Joyce and Irish.

Audrey Magee writes in the TLS (archived) on Joyce and the Irish language:

James Joyce had been raised as a Catholic but not as a bilingual speaker of Irish and English. His parents were English speakers, the city where he lived was English-speaking, and his education had always been conducted in English, first with the Jesuits and then as an undergraduate at University College, Dublin. He was, however, taking classes in Irish at the time of the census, his interest having been sparked by the Irish Literary Revival, a movement spearheaded by intellectuals and academics from both Ireland and England, from Protestantism and Catholicism, among them W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, Douglas Hyde and Maud Gonne MacBride.

Joyce abandoned these lessons while still a student, deeply irritated by the then febrile nationalism of Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League), which organized Irish-language classes for English speakers. He was suspicious of the nationalist politics surrounding the language and, as a Parnellite and a European, was also wary of a romantic and nostalgic view of Ireland. Yet he was unwilling to speak out too harshly against the more ardent supporters of Irish, or to align himself fully with the language of the colonizer: he did not want to be on the wrong side of Yeats and the Revival movement. His solution was to leave the country, declaring in Stephen Hero that “English is the language for the Continent”.

But in Trieste, Zurich and Paris he found himself immersed in other languages, their variety fascinating and delighting him. He already knew French, and he also took lessons in Italian, German, and – in order to read Ibsen’s work in the original – Norwegian. By the time he moved to Paris with Nora Barnacle and their children, the family had its own hybrid language, a mixture of Triestine Italian, English, French and some Swiss German. Irish, though, was never far away. Annie Barnacle, Nora’s mother, was a bilingual speaker from Galway. Nora, like Joyce, had been educated in English and was an English speaker, but Joyce was able to draw on Nora’s latent knowledge of Connemara Irish, her mother’s mother tongue.

Joyce, like many of his compatriots, had a complicated relationship with the Irish language, cast by British colonizers as the useless tongue of the illiterate peasants. Most people opted to speak English, either as a way to improve their chances in Ireland, or to emigrate. Once in self-imposed exile, Joyce fluctuated between shedding and saving the language, a dilemma woven through all of his work.

In “Eveline”, from Dubliners (1914), an old and senile woman dying in bed mutters “Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!”, a chant with echoes of the rhythms of the Irish language. Joyceans have long debated whether there is any meaning to those words, with some suggesting that they might be a version of “do raibh ann, siar ann” or “I have been there, you should go there”, the phrase crystallizing the fate of the eponymous Eveline, bound to live as her mother did.

But Barry McCrea, the author of Languages of the Night: Minor languages and the literary imagination in twentieth-century Ireland and Europe (2015), believes that the significance of the words is in their lack of meaning:

They are a fragment of a lost language and lost world, unmotivated signs that cannot signify in the world they find themselves in. Whatever reality in which they might have had meaning – a vanished historical past when the forgotten language was a vernacular, or the distorted equally unreachable mental landscape of a senile mind – is gone. They are the form of Irish stripped of its content, representing a pure, radical language loss.


In Ulysses, published one hundred years ago this week, Joyce again tackles the Irish relationship with language and nationalism. In “Telemachus”, Haines speaks Irish to an old Dublin woman delivering milk, though she is bewildered by the sounds of this earnest English man and wonders if he is speaking French; in “Cyclops”, Joyce satirizes Michael Cusack, the founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, as “the citizen” downing pints in the corner of Barney Kiernan’s pub. The scene parodies the exclusive, bigoted, isolationist nationalism that Joyce despised.

But it is in “Aeolus” that Joyce deals most profoundly with the politics and language of his country, rebuking the Irish revival movement as a sentimental failure. Joyce recreates John Francis Taylor’s famous speech of 1901 on the revival of the Irish language, in which Taylor likened the British to Egyptian high priests who wanted the enslaved Hebrews to abandon their language and culture. Joyce’s fictionalized version of Taylor’s electrifying speech is delivered by professor (small “p”) McHugh in the newsroom of the Telegraph. It is the only section of Ulysses recorded by Joyce, in a studio on the outskirts of Paris in 1924. Sylvia Beach, his publisher at Shakespeare & Co and long-suffering friend, organized the recording. Joyce chose this piece because it was the only part of Ulysses that was “declaratory”: according to Beach, he wanted the passage to be the legacy of Ulysses, underscoring his quiet but passionate desire for an independent Ireland, free of Britain and the Catholic church.

