Pecan vs. Pecan.

Steven Petrow writes for the Washington Post about an issue that has occasionally intrigued me over the years, the distribution of the pronunciations “pih-KAHN” and “PEE-can.” I’ve always said the former, but I’m not sure now whether it’s from my father’s (Ozark) side of the family or my mother’s (Iowa) side. Petrow (who got in trouble for saying it that way) carried out some informal research:

My own “investigation” corroborated the pecan pickers’ poll. Jimmy Holcomb, who grew up in eastern North Carolina, defiantly says “PEE-can,” while the Mississippi-born wife of a colleague says “puh-KAHN . . . and if you say PEE-can, watch out.” Kathleen Purvis, author of the 2012 cookbook “Pecans,” wrote in a North Carolina magazine: “Conventional wisdom holds that the difference is regional, one more thing separated by the Mason-Dixon Line. Sorry, but that’s just not so. I’ve listened to people from all over. And in my experience, this pronunciation isn’t North versus South.”

Okay, then what is it? Josh Katz, author of “Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk,” has studied dialects far and wide, including — no surprise — the pronunciation of “pecan.” His book and a corresponding map actually detail four ways to say it, since the emphasis can be on one syllable or the other, though for the life of me I’ve never heard anybody say “pee-CAN.” Katz says the “urban-rural” fault line “is a big part of a lot of dialect variation, in particular pronunciation.” With that distinction in mind, urban dwellers in North Carolina are more likely to say “PEE-can,” while country folk generally say “pih-KAHN” (his take on “puh-KAHN”). Purvis agrees, “It’s urban versus rural.” […]

Exhausted and getting hungry for some pie, I decided it was time to use my “phone-a-friend” lifeline and called William Ferris, one of the country’s greatest folklorists and an expert on all things Southern. (His official title: senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC Chapel Hill.) Ferris grew up on a farm outside Vicksburg, Miss., and shocked me — and no doubt some of my well-schooled friends — when he claimed that how you pronounce pecan is connected to “class and education.”

He doesn’t come to any real conclusion, and I’ll be glad of whatever enlightenment my readers can shed. (Thanks, Eric!)


  1. Southwestern CT, my family and I all say pih-CAN.

  2. In a case like this, where I feel like I’ve been hearing two different pronunciations all my life and they’re both right, I have a hard time using either one without feeling like I’m saying it wrong. But in unguarded moments I believe I say pih-CAHN, except sometimes in the case of PEE-can pie.

  3. Our family first encountered pecans in Durham NC, which is a relatively urban place for North Carolina. My father was instantly taken by them and remained so for the rest of his life. We learned to say “pih-KAHN” and I can hardly remember ever hearing the other version.

  4. Bert Vaux’s 2003 survey shows a real smorgasbord, with /pɪiˈkɑːn/ (28.6%), /pɪˈkɑːn/ (20.9%), /ˈpɪikæn/ (17.0%), /ˈpɪikɑːn/ (13.2%) and /pɪiˈkæn/ (9.0%) all well represented. I’d have no clue how to do justice to that with a color gradient, but here’s a map showing the most common response in each state.

    The pan-regional plurality for /pɪiˈkɑːn/ surprises me a bit, because that particular pronunciation doesn’t seem to be mentioned too often in discussions of the word. The Carolinas and the Northeast prefer /ˈpɪikæn/, while Georgia, Alabama, Lousiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma go for /pɪˈkɑːn/ – with Mississippi being a bit of an outlier in narrowly preferring /pɪiˈkɑːn/. And Wisconsin alone goes for /ˈpɪikɑːn/, because why not.

    I use /ˈpɪikæn/ in line with my state, though I don’t feel strongly about it: /pɪˈkɑːn/ seems okay to me too. I don’t think I’d use /pɪiˈkɑːn/, though.

  5. Eric Banks says:

    I grew up saying pih-KAHN and would definitely consider an alternate pronunciation to be about as clear a marker of a nonlocal speaker as any other word I can think of; but then again, I’m from the same town–Vicksburg, MS–as Bill Ferris.

