The blog Linguism is updated rarely (only ten entries since last October), but has some interesting stuff, particularly a review of the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation, with the kind of grumpy pickiness I enjoy:

The Earl of Harewood, his home Harewood House (both pronounced ‘har-wuud’) and the village of Harewood (’hair-wuud’) is not listed, but Althorp, the home of Earl Spencer, and the title borne by his eldest son, is there, with some mention of the controversy over its pronunciation. There is a misleading statement here: the authors say that the pronunciation ‘awl-thorp’ is used “in the village”, as if this justifies the pronunciation. But which village? The only village near the estate of Althorp is called Great Brington. The village of Althorpe (note the final –E) is near Scunthorpe, about 120 miles away. The contrast of the situation with Harewood is striking: while the Earl of Harewood calls himself, and his house ‘har-wuud’, the villagers living in Harewood just down the road call their village ‘hair-wuud’. That is their prerogative: they live in the village; he lives at the “big house”, and they each “own” their own pronunciation. The BBC has always respected the distinction. In 1997, when Diana Princess of Wales was killed, the BBC’s senior management ignored all well-established guidelines, and overruled the Earl Spencer’s own pronunciation in favour of the inhabitants of a village with a different name, on very spurious grounds.

I deplore, however, their criticism of Mishal Husain’s pronunciation. Ms. Husain can do no wrong.


  1. What’s with the odd “phonetic” spelling of ‘wood’ as ‘wuud’?

  2. Nomis, perhaps to avoid a pronunciation as [wʌd].

  3. The BBC Pronunciation Unit doesn’t use IPA, but uses its own system. See:
    The transcription system is in a document downloadable here:
    It’s less than ideal…

  4. My understanding is that the Spencer family pronounce it al-thRop (al as in Al Gore, and note the position of the “r”) but that the BBC decided to make it al-thoRp on the grounds that the vast majority of people wouldn’t understand why it didn’t follow the spelling.
    As I recall, that change came perhaps 24 hours or so after Diana’s death.

  5. Thankfully for BBC newsreaders, the names Cholmondeley (Chumley), Featherstonehaugh (Fanshaw) and Woolfhardisworthy (Woolsey) do not often make the news. The yogh in Menzies (Mingis) still catches some out, along with ‘Dalziel’. Another common mistake is pronouncing Wodehouse as Woad-house.

  6. My understanding is that the Spencer family pronounce it al-thRop
    My understanding is that they say al-tRop (t, not th).
    the BBC decided to make it al-thoRp on the grounds that the vast majority of people wouldn’t understand why it didn’t follow the spelling.
    And that’s why Britain no longer has an empire. Pathetic.

  7. mollymooly says

    there’s a Wikipedia page called “List of names in English with non-intuitive pronunciations”, which has a pretty random assortment.

  8. And that’s why Britain no longer has an empire. Pathetic.
    But when Britain had an empire, the English for Varanasi was Benares, the English for Ligorno was Leghorn, and the English pronunciation of Althorp was “Altrop” and Afghanistan had a hard “g” in the middle.
    You can’t have it both ways.

  9. erm..So how should I pronounce Wodehouse, then?

  10. I always smiled at how Brett Favre pronounces his name. Maybe he’s an English aristocrat. It seems they’re allowed great freedom in moving R’s, unlike commoners who are allowed to add and drop them only at the ends of words.

  11. dearieme says

    The Scots and English pronounce “Munich” differently. How do Yanks pronounce it?

  12. Thank you, languagehat, for some very nice comments about linguism. I’ve just posted a new item on Althorp for anyone who’s interested, with more background. As for Chris saying “you can’t have it both ways” – does he now say ‘parree’ for Paris, or España instead of Spain? Of course you can have it both ways – some names have been anglicised for centuries. Perhaps I’ll write a post on that …
    BTW, Sara: Wodehouse is pronounced ‘wood-house’.

  13. @dearieme: [‘mju nɪk], more or less. How is it pronounced in Britain?
    @chris y: ‘Livorno’.

  14. komfo amonan: English say [‘mju:nik], Scots say [‘mju:nix]

  15. Scots do this with a lot of words. At school in Scotland, I always pronounced words like patriarchal with what Wikipedia tells me is the voiceless velar fricative. I assume it’s the ‘loch’ effect.
    Going up to university in England, I soon learnt that several words I considered part of mainstream English, such as outwith and depute, were in fact

  16. Of course you can have it both ways – some names have been anglicised for centuries.
    Exactly, and as regular readers of LH know, I’m all for preserving the good old Anglicized forms. And of course I, like all native speakers of English, pronounce Afghanistan with a hard g, but Mishal Husain can say it however she wants. Because she’s Mishal Husain, dammit.