Joyce called Finnegans Wake (1939) his “Nichtian glossary … which is nat language at any sinse of the world”. Nicht and nat are words for “night” in Scots and Danish respectively; Joyce is creating a language of the night, of sleep, of that space beneath wakefulness, beneath consciousness. Irish features prominently in the novel, some would say on almost every page, submerged in a language neither English nor Irish, but an amalgam; Joyce’s own version of Hiberno-English. He writes Irish words and sounds with English spelling, such as “Bower Moore” for “Bóthar Mór” or “Big Road”; or “O thaw bron orm, A’Cothraige, thinkinthou gaily?” for “O, I am sorry, St Patrick, do you understand Irish?” Joyce also uses a blend of English, Irish and Latin to create the phrase “Ceadurbar-atta-Cleath became Dablena Tertia”, meaning that Dublin was the third name given to the city, the first being Áth Cliath in Irish, the second being Eblana, the name given by Ptolemy, the Greek cartographer.

In this centenary year of Ulysses, Ireland remains bound to Britain and to the Catholic church, though those ties and influences are substantially looser than they once were. The Irish language remains caught up in the politics of identity, with the proposal for an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland still a source of tension, illustrative of what Mohamed Benrabah in Language Conflict in Algeria (2013) calls “the use of languages as a proxy for conflict”. But in the rest of Ireland the Irish language is undergoing a revival, one with its own challenges. Today more people in Dublin and its surrounding counties speak Irish than in the Gaeltacht regions (those where it is spoken as a first language), although, as a second language, it is learnt at school, and so increasingly distant from its lived form, which is imbued with history, landscape and narrative. The Gaeltacht regions, meanwhile, have struggled to survive financially, though Covid has given them an unexpected boost, with more people leaving the cities for rural areas and more jobs being created.

In the arts, more writers, musicians and film-makers are using Irish in bilingual creations: writers like Doireann Ní Ghríofa in A Ghost in the Throat (2020) and Manchán Magan in 32 Words for Field (2020), and film-makers such as Tom Sullivan in Arracht (2019): I use Irish in my new novel The Colony. Is this a Celtic revival, of the sort dreamed about by Yeats and Maud Gonne? Or is it the linguistic pulse of the political and social change that Joyce wanted, the beginning of the final severing of the umbilical ties with London and Rome?

Makes me want to investigate those books (and that movie); I’ll never really learn Irish, but I love exercising the little I know.


  1. The Irish Republican Brotherhood was good at entryism, but its takeover of the Gaelic League was some years after Bloomsday. Its attempt to take over the Gaelic Athletic Association started to falter when it picked the wrong side in the Parnell split.

    Some scholars after Joyce’s time have suggested Eblana was not where Dublin now is but somewhat further north along the coast.

  2. Given that Joyce was such an assiduous student (and teacher, and literary deployer) of so many languages classical and modern, can we give any credence to the view that he stressed “Ulysses” on the first syllable – in the execrable but fashionable manner of Britons when they speak of his novel?

    Three facts:

    1. Nothing in Latin or Greek would warrant a stress on the first syllable.
    2. Pre-20C British erudite pronunciation, from evidence in verse, has the stress on the second syllable.
    3. The stress in Italian (as in other relevant continental-European languages) consistently follows the canonic understanding of Latin stress and has it on the second syllable.

    I have seen no evidence one way or the other for Joyce’s own placing of the stress; but we learn from Burgess, Ellmann, and others that in other respects that he followed Latinate orthodoxy: no /j/ at the start, for example: rendered as “oulissays” or “oolissays”, however exactly those are to be interpreted.

    Burgess always stressed the second syllable, as far as I can tell from Youtube.

    His publisher Sylvia Beach (American by origin, European in outlook and languages) stressed it consistently on the second syllable in a wonderful interview, where she remarks on Joyce’s unusual pronunciation of “book” but notes nothing about a variant pronunciation of “Ulysses”:

    Listen especially from 6:00.

    What is “Ulysses” in Irish? “Uilséas”?

  3. can we give any credence to the view that he stressed “Ulysses” on the first syllable

    Good lord, I hope not. This is the first I’ve heard of it.

  4. “that in other respects that he followed” = “that in other respects he followed”

    Good lord, I hope not. This is the first I’ve heard of it.

    I had to correct the assertion on Wikibooks, where it was urged forcefully and on the most spurious grounds – by an Irishman, it seems. As I write, the Wikipedia entry itself is silent on the pronunciation for the title of the novel (but not, elsewhere, on UK and US pronunciations of “Ulysses” tout court):

  5. Richard Ellmann’s bio of Joyce references Harold Nicholson as saying that Joyce said “Oolissays”.

  6. David Marjanović says

    What is “Ulysses” in Irish? “Uilséas”?