  6. I think I more say pih-CAN, but I hear pih-CAHN for sure, and also the pee-CAN that Petrow’s never heard — that’s pretty primary stress on the second syllable, but first syllable has some stress and non-schwaification.

    I for my part have never heard PEE-can stress on the first syllable.

  7. During my years at CDC, our project’s computer programmer, GA-born and -reared, frequently cautioned me about not saying [PEE-can], quickly adding that that’s a can for pissing. Guess that I, Ohio-born and -reared, had learned to term that nut a [PEE-can].

  8. So far as I was aware the UK English pronunciation is universally PEE-can. (contra Wikipedia, which says it’s pee-CAN.)

    It’s a word we learnt from supermarket magazines, and it’s only become really commonplace over the last twenty years.

  9. I picked up the pronunciation “PECK-an” from somewhere. It was only later that I realised that I might be unique 🙂

  10. rootlesscosmo says:

    Bridget Lancaster, on “America’s Test Kitchen,” told the show’s host that where she comes from–border South, I believe–“A PEE-can is what you keep by the bed so you don’t have to go down the hall in the middle of the night; you make pie with pe-KAHNS.”

  11. (off-topic) An excerpt from the Wiki article:

    #These Spanish explorers called the pecan, nuez de la arruga, which roughly translates to “wrinkle nut”. They were called this for their resemblance to wrinkles. #

  12. Looking round the Internet, you do find the occasional worthy soul who says “PECK-an”. So I might stay with it after all.

  13. Trond Engen says:

    “A PEE-can is what you keep by the bed so you don’t have to go down the hall in the middle of the night; […]”

    PEE-can nuts could be caused by a side effect.

  14. I have lived for ten years now in the heart of pecan country. (I used to walk my dog in the pecan orchard of the Clemson University agricultural research station.) And I can attest that around here I have heard every single pronunciation described or alluded to in this thread.

  15. I think I say pih-KAHN but PEE-can pie; it’s not a word I heard much in California, so I suppose I got that pattern from the Beltway suburbs. But if you look at its Algonquian etymology, the older pronunciation is clearly pih-KAHN; PEE-can must actually be a spelling pronunciation.

  16. But if you look at its Algonquian etymology, the older pronunciation is clearly pih-KAHN; PEE-can must actually be a spelling pronunciation.

    I feel an irrational sense of vindication.

  17. Matt McIrvin says:

    Here are the results of the old Harvard Dialect Survey on this subject:

    This is a case where the variation is really not as strongly regional as some, though you can see “PEE-can” concentrated in the Northeast and the coastal Carolinas.

  18. @Matt McIrvin: I made a simple map of those results upthread, which got caught in the spam filter for a bit – though on further investigation, a GIS for “pecan pronunciation map” will also yield a map from Katz that incorporates smoothed sub-state-level data. (I’m not chancing another link.) The western two-thirds of the South has a general, though spotty, preference for “pih-CAHN”, and there’s a strange bubble of “PEE-cahn” in Wisconsin and the UP. But the plurality preference of most of the country is for “pee-CAHN”, which – as I noted – I do find a bit surprising, because discussions of the word mostly just seem to dwell on “PEE-can” and “pih-CAHN”.

  19. Cf. Peking. I say PEE-king duck, but pih-KING in isolation.

  20. @Y: For me, “PAY-king duck”, “pay-KING” elsewhere. But I think that veers into another interesting – and messier – topic, which is the variable stress of attributives in English: “a Éuropèan book”; “the book is Èuropéan”; “it’s not an American book, it’s a Èuropéan book”. This can even show up in names (mostly female ones?), with e.g. “Diane” or “Kathleen” often taking initial stress when paired with a surname, despite final stress elsewhere.

    (Actually, though, I think “PAY-king duck” is well enough entrenched for me that I’d keep the initial stress even if I were contrasting it with some other kind of duck, so maybe this wasn’t the best springboard for the topic. But I suspect it’s a fossilized example of the same thing.)

  21. vrai.cabecou says:

    More randomness: When I set out the candied pecans my sister sent from Tennessee for the holidays, my NYC-bred son called them PEE-cans, and I told him it was pih-CAHNS, the pronunciation I remember using growing up in Memphis. But my sister insists that everybody in West Tennessee says PEE-cans.

