Remember my joy at finding a copy of a book of pronunciations that originally appeared in a regular column in The Literary Digest over 70 years ago? Well, the BBC is putting pronunciations of names and words in the news on a blog written by its Pronunciation Unit (Martha Figueroa-Clark, Catherine Sangster, and Lena Olausson, named and pictured in the first post). Here‘s an entry on a town name I wasn’t familiar with:

“Today’s pronunciation is for the English town Chester-le-Street.
“Our recommendation, based on the advice of people who live there as well as published sources, is CHEST-uhr-li-street – the first part rhymes with ‘westerly’. Most English placenames with ‘le’ in them are pronounced in this way, rhyming with ‘me’ rather than the French-sounding ‘luh’.”

Thanks to komfo,amonan for the link!


  1. But I so wish they would supplement it with IPA, as they do in their book. It would make it so much easier than trying to decipher what UHR is meant to sound like.

  2. OK, but the only chap I know from those parts pronounces in the accelerated form “chezzleestreet”.

  3. David Marjanović says

    What is le doing in an English placename? ~:-|

  4. Come on David, cut the place some slack. You’ll be complaining about other English places next such as Ashby-de-la-Zouche
    or Weston super Mare (Latin: Weston on the Sea) or Chorlton cum Hardy (Latin: the villages of Chorlton with Hardy).
    Chester-le-Street is in a part of the country that was ruled by the Romans for four centuries, the Saxons, the Danish-Norwegian Vikings for another few hundred years, and then the Norman French (the Scots too, for all I know). It’s entitled to be a little confused.
    Getting back to the discussion, it’s dispiriting to read the inevitable follow-up comments on the BBC article complaining about the decline in the English language since the writer was a child. I hope you experts will get on to the site and educate them a little.

  5. David Marjanović says


  6. The BBC blog is a disappointment, I say. Do they really have three people working on this stuff? What, full-time? OK, they do other things also. But surely the site could be properly indexed and searchable. Surely they could include IPA pronunciations along with their own house system. Surely a better régime could have been set up for comments (and without the annoying and omnipresent option to “complain about this post”). Surely there could be some more evidence of responsive participation by the blogmeisters. Surely there could be fuller explanations. Take Hezbollah once more, for example: what is the Farsi pronunciation referred to? What range of options are heard around the place, with what levels of justification?
    Sorry, BBC. I don’t mean to be rude. I just think a better job could be done by any three of LH’s commenters, picked at random and devoting a couple of hours a week each to the task.

  7. I agree, it could be improved, and I’m hoping it will be. It’s been around for less than a month, so I’m cutting it some slack. But it could definitely use some work.

  8. I challenge them to properly handle Tooele and Ypsilanti, all I can say. (In Utah and Mighigan, respectively.)

  9. Interestingly, the residents of Newton-le-Willows on the Merseyside/Cheshire border refer to it as Newton-lee-WILLOWS, not NEWTONly-willows, as might be expected.
    Or they just call it Newton most of the time.

  10. There is also a question that isn’t about pronunciation, but about form. Consider the isles known to Scots as “Shetand” but to Englishmen as “The Shetlands”: will the beeb rule on this?

  11. We say chest-li-street in north east England, fwiw. The “er” tends to be elided, as also in Sunderland (pronounced locally Sund-land).

  12. And all these years I’ve been getting it wrong! Well, I can’t recall ever having to say it, but I know how it’s sounded in my head.
    Mind you there are some places that people don’t seem to able to agree amongst themselves – Galgate in Lancashire, for instance, or Holborn.
    If you skim through the archives of posts you’ll see a lot of people complaining about the fact that not everybody who speaks English has the same accent. The trouble with stressing the third syllable in “controversy” is you sound like a Prince tribute act.

  13. Looks more like its the spellings of these places that needs to be updated, as opposed to our understanding of pronunciations of them. Attempts at that always fail though, don’t they?

  14. Please advise me on the proper English pronounciation of the word Bouquet. I have had the discussion with a colleague  who argues that it is pronounced “bookay” by the higher classes and “bo-kay” by the working class. I argue that the proper English and not French pronunciation is what should be used and that it does not connote a class distinction.

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