    The genitive in Middle Irish was simply Uilix, as in Merugud Uilix maicc Leirtis

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    I have always thought that there were no trans-Atlantic differences in the pronunciation of “Ulysses,” but even leaving aside the theoretical possibility that IrEng might go its own way on a point where AmEng and BrEng concurred, I now realize my primary evidence for BrEng usage is that of a bunch of psychedelic hippies, which may not be reliable.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    I have always stressed the first syllable. I think it’s my Etruscan blood.

  9. Yes Y, as I mentioned several writers report that pronunciation – which yields no direct evidence concerning stress. Indirect evidence, yes; if this consummately language-aware author gives a Latinate/Italianate rendering of the vowels – against practically all usage in English – how can we think he wrenches the stress back to syllable 1?


    the theoretical possibility that IrEng might go its own way on a point where AmEng and BrEng concurred

    To be clear, they do not concur. UK academics overwhelmingly stress syllable 1.

    Oliver St John Gogarty (Joyce’s model for Malachi Mulligan) can be heard saying “Ulysses” just once in this on Youtube:

    At 1:38. I hear it stressed on the second syllable, but it’s indistinct.

    Here is the late Frank Delaney, on Ulysses:

    This Irish author of James Joyce’s Odyssey says “Ulysses” several times. It’s often very lightly stressed. Flat and even. Then at 5:37, 10:26, 11:43, and 11:51 for example it’s definitely on the first – contradicted by reasonably clear syllable 2 stressings, as at 26:25 and 36:18. That inconsistency is common enough. I think I’ve noticed it in Melvyn Bragg. (Shades of “transducer” and “transmitter” in US pronunciation.)

    I have surveyed pronunciations by descendants or other relatives of Joyce, and have heard them clearly stress syllable 1. Can’t recall the details. But none of this will persuade me. Their learned UK interviewers would stress syllable 1, so it is not surprising if they adopted the same folly. Just like people saying “Asus” in a weird and variable mix of ways, and are unable to give any comprehensible account in writing of how they say it or why (see Youtube and blogs, passim).

  10. /ˈjuːlɪsiːz/ is all I ever hear in Ireland. I blame the thumping intro of the title song to the English dub of “Ulysses 31”, greatest of all the classic 80s French-Japanese anime. The dialogue (and even parts of the song) have /juːˈlɪsiːz/ but it’s too late by then.

    The only current Ulysses scholar the average Irish person knows is David Norris, who has clearly surrendered to the /ˈjuːlɪsiːz/ mob; skip to the 1h-15m-18s mark of this video

  11. Thanks MM. Useful details.

  12. Noetica: The double s in “Oolissays” sort-of-kind-of implies an initial stress (“Oolis says”). Also, I think that if the second vowel was stressed, the vowel in the final vowel would be reduced to the point that it would be rendered differently, like “Oolissiz”, but maybe not.

    In the Cream song Tales of Brave Ulysses the single mention of the name has the stress on the second syllable. None of the people involved was Irish.

    Pope has “To Ajax I must yield the Prize / He to Ulysses, still more ag’d and wise”; Milton, “Or when Ulysses on the Larbord shunnd / Charybdis, and by th’ other whirlpool steard”; and Hobbes “When a third part of the night was gone / I nudg’d Ulysses, who did next me lie.” All second-syllable stressed.

  13. The double s in “Oolissays” sort-of-kind-of implies an initial stress (“Oolis says”).

    Sort of, at best. How might the originator of the spelling have managed it if stress on syllable 2 had been intended? The same, yes? My best thought: nothing about stress was intended at all. Most non-LH-frequenters giving phonetic representations are oblivious to the whole matter of stress, I have observed. And most people report even their own practice less than accurately.

    The double S might be there simply to show that the sound is /s/, not /z/. And so on. We can make almost nothing interesting of this spelling apart from:

    1. The absence of an initial /j/.
    2. The quality of the last vowel not being /i/ (still ambiguous between two other sounds).

    We can’t tell what Joyce did with the final S even (/s/ or /z/?), nor the exact quality of the first vowel.

    Pope, Milton, Hobbes … yes, that’s the sort of verse survey I did too. I have found no pre-20C evidence at all for stress on syllable 1.

    It definitely seems to have arisen early to mid-20C, and in many people’s usage only the title of the novel is stressed this way. Or when the name is used in a generally Joycean context. “Ulysses” occurs four times with various application in Ulysses, and at least in the superb reading by Jim Norton it is then stressed on syllable 1: “Ulysses Browne of Camus that was fieldmarshal to Maria Teresa”; “throwing everything down in all directions if you didnt open the windows when general Ulysses Grant whoever he was or did supposed to be some great fellow landed off the ship”; etc. Actually that last excerpt is from the Penelope episode, read by Marcella Riordan. I must check how she pronounces the name of the American general.

