Linguist Names.

Boy, is this a handy site (and a natural for LH): Linguist names.

How often does this come up? You encounter a name of a linguist that you need to say out loud, and you have no idea how to say it. The goal of this page is collect some names that have presented this sort of problem either for me or for other linguists.

People who are linked without comment have included IPA transcriptions of their name pronunciations on their websites. NB: If people pronounce your name differently from how you’d like it to be pronounced, or if you’ve ever been asked how to pronounce your name, that’s a hint that you should put that information on your website. It is more likely to reach the target audience if it’s on your site than on mine. Roman Jakobson–you’re off the hook on this one.

As I scrolled down, I kept thinking “Huh — I never would have guessed.” Who knew that William Labov says [ləbˈoʊv]? And I would have pronounced Katherine Demuth’s surname like the painter Charles (/dɪˈmuθ/) if it hadn’t been for Maria Gouskova informing me it was [dˈiməθ]. Gouskova modestly doesn’t include her own name on the list, but on her homepage she conveniently has it in both English ([məˈɹijə ɡuˈskoʊvə]) and Russian ([mˠaˈrʲijə ɡˠusʲˈkˠovˠə]) versions, with audio files. (Thanks, Y!)


  1. In th olden days it was just Bopp and Rask, etc.

  2. How handy! But does anybody have any idea what the difference between the two pronunciations of Trudgill is?

  3. earthtopus says

    /dɡ/ versus /dʒ/

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Wot, no Хомський?

    (I tried ANC’s WP page, but in among the unadulterated hagiography it does not seem to give the pronunciation. I may be wrong: I couldn’t bear to look at it for long.)

  5. It is not a human name, and to pronounce it correctly you would have to dive so deep into the Structure that you might never be sane again.

  6. Is [o] different from both [oʊ] and [ɔ] ?

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    The list includes one of my own old teachers from undergraduate days (Semantics, fall 1985, in which I did poorly), but I am mildly amused that they felt the need to give IPA instructions for “Farkas” but not for her given name “Donka.” Who is the reader for whom “you know, the usual way to pronounce “Donka” is self-evident but who still needs help with the surname?

  8. It doesn’t include Donca Steriade, whom I knew when we were both grad students. (Her name is pronounced exactly as you would expect for a Romanian.)

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    Hmm. Apparently Prof. Steriade graduated from the University of Bucharest one year ahead of Prof. Farkas, before they both emigrated to pursue Ph.D.’s and subsequent academic careers in the New World.

  10. I’ve never been sure how to pronounce Marianne Mithun’s last name. I’ve seen two different ways, /ˈmɪθjun/ and Wikipedia (without sourcing) gives /mɪˈθuːn/.

  11. I wrote Donca and she immediately responded and said she’d add herself to the list. The system works!

  12. OK, but how do you pronounce ‘hat’?

  13. I’ve never been sure how to pronounce Marianne Mithun’s last name. I’ve seen two different ways, /ˈmɪθjun/ and Wikipedia (without sourcing) gives /mɪˈθuːn/.

    She was also at Yale while I was there, and I remember it as /mɪˈθuːn/. But you could write her and ask:

  14. Stu Clayton says

    I read in the WiPe article on Donca Steriade that she edited a book called Phonetically Based Phonology. Though it be ignorant of me to ask: “on what else could phonology be based, if not on phonetics?”, I trust it is a pardonable ignorance.

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    It seems to be a collection of essays/articles mainly centred on Optimality Theory, one of the provinces of the Holy Chomskyan Empire. It traces its lineage back to that horrid book, The Sound Pattern of English.

    I personally find OT annoying*, so I am not the best person to explain it. My bitterness is partly due to the fact that I have recently acquired Cahill’s Aspects of the Morphology and Phonology of Konni and am currently trying to mine it for actual data; this involves transposing a lot of stuff which Cahill has ingeniously shoehorned into the Approved Paradigm (the aforesaid Optimality Theory) back into a form which is actually usable for my (historical comparative linguistic) purposes. Happily there’s a lot of good data in there. Somewhere …

    My heart sinks whenever I find a grammatical description entitled “Aspects of the X of Y”, but Cahill’s work is actually quite good. It’s just a pity he had to drink the OT Kool-Aid to get a PhD out of it all …

    * Order those phonological rules! Order them, I say! Why won’t you just order the damn things? Why? They’re just imaginary, after all, anyway! Where’s the harm in ordering them, for Panini’s sake?

  16. Stu Clayton says

    I did briefly wonder whether this might be one of those Chomsky things, you know, the improbable in full pursuit of the unintelligible.

  17. I’m a little surprised that Israeli Roni Katzir’s name is written with an [r]. I’d expect the two r’s to be [ʀ].

  18. David Marjanović says


    In a few names, there is a dorsal fricative. I decided to leave that as [x] in the transcriptions, as many American linguists seem comfortable with approximating it. If you are not one of them, my prescriptive suggestion would be to substitute [h]; to my ears it sounds like the next best thing. Maybe a [k] if Ident[place]>>Ident[continuant] for you.

    Optimality Theory right there!

  19. “Optimality Theory” is too transparent of a name. They should have called it OᴘᴛT.