  22. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    But if you look at its Algonquian etymology, the older pronunciation is clearly pih-KAHN; PEE-can must actually be a spelling pronunciation.
    I’ve wondered if PEE-can is due to a trochaic stress tendency of disyllabic nouns in English, e.g. the newer PO-lice over the older po-LICE. There isn’t a corresponding iambic verb, however, as in REC-ord vs. re-CORD.

  23. January First-of-May says:

    As a Russian speaker, I can honestly say that I’m not entirely sure which stress the Russian word пекан has either (and I just asked my mother, and she says she’s also not sure, but would probably stress the second syllable).
    I’d probably say it with first-syllable stress (and pretty much as “PECK-an”), both in English and in Russian, but it basically comes down to “I’ve heard somewhere that it’s correct to say it that way”.

  24. The accent is on the second syllable. I am from the Arkansas Ozarks. I never heard the other pronunciation until college in Boston, and at the time I thought it was one of those readers’ pronunciations.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    In Canada the French equivalent is la pacane, which supposes a stressed A in the second syllable. Since pecans do not grow in Canada, it is likely that the name was adopted through English rather than directly from an Algonkian language. The a rather than i in the first syllable makes sense as a French adaptation of an English word with a neutral, colourless unstressed vowel.

    The initial stressed IH pronunciation quoted by some people above must be due to the (fairly recent) general tendency in English to stress the first than the second syllable of a disyllabic word.

    In France, where the nut is an exotic, relatively recent import, it is le pécan, obviously representing a pronunciation and morphological interpretation of the written English form as if it was a French word of masculine grammatical gender.

  26. @m-l: As far as I know, the “ih” is unstressed; it’s the same weak vowel as in “report” or “destroy”, sometimes represented diaphonemically as /ᵻ/. The realization varies by dialect and speaker.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    Lazar: A little earlier, Stephen Carlson wrote: I’ve wondered if PEE-can is due to a trochaic stress tendency of disyllabic nouns in English, e.g. the newer PO-lice over the older po-LICE.

    Doesn’t that mean that “PEE-can” is stressed on the first syllable, for the reason I mentioned (with less technical vocabulary)?

  28. Yeah, I’d guess that that’s how “PEE-can” arose. (It looks like it may have originated in the Carolinas, and then been exported to the urban Northeast.)

  29. My wife (from Michigan) just asked if i’d been eating the pee-KAHN’s. I (New York born, Maryland raised) said yes. If I’d responded in a full sentence, i would have said yes, I’ve been eating the pih-CANs.

  30. Marie-Lucie: Pecans indeed do not grow in Canada…but they do in Louisiana, so I would not exclude the possibility of a direct loan into French from an Algonquian language. Doubly so since I have trouble understanding how the /a/ of the initial syllable in the form “pacane” could be accounted for if the form entered French via English: I’d expect the vowel of the initial syllable to be /i/ or schwa, not /a/.

  31. The first reference I can find is from Pénicault (1704), in his description of Natchez, and he uses pecane. Marest (1712) and Charlevoix (1721) visited Kaskaskia (south of St. Louis on the Mississippi) and both use the spelling pacane. Early English language sources use pecan, pacan (by Jefferson and others), and even poccon (by Washington). See here for lots of detail.

    P.S. The OED has an 1818 example of pecon. Looks like the older pronunciation is pih-KAHN, following the French (if not the Algonquian). PEE-can is perhaps a spelling pronuciation.

  32. Correction: Reed misquotes Pénicaut, who uses pacanes like the other French sources. The <e> was introduced by the English, then, representing a reduced /a/ in the unstresed vowel.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    Merci Etienne, I had not thought of Louisiana French.

    But I don’t think that Algonquian languages reached as far South as current (as opposed to French colonial) Louisiana. Perhaps the word originated in yet another language and was borrowed into the Algonquian family? Pecan nuts would be just the type of thing traded far and wide, away from their original habitat, a typical scenario for large scale borrowing.

  34. My grandfather raised pecans in Oklahoma, and the family always called them pih-KAHNS. So, there’s another vote for that pronunciation.