  14. My point is, is /uˈlɪsɛz/ phonologically possible? I don’t think it is, but /ˈulɪˌsɛz/ and /uˈlisəz/ are. The former would be rendered “Oolissays”, as given, the latter would have been “Oolissiz”.

  15. (The last one was meant to be /uˈlɪsəz/, with ɪ, not i.)

  16. I have also read that Joyce studied Norwegian because Norway was a superstitious backward folkish country like Ireland.

    And as I always say when Trieste, the American consul for Trieste when Joyce was there was young Fiorello LaGuardia, who was not yet an airport, and whose mother was a Triestine Jew from an eminent Hungarian Jewish family.

  17. David L. Gold says

    Shift of stress toward the initial syllable is an intra-English phenomenon. For example, until the 1820s the stressed syllable in English balcony was balCONy, in accordance with the etymology of the word (< Italian balCOne).

    English CAnopy < Medieval Latin canoPEum 'mosquito net'.

    Regional American English INsurance < Standard English inSUrance << Old French enseuRANce.

    Shift of stress toward the beginning of words is found in several other Germanic languages too. Maybe in all of them.

    Today's "mistake" or "corruption" is often tomorrow's standard form.

    Therefore, regional English Ulysses (with stress on the antepenult) is not unusual.

    Doubling of the s in English Ulysses reflects doubling of the s in Latin Ulysses, which reflects doubling of the sigma in Greek Ὀδυσσεύς (~ Ὀδυσεύς). Doubling in English is therefore not unusual either. Likewise with respect to English Odysseus.

  18. The point about the double s applies only if Nicholson’s naive phonetic spelling was imitating the standard spelling of the name.

  19. PlasticPaddy says

    It is possible that the final vowel in Ulysses would have been ay as in say for Joyce, not says. Is that more phonetically possible for you? Note that e.g., similar words like magistrate would have a full short i sound and not a schwa (I think even orchestrate can have a short i instead of schwa or short e).

  20. If Joyce learned Norwegian to read Ibsen, he learned the wrong language (though it would probably have done the job).

  21. Therefore, regional English Ulysses (with stress on the antepenult) is not unusual.

    (Regional? Does that include Oxbridgean and BBC?)

    But the examples you give are not proper names, which are surely more resistant to distortion of the stress pattern. At least if the syllables are all present, unlike Petrarch for Petrarca (compare your canopy for canopeum; in both pairs the stress shifts predictably enough). In any case, the tendency toward an earlier stress is at least as common in US as in UK English (with exceptions in US English like bitumen, where the syllable 2 stress is preserved unlike in UK English). Probably far more (CAPillary, for one example among very many).

    Whether there is any connection between the double S in Oolissays and Ulysses is a matter of speculation. We simply don’t know what was intended. By the way, I think it’s uncertain who first concocted those phonetic representations. I report a version with “Ou” above; there is another, of German provenance, that differs more substantially but makes the same point about Joyce’s unusual pronunciation. One source adds that his pronunciation of the word was “Triestine”, suggesting an Italian syllable 2 stress.

  22. Brian Hillcoat says

    On BBC Radio 3 in the first week of February there was a late-night series with five Irish writers talking about their favourite section of ‘Ulysses’. I’m pretty sure all of them stressed the name on the first syllable. I think it’s much commoner among English speakers from Ireland.

  23. But the examples you give are not proper names, which are surely more resistant to distortion of the stress pattern.

    Nope. Cf. Paris and Gibraltar and the traditional pronunciations of Lyons, Berlin, Madrid, and other European cities (as preserved in the names of American towns).

  24. I have also read that Joyce studied Norwegian because Norway was a superstitious backward folkish country like Ireland.

    I strongly suspect you read it in the crevices of your own imagination, but as it happens, there’s an article on the subject: Kristian Smidt, “I’m Not Half Norawain for Nothing”: Joyce and Norway (James Joyce Quarterly 26.3 [Spring 1989]: 333–350).

  25. Nope.

    Well, no doubt shifts of stress can be found all over the place, with all word classes. But in our context, with the classical or pseudo-classical names that are parallel to Ulysses, it seems that stress is managed with relative predictability. Isn’t it rare to find a Latin form so consistently stressed non-canonically, across an entire literate speech community? Are there other classical personal names whose stress pattern is so oddly and ubiquitously altered, in either UK or US English? Where the original syllable structure is maintained, I mean? Wouldn’t anyone saying PALamedes or PROcrustes be “corrected” before long? Not so with Ulysses, making it a true oddity in UK (and Irish) English.

