George[s?] Coedes (more properly Cœdès) was a remarkable scholar who “bestrode the field of Southeast Asian study for over half a century.” What I am concerned with here, however, is his name. I don’t know how to pronounce it. For a long time, apparently assimilating it to words like cœlacanthe, I pronounced it “say-DES” (to myself, that is—I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to discuss him with anyone else). But it occurs to me that it could equally well be “ko-eh-DES” (like coefficient). Since I have no idea of his family background or the origin of the name, I am at a loss. Does anybody know? (And by “know,” I mean have actual information, like how they say it at the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient where he taught for many years.)
[Note: o-e ligatures added in Cœdès and cœlacanthe.]
Update (July 2008): French Wikipedia says “prononcer ‘cédesse’.”


  1. kristina says

    All I can suggest in terms of pronunciation comes from the Thai translation of one of his books, from a library catalog: “B?ran watthu nai phiphitthaphansath?n samrap Phra Nakh?n d?i Y?t S?d?”. Of course, the value of this is unclear. (Here’s hoping the unicode shows up properly….)

  2. kristina says

    Since it didn’t, here it is with the macrons before the vowel: “B¯oran watthu nai phiphitthaphansath¯an samrap Phra Nakh¯on, d¯oi Y¯ot S¯ed¯e”.

  3. The correct pronounciation is “ko-eh-DES”
    I usually never comment about the posts because I’m far from being fluent in English, but I want to thank you and the participants of this blog for your words…
    I really enjoy reading them

  4. I guess I was mispronouncing coelecanth all these years.
    One of Coedes’ books collects all the Latin and Greek references to the Far East before Marco Polo. They total about 80 pages, a substantial part of that being variations of this cliche: “Silk from China in the East, and purple from Tyre” (symbols of luxury). About 5% is utopian fantasies, sometimes about a red-haired, green-eyed people. The first actual factual report was brought by a 6th century AD Turkish ambassador to Byzantium; what was recorded and survived was very sketchy.

  5. I keep wanting to pronounce it “coitus” or “coeds.” I suppose that makes me a pervert.
    zizka – that sounds like a great book. I’ll have to track it down.

  6. Ruth: Thank you very much — you have no idea how much I hate not knowing how to pronounce things! And please don’t hesitate to comment; for one thing, your English seems perfectly fine, and for another many commenters have less than flawless English. All that matters is that people have something interesting to say. (For that matter, you can comment in whatever language feels most comfortable, though if it’s too obscure I may not understand it…)
    It seems, though, that the Thai translator had the same mispronunciation I started with, judging by the transliteration kristina quotes.

  7. Justin:
    George Coedes, “Testimonia of Greek and Latin Writers on the Lands and peoples of the Far East” (Ares: recent reprint)
    or “”Textes d’auteurs grecs et latins relatifs a l’extreme-orient” (Olms: original??)
    Seems to be out of print.

  8. I don’t have any EFEO member by my side right now, but I can only agree with Ruth. The intuitive pronunciation for a Francophone would definitely be Ko-eh-dess.
    There is a nice page with some fac-similés at the website of the French Embassy in Laos.
    (That is a minor detail, but the French equivalent of the name “George” takes an ‘s’ at the end; maybe a reminder of the Greek form Γεώργιος?)

  9. Jimmy: Unfortunately, “intuitive” pronunciations are not always correct. I think we can all agree that the intuitive pronunciation of “Lueger” in German is LÜ-ger, and yet the name of the famous mayor of Vienna is pronounced loo-AY-ger. And I’m aware that the French name is Georges, but if you google you’ll find that Coedès’s name is usually given as George even in French sources, which leads me to suspect that the forms with Georges are assimilated to normal French style. Parents don’t always give their kids “normal” names.
    And I’ve just discovered, on digging out my old copy of The Making of South East Asia, why I started pronouncing it “say-DES”: it’s written with a ligature, Cœdès. That would seem to make the three-syllable pronunciation less likely. (Ruth: Are you sure?) Unfortunately, his full name is given throughout as “G. Cœdès,” so no help with the first name.

  10. Coedes’ family was Jewish, originally from Hungary, which might account for the “George”. The Hungarian names was “Cados” and Coedes insisted on the ligature. “Coedes” was reportedly chosen because it was “French-sounding and more mysterious and distinctive”.
    One of his sons became an admiral in the Cambodian Navy. The link is fascinating and everyone should read it. His 6000 volume library, almost all of scholarly interest and much of it rare, is at the Australian National Library, which I can testify has lots of great Asian stuff.
    Per Ruth, the pronunciation (against the will of the late Coedes himself) has seemingly been assimilated to normal Frankish, and without the ligature. This happens all the time in every language and is OK with me, but apparently means that there’s no correct answer to LH’s original question.

  11. Thank you! You are hereby awarded the Languagehat Medal of Exemplary Explication, to be worn on your hatband. But I can find no record of a Hungarian name “Cados”; is this a Sephardic name? The only person bearing the name I’ve been able to turn up by googling is a General Cados mentioned about four-fifths of the way down this page, but he seems to be a Slovak (and violently anti-Hungarian at that). Anyway, if it’s a Sephardic name it’s KAH-dohs and if it’s Hungarian it’s TSAW-dohsh [dumbass error corrected thanks to a later comment by PF], neither of which would seem to be a likely source of Cœdès, but the latter certainly is distinctive!
    Incidentally, a somewhat similar case is that of the writer Georges Perec, whose Eastern European Jewish name was originally pronouced like its Anglophone equivalent Peretz, but which was given the Frankish pronunciation peh-REK. (And then there’s the great jazz drummer Paul Motian, who insisted on the pronunciation MOH-tee-an for his Armenian name for years before giving up and accepting that everyone was going to pronounce it like motion.)