  35. David Marjanović says:


    That’s the only version I’ve heard, from born & bred Marylanders.

  36. Marie-Lucie: based on Y’s excellent philological evidence I think a direct Miami-Illinois (Algonquian) loan into French is the simplest hypothesis: Miami-Illinois was the dominant language in Kaskasia at the time, and located at it is on the shores of the Mississippi it seems a perfect point of origin for the spread of the word, as well as of pecans themselves.

    So: /pakan/ was already present in colonial French in Louisiana and neighboring areas before the spread of English. This makes me wonder whether, in Louisiana and in neighboring areas, the presence in the local French of /pakan/, with stress on the final syllable, might have played some role in reinforcing the English variant pih-KAN which seems to dominate the South-Eastern United States, with Louisiana, interestingly, at its center (thanks for the link to the map, Lazar). I mention this possibility because, of the five variants listed, this is, phonologically, the one most similar to the French form.

  37. In this interesting discussion, Costa (an expert on Miami-Illinois) says that Miami/Peoria has forms like kaansa pakaani ‘Kansas nut’. I agree with Marie-Lucie, though: I haven’t seen any proof that the Algonquian word is not a loan. Since the word appears in the unrelated Natchez, it certainly is borrowable. Note that hickories bearing tasty nuts (of which pecans are one variety) occur all the way up to the Canadian border, and even a bit into Ontario.

  38. Y: Actually, since Proto-Algonquian was almost certainly originally spoken too far North and West for Pecans to have been part of its speakers’ environment, I assume the word must have been borrowed by Miami-Illinois (and/or related languages) when its speakers first expanded to the American Southeast.

    The forms Costa quotes -singular /pakane/, plural /pakana/- make me suspect that, if the borrowing went directly from Miami-Illinois to French (as I have argued above), the francophones among whom the borrowing took place were probably reasonably fluent in Miami-Illinois. The reason I am saying this is because either the singular or the plural form could have been borrowed as such. But the actual French form /pakan/ lacks either the singular or the plural Miami-Illinois suffix, which suggests that whoever borrowed the word knew Miami-Illinois well enough to strip away the number-marking suffixes when borrowing this noun (and others?).

  39. It seems that the situation in North Carolina is more complicated than I thought. I grew up in Raleigh in the middle of the state (in the 70s & 80s) saying /ˈpikæn/ for everything other than butter pecan ice cream (which is /pɪˈkɑːn/), & several people who grew up in or around Wilmington in eastern NC (from my generation or a generation older) agree with me on all counts (though I’ve heard that at least one Wilmingtonian says that “/ˈpikænz/ grow on trees but it’s /pɪˈkɑːn/ pie.”) We’re all from in or near urban areas, but it never occurred to me that there were any native North Carolinians who generally used /pɪˈkɑːn/. But that Harvard survey shows that just about every possible pronunciation occurs in NC.

  40. Etienne: could the French forms (which didn’t mark accents) have been pakané /pakane/ rather than pakane /pakan/? With later pronunciation based on the spelling?

    Note that the quoted form for Natchez is exactly the same as the Miami, and could equally have been the source for at least some French speakers.

    FWIW, the Biloxi word for pecan nut is pįthokǫǫni (from David Kaufman’s dictioary). The Comparative Siouan Dictionary entry shows resemblances, but no obvious source for the word.

  41. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    I lived in Raleigh for five years between 2007-2012. I can’t recall the pronunciation, but since I say /pɪˈkɑːn/ I’m sure I would have noticed /ˈpikæn/ if it were more prevalent. Unfortunately, I mainly lived and worked with non-natives / non-locals like me.

  42. there were any native North Carolinians who generally used /pɪˈkɑːn/

    Evidence: my wife, born in Charlotte in 1943, lived in Greensboro and then in Winston-Salem until 1961, moved to Florida and then New York, says it that way and considers all other pronunciations absurd. She is by no means a professional Southerner, either: she fought to eliminate her native initial stress in umbrella and cement.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    Merci, Etienne et Y!

    I love the way linguistics interacts with botany and other sciences to throw light on history.

