hiérarchie des parlers et des formes, un désir obscur de mieux dire. Le langage est ainsi l’objet d’une étude incessante, d’un travail d’amélioration et de retouche, qui paralysent la liberté de son développement.”

  72. But perhaps linguistic insecurity is a linguistic universal

    Perhaps. But if so, the form of the ideal is a very different thing in one place from what it is in another. As I have often said, cultivated Bostonians do not aspire to sound like Houstonians, nor yet vice versa. If either aspire to anything, it is to a variety spoken nowhere by anybody, which might be said of Standard French as well, and which is abstracted from all particulars, which is by no means true of Standard French. Standard French, like Standard Arabic, is unrealized but concrete: it has rules that are codified, that many can approximate, but which none can follow in their entirety. But Standard American English, or for that matter Standard English as a whole, is an abstraction, indeed a vapor: as the most obvious instance of this, it has no phonology.

  73. Etienne: That Gilliéron/Roques is great; thanks for it, and for the rest of your extraordinarily interesting comment!

    As I have often said, cultivated Bostonians do not aspire to sound like Houstonians, nor yet vice versa.

    That may be true of cultivated Bostonians and Houstonians, I have no way of knowing, but it is not in any way generalizable. There are certainly large swaths of the US where people do indeed feel the way they speak is deficient and would prefer their kids to speak in some more acceptable way (presumably the way the prestigious people they see on TV speak), and I’m pretty sure that’s far more common in any country with a sufficiently great elite/plebeian split than the kind of “I’m OK, you’re OK” self-satisfaction you seem to imply is the norm.

  74. That’s not what I meant. Rather, I mean that American English, unlike British English but like English as a whole, has no single Top Variety. That doesn’t mean there aren’t more prestigious and less prestigious varieties, but there is none that is the most prestigious variety. This is also true of, say, Finnish and Norwegian, and false of Russian and Japanese. French would have a Top Variety if it weren’t for the existence of Quebec French.

    Americans often point to announcer/actor-speak when asked what their Top Variety is, but it simply doesn’t qualify. Nobody has ever been elected President of the U.S., to take an obvious example, who didn’t have a marked regional accent. (Reagan was an exception, because he was an actor; Obama is an exception of a different kind.) Members of the business and banking elites often (though not always) speak with regional accents. These are niches normally occupied by the Top Variety. Furthermore, announcer-speak isn’t so uniform as often thought. Only in America could the anchor of a national news show speak with the accent of another country, albeit one most Americans don’t really notice.

  75. David Marjanović says:

    Ah! The shift of [t d] to [ts dz] in front of high vowels! Littérature [litseʀaˈtsʏʀ], temnospondyles [tɒ̃mnospõˈndzɪl]… I almost picked that up myself. :-)

    The Acadians use [tʃ dʒ] instead; hence Michif and Cajun.

    I found out that doing italics is very easy once you know how: keep Option pressed while hitting the arrows (lower case) and the slash. That’s it!

    …That’s astounding. Is it actually a shortcut in your browser?

  76. David Marjanović says:

    the Southern American accent is quite attractive

    Which one? All of them? :-) I was recently taught that there are, even today, marked class differences in the vowel systems. And that’s before we get to regional dialectal differences (Lowland vs. Inland South first of all).

    Standard French, like Standard Arabic, is unrealized but concrete: it has rules that are codified, that many can approximate, but which none can follow in their entirety. But Standard American English, or for that matter Standard English as a whole, is an abstraction, indeed a vapor: as the most obvious instance of this, it has no phonology.

    German is close to the English end of this spectrum.

    (And by “no phonology” you mean “no single phonology” – “several similar but different ones that all count as Standard”.)

  77. Hat: Glad you liked it, and when I wrote “New Zeland” I meant “New Zealand”, of course.

    David: I wasn’t in the American South long enough to learn to recognize different social and geographical variants, a huge number of which were present at the campus I worked at: since Southern American accents do share a pool of common features (the pin/pen merger, for instance) I feel comfortable saying I found “it” attractive.

