De Castries.

This is a combination public service announcement and request for information. I ran across a mention of the Russian town of Де-Кастри (De-Kastri), on the Pacific coast opposite Sakhalin Island, and was perturbed by the spelling: why the final -i? It was clearly named for a de Castries (Wikipedia confirmed it was Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix de Castries, marquis de Castries, who sponsored the expedition of La Pérouse), and as I learned in my young youth, that name is pronounced counterintuitively as /kastr/, so the Russian equivalent should be Де-Кастр. Of course, they could have used a spelling pronunciation… but maybe I was wrong? I hurried to my Petit Larousse, where I was relieved to find “Castries [kastr].” (If you want online backup, here: “kastr, castres; le i ne se prononcerait pas.”) So whether you’re referring to the 18th-century marquis or General Christian de Castries who was in command at Dien Bien Phu, don’t pronounce that -i-! (And somebody should add pronunciations to both articles.)

But the aristocratic family takes its name from this commune in the Hérault department in southern France, and for that name Wikipedia says “French pronunciation: [kastʁi].” What’s going on here? Perverse aristo pronunciation, or spelling pronunciation on the part of the villagers? Anybody know?


  1. I don’t know, but I did know a woman from Castries and I can confirm that she pronounced it as you would expect from the spelling. Late 1970s; she was probably born about 1950.

  2. This is linguistically VERY strange: I know of no other French word or name ending in -ies which is realized as zero (or, indeed, as something other than /i/).

    I have a hard time believing that the name of the village with /i/ is a spelling pronunciation on the part of the villagers, and find it much easier to believe either of two things:

    1-This is a gallicization of the Occitan name of the village, càstrias, realized /’kas.trjɔs/: in French the only way to keep the stress on the same syllable as in Occitan involves deleting the final syllable. Furthermore, many Occitan nouns in -/ɔs/ correspond to French nouns in zero, and if you take that as the first stage of adaptation, well, a final /ʁj/ cluster is quite impossible in French.

    2-The problem with /kastʁi/ is that it is too close to /kastʁe/ “castrated”, and, well, aristocrats would rather be thought of as ones who castrate /kastʁ/ rather than ones who are themselves castrated /kastʁe/.

    HOWEVER…”Castrer” is only attested in French (as a learned loan from Latin) in 1906, and for this reason I suspect explanation 1 is the likelier one. But this is a hunch, nothing more.

  3. Perhaps marie-lucie will weigh in…

  4. The French town of Uzès is pronounced with the final “s”. However, when you refer to the aristocratic family such as “le duc d’Uzès”, the final “s” is dropped. This diverging pronunciation thus becomes a shibboleth indicating how familiar you are with aristocratic customs.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    There’s an extended riff in À la recherche du temps perdu about pronouncing the final p in the very aristocratic Saint-Loup’s name. (He himself doesn’t, but various wannabe hangers-on of his go round claiming that the p is pronounced because it’s Just That Posh.)

    I recall asking in these very same august halls about the final s in the name of Saint-Loup’s even posherer relation, the wonderful Baron de Charlus. As far as I can recall, even French people don’t know whether it’s pronounced or not. Proust would have loved that.

  6. My Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustré (1929) doesn’t mention anything about any kind of deviant pronunciation for le marquis Charles de Castries. For the commune mentioned right above it says [kastʁi], which to me suggests the marquis would be pronounced the same but perhaps they only mention it because everybody knows the -i for the marquis is silent.

  7. My 1993 edition does the reverse — gives the aberrant pronunciation for the aristo name but leaves the commune unmarked. Which makes more sense.

  8. And another town named in his honor is pronounced with the final s?

  9. OK, that’s just weird.

  10. Russian apparently uses either Кастри́ or Кастри́с for the Caribbean town.

  11. marie-lucie says

    (I should know better than to start writing directly on the page rather than doing a draft first somewhere else. I have twice lost an almost finished contribution. Will try again tomorrow with a solution to Etienne's queries).

  12. DE, you seriously didn’t know that marquis de Castries was also comte de Charlus (by his wife)?

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    Of course I did. I frequently read the Almanach de Gotha for comfort in these dark days when revolting peasantry and horrid tradesmen have taken over our Diets. I find that few of these ghastly people understand the eternal truths of Calvinistic Socialism – unlike true aristocrats.

    I suppress my full nomenclature when posting here, so that humble folk do not feel inhibited from commenting on my contributions. Noblesse oblige.

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    You, D.O., have shown yourself to be One of Us by picking up my (perhaps too blatant) allusion.