  44. *paka·n- “nut” seems to be proto-Algonquian, and is attested in languages as far north as Cree and as far east as Virginia (“paukauns”). Since it’s reconstructed as meaning “large nut” rather than specifically “pecan” (as the compound in Miami further confirms), there is no semantic reason to suppose it’s a borrowing into Algonquian even independently of its distribution, but if it were, it would have to have been borrowed into proto-Algonquian.

  45. Trond Engen says:

    Etienne: I assume the word must have been borrowed by Miami-Illinois (and/or related languages) when its speakers first expanded to the American Southeast.

    Agreed but:

    1) The word could have been generic for (other types of) nuts or cones before algonquians encountered edible hickory nuts.

    2) Nuts are tradeable, so the word could have been borrowed earlier. (Also, is there a tendency of migration towards the source of desired goods?)

    3) Even with a late borrowing the word could have spread (and shifted pronunciation according to transparent synchronic rules) through the algonquian continuum, obscuring the point of entry.

    How far and wide is the word attested? And in which meanings? Is there enough documentation of Algonquian languages south of the great lakes to know?

  46. Trond Engen says:

    (I used more than eleven minutes composing that comment.)

  47. David Marjanović says:

    (Also, is there a tendency of migration towards the source of desired goods?)

    Well, that’s what all the barbarian invasions of the Roman and Chinese empires were about to a noticeable extent, plus several of Persia and India, plus some of the colonization in the early stages of the Conquista… I don’t know if nuts are a comparable attractor to gold and silk, though.

  48. Lameen: Since it’s a trade item, I leave the possibility open that the reconstruction *paka·n- ‘nut’ might be spurious, like Bloomfield’s famous example of the reconstructed Proto-Algonquian word for ‘whiskey’.

  49. Marja Erwin says:

    I can’t eat nuts, and I’ve given up on understanding accentuation, but which h-sounds are those?

  50. You mean, as in “pih-KAN”? I believe the h is there just to keep the written word from looking like it’s pronounced “pie-can”.

  51. What Y said. It’s just a short i.

  52. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t know if nuts are a comparable attractor to gold and silk, though.

    No, well, what ends up being traded as luxury goods or perceived as “riches” can be arbitrary. But I was thinking about the total exports of the Mississippi culture. Whatever that may have been.

  53. I love the way linguistics interacts with botany and other sciences to throw light on history.

    As do I. My favorite example is the cognate pair hammer and Russian kamen’ ‘stone’ < PIE *h₂éḱmō(ros), which shows that there was once a Stone Age, quite independently of the archaeological evidence.

  54. I was just re-reading Hyllested’s dissertation (as discussed here on LH). He devotes 2 pages (99-101) to discussing the probable borrowing into PGer of a Finnic word descended from Fenno-Volgaic *šamara (which may however have an ultimate origin in some Balto-Slavic descendant of *h₂áḱ-mon).

  55. Sure, pecans may be a trade item – but nuts in general? As far as I can see, the word doesn’t even mean “pecan” anywhere in Algonquian (hence Miami’s use of a compound to specify pecans). For a term meaning “pecans” to turn into the generic word for “nuts” all over northeastern North America after the breakup of Algonquian, replacing what must have been existing words for “walnut” and “hickory nut” and the like, pecans would need to be not just a trade item but a near-staple across a vast area in which pecan trees don’t grow. That seems like a lot to postulate

  56. David Marjanović says:

    which shows that there was once a Stone Age

    …Sort of, maybe.

    Hyllested’s thesis, p. 99–101, right under the headline “Balto-Fennic Loanwords in Proto-Germanic”:


    PGmc. *hamara- m. (> ON hamarr, OE hamor, hamer, OFris. hamer, homer) has traditionally been viewed as inherited from PIE *h₂éḱ-mon- or *áḱ-mon- ‘(sharp) stone’, yielding Slavic *kamy/*kamen- ‘stone’, Lith. ašmuõ and akmuõ, Gk. ἄκμων ‘anvil’, Skt. áśman- and Av. asman- ‘stone, sky’ (via ‘vault’). Just like PGmc. *wajju- ‘wall’ as a derivative of PIE *u̯eiH- ‘to wind, plait’ tells us that there was once a time when walls consisted of plaited branches, quite independently of any archaeological evidence, we also think because of the standard etymology that we are able to tell that hammers in Pre-Proto-Germanic times were made of stone.