    Cases like Aristotle are different. Fewer syllables than in Greek or Latin, and therefore primed for variant stresses being applied and accepted.

  26. Juvenal, Claudian, Sallust, Polycarp, Hadrian… there are many English versions of classical names with unclassical initial stress. And there are plenty of trisyllabic nouns ending with -es with initial stress: Dolopes, Orcades, Quirites (n.b.: /ˈkwɪrəˌtiz/ though second i is long in Latin)… Yes, those are plurals, but that’s irrelevant — the point is that there is a large pool of examples that would push the English speaker toward initial stress, classicism be damned. And Ireland, bless it, was not full of posh Eton-and-Oxbridge types who went around “correcting” people’s honest proletarian speech.

  27. And I see Daniel Jones’s English Pronouncing Dictionary has the version with initial stress as a bracketed alternative, with no indication of geographical restriction.

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    In any case, “Ulysses” is a Horrid Neologism, and I am surprised at Noetica for using it at all.
    The One True Form is Ulixes.

  29. Juvenal, Claudian, Sallust, Polycarp, Hadrian

    All of which are unlike Ulysses in the way I have pointed out, using Petrarch and Aristotle as examples. If the English were Ulyss, it would be a whole different story.

    And there are plenty of trisyllabic nouns ending with -es with initial stress

    Sure there are. The case of Quirites is interestingly like Ulysses, but different in at least two ways: recherché as opposed to known throughout the European-speaking world; and reliant on knowledge of the length of the I to settle the canonic stress, while the double S in Ulysses is a dead giveaway. I must examine the others. With Ulysses, there were centuries of stressing it uniformly on syllable 2, before the novel appeared. The UK change is so strong that uncertainties like those with Quirites seem explanatorily inadequate.

    Jones, yes. But OED gives only a syllable 1 stress (for UK English, or without restriction?), I seem to recall. Away from my OED access right now. I have already mentioned Burgess. An honourable UK exception. But OED shows how overwhelming syllable 1 stress is there.

    Given the timing and the strangeness, it seems likely that the novel itself is what brought about the UK change, in some way that would be interesting to tease out.

  30. J.W. Brewer says

    FWIW I think (with variable degrees of confidence, since I have occasion to say some of them aloud quite infrequently) that I have first-syllable stress for each item in the Juvenal-through Hadrian list hat offers, yet definitely have second-syllable stress in Ulysses. Don’t think I’ve ever tried to utter aloud anything from the Dolopes et al. list and don’t have a strong intuition where the stress ought to go.

  31. “Ulysses” was first entered in the OED in the 1986 Supplement (“Used as the type of a traveller or adventurer; occas. also, of a crafty and clever schemer.”). There, and in OED2, both stress-positions were given, with the second-syllable stress given first: (juːˈlɪsiːz, ˈjuːlɪsiːz). At that time they covered only British pronunciations.

    The pronunciation has been updated in the online OED, and is now:
    Brit. /ˈjuːlᵻsiːz/, U.S. /juˈlɪsiz/
    The rest of the entry hasn’t been updated. Maybe they’ll have some comment on the stress shift when they revise it (as they do, e.g., in the revised abdomen and quandary).

    That suggests that the shift was still in progress in 1986, and only recently completed (and if so, Cream was in the British mainstream in 1967).

  32. John Wells was on the case in 2012:

    With last Saturday being Bloomsday, the airwaves were full of discussions of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. And everyone I heard on BBC Radio Four called it ˈjuːlɪsiːz.

    Not me. I’ve always called it juˈlɪsiːz … In accordance with the Latin stress rule (stress the penultimate if it is a heavy syllable), all three forms of the name are traditionally stressed on the penultimate. The double s of Odysseus and Ulysses, like the x of Ulixes, makes the syllable heavy.

    And he goes on to trace the changes through several editions of the English Pronouncing Dictionary, starting with the last edition edited by Jones, in 1963: in that edition it’s
    juˈlɪsiːz (rarely ˈjuːlɪsiːz)
    with the first-syllable stress gaining ground over successive editions.

  33. In Scotland they also seem to have first syllable stress. (I just wanted to post a music video, too 😉 )

  34. On BBC Radio 3 in the first week of February there was a late-night series with five Irish writers talking about their favourite section of ‘Ulysses’. I’m pretty sure all of them stressed the name on the first syllable.