  17. Gianfranco says

    Now the subject now is linguism and not bad etymology (23/1/2003) but I wanted to ask, whether Brian is back to answer or not, about the “sine” or “sin” element in limousine that is a clear deviation from “limovici” (elm people) and “limoges” (elm something; another unexplained element as the “sin”)…
    But not to enrage the up-todate discussion… To what degree does a personal pronunciation of a word is a problem? I mean, the practice of a language leads to inability to pronounce some words from different languages, doesn’t it? As long as the word is adapted in a logical way there shall be no problem, it is with improper spelling that a problem arises; as with people creating such names as Jhiobani in a terrible attempt to imitate Italian “Giovani” in a misinterpretation of English “John” where the “h” holds an etymologic presence (from Johannes) rather a phonetical (not being necessary for the soft sound of John but causing intuitive mistake in the Spanish speakers that invent these alienations)… However a person’s pronunciation, it last a lifetime at worse; A person’s writing might well go beyond that.

  18. mollymooly says

    I’m all for preserving the good old Anglicized forms. Few now say Jewan for Juan, even for Byron’s Don Juan. Fewer say Byoo-ennis Ayrs for Buenos Aires, though the equivalent in French is still standard. For me the most striking adoption of closer-to-native approximations is among football commentators. In the 70s the best team in Amsterdam was called Age-ax; now they’re Eye-ax. England played in the 1998 World Cup in a French town called Lawss, not Len’s. Ten years ago, Gabriel Heinze would have had the same name as the ketchup; now he’s Ain-say.

  19. David Marjanović says

    Some English proper names might as well be written in Chinese characters. In fact, that would take a layer of misinformation away. Grmpf.
    And, um… how can one pronounce Afghanistan other than with [g]? Surely English speakers don’t go to the trouble of producing the voiced uvular fricative or whatever the gh is actually supposed to represent??? ~:-|

  20. David Marjanović says

    And yes, the French still watch spee-deh-RRMAHN. <cringe>

  21. John Emerson says

    I’m wondering whether Gianfranco’s “elm” isn’t a linden (a.k.a. lime tree or basswood). Babelfish is little help though it does give “olmo” for elm.

  22. Graham: Wodehouse is pronounced ‘wood-house’.
    Surely that should be “wuud-house”?

  23. Gianfranco, limousin comes from the Latin adjective lemovicinus, which is derived from the name of the local tribe, the Lemovices. The -sin part is not an affix in itself.
    As for the etymology of Lemovices, this interesting site claims that Leur nom signifie ceux qui vainquent avec l’orme dont était faite leur lance, de limo (orme) (“Their name means ‘those who conquer with the elm’, of which their spears were made, of ‘limo’ (elm)”). Personally, I’m not convinced.

  24. Cum grano salis says

    Wot a bludy shame, the English will soon know what the other be a saying. No dropped haitches, lost gees, next they be rrolling & trrrilling their Rrrs. No more excuses, not be able to say “wot yer say”

  25. Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, speaking on the BBC this morning, said Af-HAAAN-istan. She has also always said TAAL-e-barn.

  26. marie-lucie says

    In “Afghanistan”, “Maghreb”, and similar words, the “gh” conventionally represents a velar (not uvular) fricative, that is, a rasping sound pronounced in the same area of the mouth as “k” or “g”. After another consonant, this could easily be mistaken for “h” by persons not familiar with this type of sound. It is also mistaken for the “uvular r” (a uvular fricative) by French people, especially since many Africans speaking French use this sound instead of uvular r (I recently read something in French about Berber which said that the alphabet was called “tifinar”, when it is actually “tifinagh”).

  27. At least when the BBC and the British generally talk about the king of Spain, they do say Juan Carlos rather than John Charles; while the Spanish talk of the British queen as Isabella rather than Elizabeth – which name to Hispanic communities in America adopt?

  28. “Reina Isabel”, at least on the networks that come for free on Boston cable (they speak Cuban Spanish). For instance, in the Rushdie story.

  29. Ditto the free Spanish language newspaper here.

    … la reina Isabel II de Gran Bretaña …

  30. marie-lucie says

    I find it interesting that the names of Popes continue to be translated into local languages, when there is an equivalent. Their official names of course are in Latin: the current Pope is officially Benedictus, but he is known in Italian as Benedetto, in English as Benedict, in French as Benoît, and similarly in other languages. John XXIII was Jean in France and Giovanni in Italy. Pius XII did not have a separate English name (and the name Pius is not very popular in English) but he was known as Pie XII in France (even if no one else was called Pie).
    I think that this continues an old European practice dating from the time when official international correspondence was in Latin (as the Vatican’s still is) and in popular usage the names, which were usually those of saints, were adapted to the local language: so for instance the emperor known in Latin as Carolus Quintus (who reigned over a large number of countries) is known in French as Charles-Quint (as opposed to Charles V, a homegrown French king). The famous queen of France known as Marie-Antoinette was Maria Antonia when she was born in Austria. This usage is still followed in Spain, witness not only la reina Isabel II but her husband Felipe, etc. Similarly, if you read a history of Spain written in English, you will probably encounter kings by the name of Philip, not Felipe (even if some of them were French princes originally called Philippe), and you will run into Christopher Columbus, not Cristobal Colon, Christophe Colomb or Cristoforo Colombo.