    However, it is by no means certain that PGmc. *hamara- is really cognate with the other forms mentioned. Slavic *kamy/*kamen- is mysteriously distorted. For those who reconstruct a laryngeal in the PIE word it looks like a late metathesis: *h₂áḱ-mon- > PBSl. *Hák-men- > *káH-men. However, the vowel PGmc. *hamara- is short, which rules out the metathetic explanation that works for Slavic. For those of us who prefer an initial a-vowel, a metathesis does not even suffice because Slavic -a- reflects a long vowel.

    Furthermore, PGmc. *hamara- is a masculine thematic stem, and animate *-men-stems are normally not heteroclitic. If it is Indo-European, it could be either a secondary thematicization of an old *-mer/*-men heteroclite, or the thematic suffix *-ero- added to a root ending in *-m-. The existence of a neuter *áḱ-mr̥/-m(e)n- underlying the masculine ‘stone’-word is possible but there seems to be no surviving reflexes of such a form. Indic derivatives such as the adjective aśmará- ‘stony’ can just be interpreted as *áḱ-mn̥- + suffixal *-ro-.

    ON hamarr meant: (1) hammer, (2) back of an axe, (3) crag, precipice (rather than just “stone”); in compounds it could be used of rocks, e.g. berghamarr ‘rocky precipice’, hamarrifa ‘rift in a crag’ (Zoëga 1910). The latter meaning, however, is more likely figurative than primary. Correspondingly, in the Da. place-name Hammer Odde, Hammerknuden (on Bornholm, 1539 Hammar), Hammer Bakker (1503 Hammer) the name refers to the hammerhead-shaped crag of granite – again, the meaning ‘hammer(head)’ is primary, its use of a rock is a figurative description of a steep rugged mass of rock projecting outwards and upwards. It mostly occurs in coastal areas and never seems to be used just of rocks or stones in general that are not protruding or hammer-shaped. This use is confirmed by a common noun hammer ‘(steep) crag’ in Danish dialects. There is thus no particular need to reconstruct the meaning ‘stone’ or ‘rock’ for PGmc. *hamara-

    The first and second meaning of the Old Norse word match perfectly that of Balto-Fennic *hamara (> Fi. hamara ‘back of an axe’, Est. hamar, hammar ‘back of a knife’). In my opinion, PGmc. *hamara- has not been borrowed into Proto-Balto-Fennic a[s] is otherwise assumed, but is simply a borrowing the other way around³. The most important reason is that the word must be inherited in Balto-Fennic from at least the Fenno-Volgaic stage. It can be connected to Saami *sɤmērē ‘back/pole of an axe, back of knife’ (> N Saami šibmar, Lule Saami sjimēr, Skolt Saami šammer) and Mordvin *šuvV ‘back of a knife’ (Erzya čov, čovone, Moksha šov). The Saami forms at first glance appears irregular with its *šim- for expected †sam-, but Western Saami *ši- ( < Proto-Saami *sï-) here must actually be the regular outcome of Fenno-Ugric/-Permic/-Volgaic *ša- in the position before nasal (the only other example being *šama ‘apparition, shape’ mentioned below). While Uralic and Fenno-Volgaic *š- indeed normally yields Saami *s-, the actually attested forms, which are comparatively few, reveal that when followed by the vowel -a- the sequence yields Saami *ši- before *-m- (probably: any nasal, but there are no examples with *-n- and *-ŋ-); in fact there seems to be only one alternative surrounding attested which is *su- before a labial stop (N Saami suhpi ‘asp’ ~ Fi. haapa). When followed by other vowels, both these vowels and *š- behave as expected (e.g. N Saami savvi- ‘heal a wound’ < FV *šeŋä and N Saami soarvi ‘dead pine-tree < PU *šorwa- ‘to dry (out)’). *ča- in front of a nasal is not affected either, cf. N Saami čuoži ‘membrane, fleshy fibres on the inner side of the skin’ (*-m- regularly goes to Ø via *-w- in these surroundings, cf. muošmi < Pre-PGmc. *mams-ma-; see elsewhere in this publication).⁴