    John Cowan: your comparison of Standard (American) English to a vapor actually reminds me of what a scholar of French, Nyrop, once said about Standard French: that it is like the Fairy Godmother in children’s stories: always present in the background, but turns into smoke when you get too close and try to make out the details.

    And I’m not sure I agree that Standard American English is a purely abstract ideal: I would maintain that Standard American English today is spoken in Hollywood (and, to a lesser degree, among urban educated West coasters). I’m always surprised to hear that such-and-such an actor/actress was born and raised in Boston/New York/the American South or the like, because as far as their accents are concerned Hollywood actors are amazingly uniform (well, in public at any rate). Certainly the notion, for ambitious and educated West Coasters, that they ought to send their children to a boarding school somewhere in the East to “lose their accent” would seem beyond ludicrous. To my mind this points to their variety being the Top Variety.

    Bostonians and Houstonians may not consider the other’s accent a variety to emulate, but both groups would certainly deem Hollywood/Educated West Coast English more of a “neutral”, “standard” American English than their own speech (nobody could seriously maintain the reverse). This would be true even among speakers lacking any sort of inferiority complex regarding their native accent. There is a linguist, Dennis Preston, who has done some research on “perceptual dialectology”, and as I recall the West Coast and the Mid-West are consistently perceived as having the “best” English by speakers in other regions of the United States.

    In short, I think that American English has its “Top Variety”: it isn’t overtly promoted by the educational establishment or the like, in the same way that other “Top varieties” are, but DE FACTO it certainly seems to behave like one.

  78. several similar but different ones that all count as Standard

    I actually mean something stronger than that: Standard English can be spoken even with a non-native accent, as by my mother or Henry Kissinger, and still be accepted as standard. Indian Standard English is an interesting example of this, being a self-perpetuating L2: most of the people who speak it have Hindi or Tamil or whatever as L1, but they learn English from other speakers of ISE, so it is effectively stabilized in the same way that native varieties are. By contrast, there are plenty of people who speak English with a French accent, but there is no stabilized French-L1 variety of English, not even in Quebec.

  79. Etienne: Actorspeak is indeed a deracinated form of Californian (no accident that), so the similarity is unsurprising. But truly, Actorspeak is standardized only in and for one domain. It so happens that the domain is that of mass communication, so everyone hears it and understands it without problem. But the other domains of public life – the courts, politics, academia, the professions, business, etc. — neither teach it nor learn it nor disadvantage those who lack it.

  80. Etienne says:

    David: Two things wrong with your posting:

    1-In Quebec French assibilation of /t/ and /d/ takes place before HIGH front vowels, meaning that the realization of “littérature” is /literatsyr/: only the second /t/ is assibilated. In Métis French this assibilation (same phonemes) turns into palatalization.

    2-Acadian French (most varieties), on the other hand, leaves /t/ and /d/ unscathed: what are palatalized are the velars stops, /k/ and /g/, when followed by a high front vowel.

    There is thus no special relationship between Acadian and Métis French, which are quite dissimilar varieties.

    As for the transformation of “Acadien” into “Cajun”, I had always seen this is a specifically Southern American English-driven transformation, parallel to “Indian” becoming (in eye-dialect) “Injun”.

    John Cowan: the fact that some Southerners have their children educated far from home in order to have them lose their accent (to some degree at least) suggests to me that there is a perception that this accent would indeed put their children at a disadvantage.

  81. I’d agree that Bostonian and Houstonian are not Standard American English, or at least not the archetype of it. But when I think of West Coast English I think “cot”/”caught” merger, which is not something I’d consider a requirement of Standard American. It’s acceptable, but for me the “real” “accentless” American makes that distinction.