    All 5 episodes of Reading Ulysses

    Is that really initial stress? I just listened, and the only pronunciations that seemed odd were from Colm Tóibín and Mary Costello, and the oddness seemed to me to be the pronunciation of the second vowel, not the stress.

    But perhaps my ears are dumb.

  35. David Marjanović says

    Shift of stress toward the beginning of words is found in several other Germanic languages too. Maybe in all of them.

    High (but not Too High) German stopped in Middle times. Afterwards, stress shifts to heavy syllables later in the word occurred even in native words, like lebendig “live”, Forelle “trout”, Wacholder “juniper”, Holunder “elderflower/-berry” (but the latter is regionally called Holler, preserving the first-syllable stress at the price of some sort of weird syncope or something).

    Also, we assign (mostly Latin) stress to Classical words before truncating them. Many end up with final stress, Juvenal, Sallust and Polycarp among them.

  36. Valuable information, ktschwarz.


    Perhaps we could all agree that the Juvenal list is not relevant. In such cases, as I have twice pointed out, the English form has fewer syllables than the Latin. How English handles those is regular, predictable, and I think undisputed in literate usage. Just as it is in Spanish, say, where we get Juvenal, Claudiano, Sallustio, Policarpo, and Adriano with the stress falling as the Spanish spelling indicates (Juvenal on the last syllable, as is the common way with Spanish names ending in L).

    For the record, Spanish has Ulises; Portuguese Ulisses; Italian Ulisse; Romanian Ulisses. All stressed on syllable 2.

    Across such languages and English, Aeolus (and Poseidon) are interesting and uncertain cases for diverse reasons. Many in English say Ae’olus, where the Latin (Aeŏlus) and the Greek (Αἴολος) license only ‘Aeolus.

    David M:

    Interesting about the German. Have you any further information about the Irish-language form of Ulysses, and any stress information for it?


    Colm Tóibín is interesting among those readers, with his non-/i/ pronunciation of the last syllable:

    At 1:02 for example. This chimes with Oolissays.

    My current best theory concerning how UK stress shifted to syllable 1:

    In the UK it had always been U’lysses: regular classical stress on syllable 2. Then along came the epochal novel – by an Irishman. Irish pronunciations differed from the time-honoured UK U’lysses, and differed among themselves (often a light, even stressing; often nothing like /i/ in the last syllable). Joyce himself was heard to pronounce Ulysses without an initial /j/. So there was discussion and tentative exploration in UK literary circles about how to pronounce the title of the novel. But in the usual manner of such discussions, stress was not of primary interest. It was the quality of the vowels that needed to be settled. In comparing various pronunciations of the first syllable, one would of course stress it: “You say YOOlysses, but I have heard the author himself say OOlysses.”O really? I’ve only ever heard YOOlysses.” The hearers of such dialogue – indeed, the participants themselves – might then slip into a tacit assumption that the stress itself had been at issue. And as the novel grew more contentious and discussed over the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and onward, that syllable 1 stress became more entrenched – at least for the novel, and as we have seen, eventually for the word as it appears in OED. But not, I think, in reading English verse. And not, usually, in speaking of the hero in Ovid or in mythology generally.

    So ‘Ulysses came into its UK ascendancy. But US English is often more classically informed (as we have seen with bi’tumen for example), so it is nearly always given in the US as U’lysses. In Australia? Confusion is standard.

  37. David Marjanović says

    Canonized contrastive stress! I like it. Wouldn’t be the first time such a thing happens.

    (And not as weird as the ˈCDU-ˈCSU, whose contrastive stress has slipped to a more convenient location.)

    Have you any further information about the Irish-language form of Ulysses

    Nope. My knowledge of Irish hardly goes beyond “I read a few Wikipedia articles once”.

  38. Jacob Schwartz was born in Brooklyn but by 1929 was importing copies of Ulysses into his Ulysses Bookshop in Bloomsbury. In 1951 he addressed the New York James Joyce Society; he says “Ulysses”, at 39m-7s and 43m-37s of this recording, with what sounds to me like initial stress and a hybrid German-English accent.

  39. the Irish-language form of Ulysses

    Tomás de Bhaldraithe’s 1959 English-Irish Dictionary has Uiliséas for “Ulysses”.

    The National Terminology Database for Irish has féileacán Uiliséas for “Ulysses butterfly” (named after the hero) but Ionad Ulysses for “Ulysses Centre” (named after the book).

  40. According to Georges’ Lexikon der lateinischen Wortformen (Leipzig 1890) the Latin forms are Ulixes and Ulixeus. Georges points out that the spelling Ulysses is mistaken (“fehlerhaft”). In Greek Odysseus~Odyseus (stress on the final syllable) is typical for epic literature, there are many variants (o~ou, d~l, y~i, s(s)~t(t)~x).