    There is a way to get around it all: The Fenno-Volgaic form *šamara might, in turn, originally have been borrowed from some stage of Balto-Slavic. This would have been a language with regular satem reflex but the same metathesis or ablaut form as Slavic kamy, Slovincian kamor. Thus, a possibility is left open that PGmc. *hamara- could be connected to *aḱ-men- after all, however not as a direct reflex of its protoform.

    ² Scholars in general seem to regard the meaning ‘rock’ as primary in Germanic, but that may simply be circular reasoning – i.e. because they suppose from the outset that it is connected to PIE *h₂eḱ-men-.
    ³ Or at least into NW Germanic since no reflexes are known from Gothic. However, it must have entered the NW Germanic area already in the 2nd or 3rd c. AD because it occurs in the personal name Chamarus in the Zülpich-Enzen dedication: Lat.-Gmc. Matronis M(arcus) Chamari f(ilius) et Allo ‘To the mother goddesses, Marcus, son of Chamarus, and Allo’.
    ⁴ Initial *š- in Samic is basically regarded as a loanword phoneme, consistently indicating loans from Balto-Fennic, Baltic and Late Scandinavian. The inherited postalveolar fricatives turned into dental-alveolars in Proto-Saami (PU *č, *š → PS *c, *s). The conditioning presented here might indicate that it rather deserves to be characterized as a “marginal” phoneme, most common in loanwords but also occurring elsewhere.

    It’s also completely unclear to me why such a metathesis (*ak > *ka or suchlike) would happen in Germanic. Slavic has an excuse, even though the law of open syllables can’t explain the former length of a; Germanic has none that I can think of.

    In case you’re wondering about the mm in English, German (phonetically real up south) and at least in Danish spelling, I suspect West Germanic lengthening (*mr > *mmr) followed by analogical leveling in different directions in different languages and preceded by West Germanic syncope or something like that.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Forgot to comment:

    Just like PGmc. *wajju- ‘wall’ as a derivative of PIE *u̯eiH- ‘to wind, plait’ tells us that there was once a time when walls consisted of plaited branches

    No need to go that far – modern German Wand “wall” is still identical to the 1st/3rd person sg. past tense wand of winden, confirming that walls were commonly wound just a few hundred years ago.

  58. An earlier pointer to Hyllested will appear once my comment comes out of moderation — it only had one link, so not quite sure why it got stuck.

    Anyway, the -mm- in Danish is purely orthographic, showing that the preceding vowel is short. In Swedish it does denote a long consonant, but because of a relatively late syllable balancing rule it is not inconsistent with ON hamarr with a short first syllable.

    (I do not aspire to having an opinion on long ms in English or German).

  59. David Marjanović says:

    Anyway, the -mm- in Danish is purely orthographic, showing that the preceding vowel is short.

    That’s what I suspected; of course Danish didn’t undergo West Germanic consonant lengthening.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    walls consisted of plaited branches

    I think that it depended on the purpose of the “walls”.

    In French there is an old word le plessis, now only found in place names and derivatives, which must have referred to a place surrounded by such walls or rather high hedges (see Wikipedia in French, English, German and Dutch). The branches in question originally belong to young live trees growing naturally or planted for the purpose, and are bent and intertwined (plaited) with each other, eventually creating a very strong, unbreechable live hedge which will get stronger with age (with maintenance to keep new branches from growing out or up by incorporating them into the existing plaiting). Such walls and hedges around a farmstead or fields would keep animals in and intruders out. They still exist in some rural areas of Europe where they have not been destroyed in order to expand fields or redesign the landscape.

  61. Eli Nelson says:

    In case you’re wondering about the mm in English, German (phonetically real up south) and at least in Danish spelling, I suspect West Germanic lengthening (*mr > *mmr) followed by analogical leveling in different directions in different languages and preceded by West Germanic syncope or something like that.