  82. I tend to agree, but that’s probably because I make it myself.

  83. marie-lucie says:

    Acadian and Métis French

    Indeed it would be very strange if these two had much in common. Some Québec French speakers expanded westwards, but the Acadians largely stayed put until the deportation caused many of them to emigrate from Nova Scotia to Louisiana. The Acadians have a different origin from the Québécois and this is reflected in their speech.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    David: using the Canadian French keyboard layout:

    With a Mac the various layouts are stored among the System Preferences and you can import any keyboard of your choice to be accessible from the top of the screen (along with volume, date, etc). Each layout is indicated by a little design (usually a flag) that lets you know which one you are currently using. Clicking on this design brings up the others you have chosen, so you can change from one to another. You just need to memorize what is different between one language layout and another, such as the locations of letters and diacritics, punctuation marks, etc. Until a few days ago I used to change from Canadian French to English for italics and a few other things, but now I have figured out how to do italics from the Canadian French layout, so I don’t need to change layouts.

  85. “cot”/”caught” merger,

    I can’t begin to conceive how one would pronounce them differently. (Born and raised in Toronto.)

    What about tot-taught?

  86. marie-lucie says:

    cot/caught merger

    When you see a reference to such pairs, the words are examples of possible contrasts of vowels. They are used as samples, and the contrast probably exists in a number of other word pairs. So yes, tot/taught is part of the same set of potential pairs. If you use the same vowel in both words (making it impossible for someone else to guess which word you meant without a context), you will also use the same vowel in words like bot/bought, sot/sought and many others, whether they are part of similar pairs or not. This is true also for longer words, as for instance the vowels of dot and daughter.

    If you know some British people, ask them to pronounce these words and you should hear a very distinct difference.

    As for myself, having started with British English, I learned to say these words differently, but decades of living in English Canada have made it hard for me to differentiate them while speaking normally, although I can do it deliberately.

  87. I can’t begin to conceive how one would pronounce them differently.

    I say (roughly) “kaht” and “kawt.”

  88. I can’t begin to conceive how one would pronounce them differently.

    You can reproduce the Eastern U.S. (not the British) distinction between cot and caught by pronouncing the former with the vowel of “Ahhhh”, the sound of satisfaction or relief, and the latter with the vowel of “Awwww”, the sound of sympathy or pity (sometimes sarcastic). Even people with the cot/caught merger generally differentiate these paralinguistic noises.

    you will also use the same vowel

    Well, usually. Quoth Wikipedia:

    Labov et al. also reveal that about 15% of [U.S.] respondents have the merger before /n/ but not before /t/, so that Don and Dawn are homophonous, but cot and caught are not. A much smaller group (about 4%) has the reverse situation: cot and caught are homophonous but Don and Dawn are distinct.

    This probably reflects the fact that the merger is ongoing in the central U.S. It is likewise ongoing in Singapore and in Newfoundland (under mainland influence), but stable in the Western U.S., in Eastern New England, in Western Pennsylvania, in the rest of Canada, in parts of Scotland, and in Northern Ireland.

  89. I say (roughly) “kaht” and “kawt.”

    Sure, but that doesn’t help people with the merger, because for them these two respellings represent the same thing. Just listen to the Californians on L.A. Lah for a bit.

  90. Dammit! Of course you’re right, and I of all people should know better.

  91. marie-lucie says:

    PO is Canadian, so comments on US regional usage do not help him.

  92. suggests to me that there is a perception that this accent would indeed put their children at a disadvantage

    Absolutely. Some accents definitely are disadvantaged, and some people may believe that their accents disadvantage them even if it’s not really so. (My wife is one of the latter group.) But neither of these points affects whether there is a generally agreed-upon Top Variety that actually functions as such. The Southern children of which you speak, if willing to change their accents at all, would end up learning not Actorspeak but the accent of their peer group, just like anyone else.

    It’s clear that internationally there is no such Top Variety: the notion of any but a handful of Americans, Canadians, or Australians aspiring to speak RP in the year of grace 2014 is ludicrous. (A hundred years ago, not quite so much. I forget just which Canadian humorist — perhaps Stephen Leacock — recorded the transition between Canadians trying to teach themselves to say “Rather!” before falling back with a sigh of relief on “Oh hell yes”.)

    I of all people

    Eh, post in haste, repent at leisure, as I’ve been saying since 1975 or so.

  93. m-l: I was mostly being informative, not so much helpful. The Ahhhh/Awwww distinction, though, was supposed to be helpful.