    A pre-1963 edition of Jones’ dictionary (1950s, but according to the preface it’s basically a slightly expanded version of the 1930s edition) lists the first syllable stress version in square brackets (“less common”).

    Also, we assign (mostly Latin) stress to Classical words before truncating them

    The name of the Emperor Hadrian is an exception. I have never heard anyone pronounce it with final stress (although I wouldn’t be surprised if 19th century professors of Latin (like Georges) did exactly that).

  41. David Eddyshaw says

    Also, we assign (mostly Latin) stress to Classical words before truncating them

    That’s completely wrong. No name in -ian is final-stressed in English. Horace, Ovid, Virgil

  42. That was about German, not English.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah. I am ashame. Forgive.
    “Jones’ Dictionary” (as cited by ulr, above) is about German?
    Ah, yes. I missed the asyndeton. As one does. Wrong again.

  44. I am reminded of the very curious Case of the Missed Asyndeton…

  45. David Eddyshaw says

    The world is not yet ready to hear about it.

  46. MM:

    Thanks! The site you linked has all kinds of good resources, including clear spoken pronunciations of many words – from Ulster, Connacht, and Munster (north, middle, and south). Exploring those pronunciations (which alas do not include Uiliséas) I was pleased to find a set for úrscéalaí (novelist):úrscéalaí

    Three syllables, each taking the stress in one of the three pronunciations (cf. hezbollah, by the way). Elsewhere we discover that the default stress for Irish words is on syllable 1, with a few rules that might shift it. And obviously, it depends on the dialect. We learn this from the Wikipedia article on Irish phonology: “certain words, especially adverbs and loanwords, have stress on a noninitial syllable, e.g. amháin /əˈwaːnʲ/ (‘only’), tobac /təˈbak/ (‘tobacco’).” Words like Ulysses, yes?

    Predictably enough, from the pronunciations given at that site there is nothing resembling an english initial /j/ in “ui”, fitting with Joyce’s problematic Oolissays pronunciation. But let’s remember: he did not himself speak Irish. In any case, “ui” is given a striking range of realisations.

    David M:

    Canonized contrastive stress! I like it. Wouldn’t be the first time such a thing happens.

    Thank you for so dubbing it. (But I can’t quite parse your remark about ˈCDU-ˈCSU. Do you mean to indicate initial stresses, with your instances of ˈ ? If so, how are they contrastive, both being “C”?)

    The term is hereby abbreviated to CCS. My CCS theory of ˈUlysses gains support from instances in use. In Australia we sometimes hear emploˈyer – even when there is no need to distinguish it from employee, but that’s how it originated.

    There is also a shibboleth factor, just as no one with a shred of self-respect stresses “innovative” on syllable 2 despite many parallels such as “provocative” and “connotative” (in UK English). For some on Youtube we can almost feel the anxiety that they might accidentally blurt out Uˈlysses, in a moment of unguarded common sense. Like accidentally saying “to you and me” when all around you just know it should be “to you and I”.

  47. There is also a shibboleth factor, just as no one with a shred of self-respect stresses “innovative” on syllable 2

    Unfortunately I have no self-respect.

  48. Stu Clayton says

    No law is infringed by affecting the appearances of self-respect. Not to stress “innovative” on the second syllable is a small sacrifice.

    As said the bishop of Sodor and Man: “Intemperance in talk makes a dreadful havoc in the heart.”

  49. David Marjanović says

    The name of the Emperor Hadrian is an exception.


    But I can’t quite parse your remark about ˈCDU-ˈCSU. Do you mean to indicate initial stresses, with your instances of ˈ ? If so, how are they contrastive, both being “C”?

    Yes; it’s derailed contrastive stress. Initialisms get final stress this side of Switzerland: [tsedeˈuː], [tseɛˈsuː] modulo glottal stops. (The /eː/ are too unstressed to maintain their length.) With contrastive stress they become [tseˈdeːu], [tseˈɛs(ː)u], but that sounds unusual enough (perhaps because of the seriously unstressed /uː/) that the stresses somehow slip to the first syllables: [ˌtsedeuˈtseɛsu]. (Basically length-free due to stress-timing.)

    no one with a shred of self-respect stresses “innovative” on syllable 2


  50. Eoin P. Ó Murchú says Uiliséas at 30s of this video but I’m not sure he says it right. He’s not a native speaker and the first s would be /ʃ/ if the spelling were regular. OTOH he’s much fluenter than I, and for all I know it may be irregular..