    @David Marjanović: It might just reflect trisyllabic shortening in inflected forms that was generalized by analogical leveling. Apparently CVCVC words in English can have long or short vowels in the first syllable regardless of the etymological vowel length: “Middle English Quantity Changes – Further Squibs”, Attila Starčević

  62. Eli Nelson says:

    In English, that is. The Old English spellings seem to have single “m”. German may very well be something different.

  63. Trond Engen says:

    le plessis

    The Germanic terms for this technology were derivatives of the root *hag-. e.g. Eng. hedge and hawthorn, Du. haag “hedge”, No. hage “garden” and hegg “Prunus padus”. This also has cognates in Celtic, e.g. Bret. kae “fenced area” and Gaul. caio(n) > Fr. quay. (All this from Bjorvand & Lindeman)

  64. Trond Engen says:

    As Lars says, Scandinavian syllable balancing is a recent development, the outcome of which cut through both Swedish and Norwegian. Both ha:mar and ham:ar occur in Norwegian dialects. In the vowel balancing area the outcome could be håm:år or hå:mår.

  65. Trond Engen says:

    (Comment in moderation. Forgot about the maximum number of links.)

  66. David Marjanović says:

    The Old English spellings seem to have single “m”. German may very well be something different.

    That’s a common outcome of West Germanic consonant lengthening. A famous example is English acre, German Acker “field”. Start from a PGmc. nominative *akraz and genitive *akresaz; drop the endings (two steps) to arrive at *akr, *akres; resolve the syllabic *r by inserting a vowel: *akər, *akres; then run it all through WGmc. consonant lengthening. This means that all non-initial consonants except *r (with some OHG exceptions of the exception…) are lengthened when they are directly followed by *j, *w, *l, *r: *akər is untouched, but the genitive becomes *akkres. You get a paradigm where consonant length changes back and forth. Different languages have leveled this in different directions: only æcer is attested in Old English, while both ahhar (*/xː/ < *k) and achar (*/k͡x/ < *kk) are found in Old High German. Another example is English apple, German Apfel (*apəl, *apples), where both afful and aphul are attested in OHG (I forgot the OE situation; OHG ph is interchangeable with the apparently less common spelling pf and may have been intended to indicate *[p͡ɸ] or something).

    I’ll have to check if West Germanic syncope is expected to apply to *xamaraz. If so, we should get *hamər, *hammres out of it.

  67. Marie-Lucie, Hat: When I read “an old word le plessis, now only found in place names and derivatives,” I immediately thought of Duplessis-Mornay, whose name I’ve seen linked with the equally cool-sounding Foix-Candale.

  68. marie-lucie says:


    Yes, Duplessis is quite common as a family name, formed on the same pattern as Dupont ‘of the bridge’, Dubois ‘of the wood’, Duroc ‘of the rock’, Delahaye/Deshayes ‘of the hedge/s’ and many others referring to a location. Some of the component nouns are no longer interpretable (at least from a synchronic point of view), as in Duplessis.

  69. The Germanic terms for this technology were derivatives of the root *hag

    Delahaye/Deshayes ‘of the hedge/s’

    Which is why the Hobbits of Buckland called their border fence the High Hay, and the village that anchored one end of it Haysend.

  70. Both OED and Etymonline agree that pecan < pacane and not the other way around, so the e of the English form is just random English spelling for a French unstressed [a]. The OED (updated 2005) further confirms Etienne’s conjecture that the proximate source in French is (Miami-)Illinois pakani (where the second a is long), this being the Algonquian language in which the noun has the correct specific sense. So the source in English is not Quebec French or Louisiana French (in the modern sense of Louisiana, at least), but the lost Missisippi Valley French.

    The OED also points to Spanish pacano, first used in a Louisiana context. In Modern Spanish, both pacano and pacana seem to be current, though I don’t have enough information to know if they follow the regular Romance pattern of masculine tree and feminine fruit. There is also a form pecán, probably from European French or English.

    In hindsight the Linnaean name Carya illinoinensis should have been a clue: though southern Illinois is the northern limit of its range, it must have been the point at which Europeans first met the tree, which grows as far south as Mexico if conditions are just right.


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