  31. Lars (the original one) says

    But I’ve never heard anybody talk about pave Bent in Danish. Or Mads the euangelist.

    And what is that about Cristóbal equating with Χριστόφορος? Even Spanish Wikipedia just says un nombre propio proveniente del griego antiguo Χριστόφορος.

    Added: Spanish Wiktionary was more help. Late Latin Christophanus is attested as a side form of Christophorus (possibly a mixture with the ending of christianus) and then a detour through Portuguese Cristóvão gives you a plausible source for the Castilian form.

  32. January First-of-May says

    and you will run into Christopher Columbus, not Cristobal Colon, Christophe Colomb or Cristoforo Colombo

    Or indeed not Cristoffa Corombo, which last time I checked was the best guess for what his name would have been in his native Genoa.

    (I googled just now and it was actually Christoffa Corombo, though the difference appears to be one of spelling only. The language had, of course, changed since then, and the modern Ligurian Wikipedia calls him Cristoffa Combo.)

  33. Cristoffa Combo


  34. Also, thanks for reviving this thread; I discovered that the URLs at Linguism (which is thankfully still a going concern) have changed, and was able to fix the review link.

  35. Lars (the original one) says

    It seems there are no writings from the hand of Columbus (if I may call him that) in Ligurian, only in Latin, Portuguese and Castilian, and theories abound that his native language was something else. So he might not in fact have thought of himself as Cristòffa Cónbo or any earlier form of that.

    Catalan and Provençal were still spoken very close to Genoa in the 15th century, so it’s not so far-fetched that he grew up speaking one of those languages at home — at least the claim of Ligurian is only weakly circumstantial. But on the other hand he probably did have it as an L2.

  36. John Cowan says

    In Columbus’s day the Spanish tended to ignorantly call all foreign merchants Genoese, so his connection with Genoa might be purely factitious. Everything we think we know about his life before he arrived in Portugal stems from the two biographies by his son Fernando (who was born in Spain) and by Bartolomé de las Casas (who arrived in Hispaniola two years after Columbus left it for the last time and may never have met him), neither of which can be trusted uncritically.

  37. Jason Redvers Latham says

    I have personally come to loathe any exhibition of a Arabicised Pashto click language from anyone saying Afghanistan or Taliban. The chief exponents of this rigmarole include admittedly correspondents who hail originally from Pakistan and India closely followed by someone who seems to think that talking like this is part and parcel of her liberal Muslim credentials along with dressing like a Westerner and reading the news like a fashion icon, As the debate goes on whether this is proper no other member of staff indulges in the same game and people seem to have forgotten how stupid the habit of an earlier and well known reader was where she would say guerrilla like some retreating senora or breathily enunciate the capital of Iran in a diacritical flood. There were comedians in those days who through sketches and ridicule put an end to this . I suppose now that I read that there may be hundreds of ways of pronouncing Taliban I will have to cease carping but wait for any mention of the deceased Colonel Gaddafi who came to power on the strength of there being six hundred ways to pronounce his name. The day that the people in question start saying Berlin and Hitler in the manner of Germans and start using the new names now given to countries in South Africa will be a first and a turn up for the books which seem to have been written about such a trivial point,

  38. Jason Redvers Latham says

    To the tune of the Pakistani National Anthem

    From Karachi through Lahore
    To Islamabad
    Mishal cannot say Imran Khan..

  39. David Eddyshaw says

    Arabicised Pashto click language

    Intriguing. Do you have any further details on this “Arabicized Pashto click language”? I am myself aware of only one click language spoken outside Africa. Evidently you know more ….

  40. David Marjanović says

    the deceased Colonel Gaddafi who came to power on the strength of there being six hundred ways to pronounce his name

    That’s awesome, but he deceased by being torn into approximately six hundred pieces, wasn’t he?

  41. What comes after the comma?

  42. Lars Mathiesen says

    @DE, I’m worried that the gentle correspondent meant something like clickbait language, far below the notice of our-NONINCL masters from Betelgeuse.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    Oh dear … has my intervention been too heavy-handed again? The Supervisor said as much in that matter of the dinosaurs, I recall …

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