  51. Wow, that’s really surprising. Are there any “irregular” matches of spelling and pronunciation in the matter of lenition? I thought that was one of the few things you could rely on in modern Irish.

  52. It’s palatalisation “narrowing”, not lenition “softening”, that’s in question. There are certainly dialect variants that conflict with the standard spelling; pages 77-78 of this book list (“wrong” consonant capitalised) Connacht Tar, tóGáil; Munster Deimhin, Diabhal, dtúS, Tiocfaidh. I would be surprised if -éas from Greek -es is dialect specific.

  53. Thanks, that’s a very enlightening link. And yeah, I always screw up that Irish-specific terminology.

  54. ktschwarz says

    Before Noetica fixed it, the Wikibooks annotation of Ulysses read:

    In his design for the cover of the 1949 Random House edition of Ulysses, the American artist Edward McKnight Kauffer emphasized the initial UL, “giving graphic form to the phonetic structure of the title with its accent on the first syllable.”

    The quote is from a book by two art professors at Rutgers; I don’t know if they’re actually British, or picked up the British pronunciation from somewhere. Generations of Americans read the novel with this cover design, featuring a giant UL looming over a much smaller YSSES; it was used on printings into the 1980s (I have one myself), and the cover that replaced it in 1986 also features a giant U. Of course it’s ridiculous to think that an American artist was representing a British pronunciation that didn’t even exist yet in 1949. More likely, as the site I linked suggests, the giant U was inspired by the giant full-page S, M, and P that begin the three sections of the book, in the interior design introduced in the first authorized American edition in 1934. Any reader of Ulysses knows that *those* are significant.

  55. John Cowan says

    I give you U and P (“U. P. up”), but surely S and M are not …?!

  56. Subject, Middle and Predicate; or Stephen, Molly, and Poldy, the first oriented toward himself, the other two toward each other. This is a commonplace of Ulysses interpretation.

  57. I had a professor who conjectured that SMP stood for sine mascula prole. To be exact, he found it, I believe, in a dictionary of abbreviations (he had no Latin), and the relevance is obvious.

  58. John Cowan says

    So amirite to suppose that “U.P. up” is in fact a charge of unmasculinity, as shown by the habit of micturition where ejaculation would normally be expected?

  59. ktschwarz says

    No, or at least that’s not what would be most obvious to a reader of Joyce’s times. “All up” or “all U-P” or just “U.P.” was a well-established slang expression of the 19th century, meaning “over, finished, without remedy, failed”. Full details at James Joyce Online Notes. “You pee up” is an interpretation from much later critics who didn’t recognize the old slang, and it really doesn’t fit with the contexts, as the article explains.

  60. ktschwarz and others:

    When my right hand has recovered from surgery I’ll say more. Meanwhile, those notes on U.P. are worth a close look. Thanks! I can copy something in at length though, right now:

    – Give us that key, Kinch, Buck Mulligan said, to keep my chemise flat.
    Stephen handed him the key. Buck Mulligan laid it across his heaped clothes.
    – And twopence, he said, for a pint. Throw it there.
    Stephen threw two pennies on the soft heap. Dressing, undressing. Buck Mulligan erect, with joined hands before him, said solemnly:
    – He who stealeth from the poor lendeth to the Lord. Thus spake Zarathustra.
    His plump body plunged.
    – We’ll see you again, Haines said, turning as Stephen walked up the path and smiling at wild Irish.
    Horn of a bull, hoof of a horse, smile of a Saxon.
    – The Ship, Buck Mulligan cried. Half twelve.
    – Good, Stephen said.
    He walked along the upwardcurving path.
    Liliata rutilantium.
    Turnia circumdet.
    Iubilantium te virginum
    The priest’s grey nimbus in a niche where he dressed discreetly. I will not sleep here tonight. Home also I cannot go.
    A voice, sweettoned and sustained, called to him from the sea. Turning the curve he waved his hand. It called again. A sleek brown head, a seal’s, far out on the water, round.

    How interesting that Episode 1 closes with that single-word paragraph: “Usurper.” It is “usurer” with “p” added, and while forms of neither word occur more than once or twice throughout the novel, both notions are ever-present; and our consciousness might also readily stream toward “U.P.” The preceding text that I quote above also seems highly relevant.

    More another time. There is at least one further strand to add concerning the evolution of the ˈUlysses pronunciation.

  61. *turma

  62. *turma


  63. You have “Turnia circumdet”; he’s correcting the first word.

  64. Ah, thanks. I missed that. I had simply pasted it in, here. I’ll correct my downloaded copy of the OCRed text.

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