  94. Marie-Lucie, bringing in British speakers complicates things, because some of them have a third phoneme, so they don’t pronounce “cot” like “kaht” the way Americans do. They have a “bot”/”bought”/”baht” distinction.

  95. marie-lucie says:

    KI, if the British have a “bot”/”bought”/”baht” distinction, obviously they have a “bot”/”bought”, “cot”/”caught” one, which is what PO was asking about. This is true whatever the precise pronunciation of “cot” is.

  96. Indeed, there are three phonemes pretty much everywhere but North America. There are four possibilities:

    no cot-caught merger, no father-bother merger (three phonemes): most of the world, except North America, Singapore, parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    cot-caught but not father-bother (two phonemes): Eastern New England, parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    father-bother but not cot-caught (two phonemes): Eastern and Southern U.S., AAVE.

    both mergers (one phoneme): Western Pennsylvania, Western U.S., Canada.

  97. David Marjanović says:

    1-In Quebec French assibilation of /t/ and /d/ takes place before HIGH front vowels, meaning that the realization of “littérature” is /literatsyr/: only the second /t/ is assibilated.

    Not the way my former thesis supervisor from St-Jérôme talks. He says four dialects can be distinguished within Québec – a huge area by European standards after all. Clearly, [e] is high enough for him – [ɛ] is not.

    (Living in Paris for quite some time now, he has lost much of his accent; his en and on sounds are Parisian now, as I’ve transcribed in temnospondyles above, and when I left 4 years ago he was working on shifting in from [ẽ] to [æ̃]. He says that when he goes back to Canada, people think he’s French, and in France people think he’s Swiss or Belgian. – But clearly Parisian influence can’t have led to more assibilation.)

    2-Acadian French (most varieties), on the other hand, leaves /t/ and /d/ unscathed: what are palatalized are the velars stops, /k/ and /g/, when followed by a high front vowel.

    …Oh. Oops.

    David: using the Canadian French keyboard layout:

    What I’m so surprised by is the concept of using a keyboard to write italics in a blog comment. I have to spell out the HTML tag (<i>cursive</i> is posted as cursive).

    Indeed, there are three phonemes pretty much everywhere but North America. There are four possibilities:

    Let’s see if I have the phonetics approximately right:

    No merger, 3 phonemes: father with [ɑ], bother/cot with [ɒ~ɔ], caught with [o̞~o].
    cot-caught but not father-bother, 2 phonemes: father with [ɑ], bother/cot/caught with [ɒ].
    father-bother but not cot-caught, 2 phonemes: father/bother/cot with [ɑ], caught with [ɒ].
    Both mergers, 1 phoneme: all with [ɑ]. Though I know 1 or 2 such people who pronounce palm with [ɒ]… the plot thickens!

  98. The phonetics are much too variable to be put in a box like this. For example, my THOUGHT=CLOTH vowel is truly /ɔ/, and it’s quite common in Canada and Eastern New England for the merged LOT=THOUGHT vowel to be /ɒ/ rather than /ɑ/.

  99. Oh, and David: m-l was saying not that she has some magic way of writing italics on one keyboard or another, but that she did not know where to find < and > on the French Canadian keyboard (and therefore had to switch to a different one, presumably the U.S./Anglo-Canadian one).

  100. marie-lucie says:

    David M: What I’m so surprised by is the concept of using a keyboard to write italics in a blog comment. I have to spell out the HTML tag (cursive is posted as cursive).

    JC is right about what I was talking about. The French Canadian keyboard is basically the QWERTY one with some adjustments. The and / places are used for other things, but the corresponding characters are recoverable with Option. That’s what I didn’t know for a long time.

    In describing what I now do I should have said to hold the Option key while using the HTML Tag symbols, not while simply writing the word to be italicized/bolded/etc).

  101. marie-lucie says:

    Correction: The and / places

    I meant the places for “” and “/” .

  102. marie-lucie says:

    The arrows keep playing tricks! I meant the places for the arrows as well as the slash.

  103. David Marjanović says:

    I see, thanks!

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