  12. Um, so just to be perfectly clear: when you say “the pronunciation (against the will of the late Coedes himself) has seemingly been assimilated,” you’re implying that he himself said say-DESS? Because if so, I’m going back to that form.

  13. Well, Coedes firmly insisted on the ligature, maybe. Does the ligature normally give you a soft c?
    I’ve made use of Coedes book for a decade, citing it many times in print form, without ever saying the name aloud a single time. I guess I should get out more, but even so, he doesn’t come up often in conversation.

  14. “Sarband, “Cados, Cados”, Ballads of the Sephardic Jews (Dorian 94) [Various Countries]” at this site.
    Also of interest?:
    “Cados, a cycloptic ten-foot spider, emerged from the underground, seven years ago,
    spewing venom, hungry for human flesh.”

  15. Well, no wonder he wanted to change his name!

  16. if it’s Hungarian it’s CHAH-dohsh
    Surely you mean TSAW-dohsh?

  17. While I’m being anal, the ligature doesn’t make the c in cœur into an s sound, why should it in Cœdès? [This is a genuine question, actually.]

  18. Just to be clear, I wasn’t assuming that the intuitive form is necessarily the right one (intuitively, most non-Anglophone Europeans would pronounce “TuK-son”, Arizona). What I was assuming, though, is that Ruth is a Francophone, and that, as such, she had no doubt about the pronunciation that sounds natural to most Francophones, just like me.
    A Google search on “Georges Cœdès” (with the final ‘s’ and the “‘e’ dans l”o'” gives this single result page, with the BnF and other scholarly sites.
    I am not saying it proves anything.

  19. PF: D’oh! I had been pronouncing “TSA-dosh” to myself earlier, but when I started juggling spellings and pronunciations I got all confused. I’ll fix it. And yeah, the ligature doesn’t guarantee anything, but it makes the “say-” pronunciation more likely, especially since it was chosen by GC himself. It seems an exceedingly unlikely spelling for “ko-eh-.”
    Jimmy: Those do look like solid results. I’ll have to check the library to see if I can find him in an encyclopedia or something.

  20. Can I go off-topic since you mentioned Paul Motian, which is already pretty far afield? My surname is Peirce, pronounced like the verb pierce.
    I was quite amused when I found that C. S. Peirce (no relation) insisted on the pronunciation “purse,” apparently because he said the original spelling was “pers.” Even if such a thing as an “original spelling” were at all possible, surely “pers” would’ve been pronounced, pre-vowel-shift, with a long e, like “pears” but with a hard s? In fact, the tenor Peter Pears pronounced his name pierce as well.
    (AFAIK, the names Pierce, Peirce, Piers, Pyrs, Pears, Pearce, etc., are all the same name, and it’s a Norman patronymic for “Peter.”)
    I’ve actually had the pronunciation of my name “corrected” by well-meaning philosophy students. I then have to point out that “Uncle Charlie” was a bit of an eccentric in some regards. However, I do say “Charles Purse” out of respect.

  21. That’s funny — “Purse” is one of the first “unnatural” pronunciations I remember learning (a high-school teacher made a point of it). I’m glad to hear from a member of the clan, even if not the family! But are you sure of the Pears pronunciation? I’ve seen it different ways; for instance, googling brings up “Peter Pears (pronounced to rhyme with ‘steers’)…”

  22. I’m not 100 certain on Peter Pears–when I was studying jazz at IU, sometimes the classical folks would remark on seeing my name, “You know, Peter Pears pronounced it ‘pierce’.” So I took it on faith. Most of what I know about Pears are all the backstage stories about how Pears, Britten, and Denis Brain were involved in a torrid menage á trois when Britten was writing the horn trios. (I can’t vouch for the truth of those claims, either.)
    I do think it’s entirely fair to say that C.S. Peirce pronounced his name “purse”; it’s just not fair to say that the name Peirce is pronounced “purse.” I once met a fellow from Wales whose given name was Peirce, and we both agreed on the pronunciation (allowing for the differences between Welsh and American speech).

  23. Ack. S/b “100 percent”–I was waffling between “entirely” and “100 percent” and that’s what came out.

  24. Google results:
    “Charles Sanders Pierce”: 975
    “Charles Sanders Peirce”: 16,100
    Both on same page (crosslisting): 183.

  25. Robert Frost rhymed Pierce with “worse” (Pres. Franklin Pierce). Hawthorne wrote a campaign biography of Pres. Pierce and tried unsuccessfully to get Melville a government job. In 1866 Melville did get a government job, apparently under Andrew Johnson.

  26. Re: Cœdès – EFEO: suh-dess ( 1:52

    Re: Peter Pears “peers” with a voiced/lenis s/z.

  27. Thanks for the video link! But that’s not suh-dess, it’s seh-dess /sɛˈdɛs/.

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