    Are you perhaps related to the celebrated Marquise? (But I quite understand if, like me, you prefer to retain your domino at this ball. I also understand that the von O’s may well feel that the episode should not be raked over yet again after that nasty little fellow from Frankfurt published his odious misrepresentations of the affair.)

  15. I pride myself on not having any nobility of any kind among my ancestors and no one of any distinction. I am so touchy on this point that I refuse to study my genealogy lest there appear someone with some sort of rank or high office.

    But I love a good conspiracy.

  16. After (before) “von O’s” I read “Us” (in “One of Us”) as a name.

  17. PlasticPaddy says

    @m-l, Etienne
    The toponym Asturias has the intrusive i before the a also. The Asturian version is Asturies. Is the i originally consonantal indicating palatalisation?

  18. David Marjanović says

    I refuse to study my genealogy

    There is apparently good evidence that I’m not descended from King Tvrtko of Bosnia, even though his phonosemantically awesome name would explain a few things. ^_^

  19. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The demonym for people from Castres (a different place) is castrais. I’ve only knowingly known one castrais, and when asked where he was from he said je suis castrais, knowing perfectly well that we would hear it as je suis castré. He wasn’t in the least embarrassed. French people are, on the whole, less embarrased by such things than English speakers are.

    One of the falsest of friends is capable, which means the same in French as in English, but in Spanish it means able to be castrated. A former colleague of ours spoke Spanish well, and used to go to Venezuela from time to time to lecture. He introduced one set of lectures by telling the students that he would be capable of dealing with various topics. He wondered why the students were giggling.

  20. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    There is apparently good evidence that I’m not descended from King Tvrtko of Bosnia

    As he flourished in the 14th century, and as, like most kings, he probably has lots of descendants on both sides of the blanket, it’s not at all unlikely that you are one of them.

  21. the von O’s

    Doubtless related to the de la O’s.

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Cédric O is a government minister in France. Before looking him up I had thought his name was French, but apparently his father is Korean.

  23. From the Korean branch of the Hapsburgs, no doubt.

  24. David Eddyshaw says


  25. Dmitry Pruss says

    I just dug up a paper on a supposed XXI c. Tungusic heir of the Rurikids. Didn’t think that it might fit anywhere on LH but apparently it’s right at home here.

  26. You bet!

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    The superb Cordwainer Smith story “The Burning of the Brain” features a Dolores Oh (wife to the unfortunate Go-Captain Taliano.) In-story, the name is said to be “Japonical”, but in the light of the “de la O” thread, I now see that Smith was mistaken; that remarkable lady was evidently really Spanish.

  28. >King Tvrtko

    Or as the Spanish Habsburgs knew him, el rey Tortilla de Bosnia?

    In an interesting review of books on Franco-Algerian relations in this issue, the NYRB mentions a meeting between Marine Le Pen and a descendant of von “Rippentrop”? A sign World War II is now obscure for young editors, perhaps, but where does it come from? Transliteration from an Algerian Arabic source?

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    The Kiparsky paper that DM kindly linked in the Chomsky thread

    features the Japanese sentence (due to Bernard Bloch, apparently):

    ‘let’s cover the tail’

  30. I now see that Smith was mistaken; that remarkable lady was evidently really Spanish.

    Or Filipina (see Christopher Sundita’s comment in that thread).

  31. @David Marjanović

    There’s a Serbian linguist called Tvrtko Prćić, and I think that’s beautiful.

  32. “Rippentrop” …. but where does it come from?
    Now I am trying to figure out if it was just coincidence that you and LH just wrote Hapsburgs and Habsburgs or an evil plot. I think, an evil blot. Then the question is why this author wrote p… Maybe she just knows a Rippentrop?

  33. >an evil blot


  34. jack morava says

    just for the record my father confided to my brother and myself that we were the linear descendants of

    [Not all who wander are lost!]

  35. Well, my grandfather was working in the observatory in Dushanbe. Some day he decided to study the surrounding hills with one of his optical instruments and found my grandmother, naked, in the garden, ironing her only dress. The rest was platonic.

  36. David Marjanović says

    There’s a Serbian linguist called Tvrtko Prćić, and I think that’s beautiful.

    It is. Is he a phonetician or phonologist by any chance?

    “Rippentrop” …. but where does it come from?

    Huh, somebody heightened his German a bit.

    an evil blot


  37. That’s quite remarkable. “Golsh’s family came to California in 1867 and Americanized their name from Golaszewski.”

  38. Barszczewski would be Borshch. Or Barshch,

    ANd there is Кржижановский that I tend to pronounce as Кржижижановский, because it is easier.

Speak Your Mind