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah. It’s an ingenious subversion. They’ve given a transparent name to a system specifically designed to introduce superfluous opacity. It’s a masterly touch. One can but admire …

  21. @Y

    It does say “the bias is towards anglicized pronunciations here”, so I would say it’s not surprising at all for [ʀ] not to be used in a transcription.

  22. I was distracted by the (self-admittedly inconsistent) use of ɹ in a few names.

  23. Michael Hendry says

    J. W. Brewer,
    Your 11:18am comment brings back some memories. In 1976-77 I spent many pleasant hours filing foreign dissertations in the basement of the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago. The work itself was tedious, but undemanding, and Donka Farkas was my very amusing and knowledgeable co-worker, so we would chat about whatever we wanted while unwrapping packages and sorting disses for filing. Even after 40+ years I remember some of the things she said about living in Ceausescu-era Romania. For instance, as an illustration of the stupidity of the Communist authorities, or perhaps just bureaucracies in general, she said she had to get six separate signatures to gain access to the room where foreign periodicals were kept, but once she got her official permission, she could go there any time, for as long as she wanted, and read anything she wanted, e.g. Time magazine. If I remember correctly, she had to show that she needed a specific article in a western linguistics journal for her research, but my impression was that she may have designed the research to require that article, so she could get her super-library card.

  24. I’m disappointed not to find Ladefoged. But perhaps that one’s obvious to linguists.

    Gouskova says “the bias is towards anglicized pronunciations”, but anything with [ɾ] or [ɚ] indicates a bias towards Americanized ones.

    Farkas: Well, I didn’t know. We don’t all know Hungarian orthography, and those of us who know a little might wonder if it’s [‘fɔkɒʃ] or something similar.

  25. David Eddyshaw says


    It’s a double bluff …

  26. Сочетание букв жч в фамилии Палажченко произносится как [щ][3]. Ударение делается на втором слоге, хотя носители английского языка часто делают ударение на третьем слоге. В англоязычной прессе встречается написание как Palazhchenko[4], так и Palazchenko[5].

    Па́вел Русла́нович Пала́жченко

  27. J.W. Brewer says

    My point was not that the pronunciation of “Farkas” should be self-evident to everyone, but that many of those who could understandably use some guidance on that might quite reasonably also benefit from guidance on “Donka.” What’s the actual vowel in the first syllable? Should the natural Anglophone tendency to transform /n/ into /ŋ/ before /k/ be resisted or embraced? Etc. For all I know there could be a material difference between the default Hungarian pronunciation of the name and the default Romanian pronunciation (it’s apparently extant among both language communities), which would make the pronunciation used (or the pronunciation acquiesced in in the U.S. as the best you could reasonably expect from Anglophones, which is not exactly the same thing) by a Hungarianly-surnamed person who grew up in a Romanian-majority environment even harder to predict.

  28. David Marjanović says

    it’s apparently extant among both language communities

    As shown by the spellings with c (as in Steriade) vs. k.

  29. PlasticPaddy says

    I thought your wikipedia footnote 3 was a Cyrillic capital z, making the name very difficult to pronounce 😊

  30. I did too!

  31. Lars Mathiesen says

    @rosie, Ladefoged has been treated on here a few times before. Since the man grew up in England, he pronounced his name as DE says. And Danes pronounce the name of 1474 people in Denmark totally differently.

    (I assume his parents spoke Danish, if not among themselves then with relatives, so PL cannot have been unaware of that pronunciation. But that’s not relevant to his name).

  32. From his text, Vowels and Consonants:

    In theory, if we wanted to synthesize a sentence such as Black cats bring good luck, we could do it by joining together stored recordings of these words and somehow adding the correct intonation. Many TTS systems do store recordings of vast numbers of words, but this approach won’t work for every sentence. We want to be able to synthesize sentences that contain new words such as names that have become important. The next politician of importance may be called ‘Trinful Spalindic’, and we are unlikely to have that stored. It could even be a relative of mine, and nobody knows how to pronounce Ladefoged. (I pronounce it with the stress on the first syllable, which has the same vowel as in lad. The first two syllables, are in fact the same as the diminutive laddie. The third syllable is just like foe and the final syllable is pronounced with the vowel in did. So the whole thing is ˈlædɪfoʊɡɪd. It’s just two Danish words put together, lade, which means ‘barn’ (the same root as in English larder), and foged, which means ‘steward’. So I’m really Mr Barnkeeper.)

  33. David Eddyshaw says

    Trinful Spalindic is our best hope in these dark days. She’s got what it takes. I reckon she has the Calvinistic Socialist vote pretty much in the bag already.

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    [‘∫pa:ln̩dətʃ], by the way.

    “Trinful” is just as usual for the girl’s name, apart from the stress.

  35. ktschwarz says

    The first two syllables, are in fact the same as the diminutive laddie.

    He pronounces laddie with an /ɪ/ on the end, but I don’t! I don’t think happy-tensing is covered in this book.

  36. Lars Mathiesen says

    Thanks, Y. That is clearly the English-based pronunciation that PT describes, the bit about Danish morphemes is a red herring. [l̤æ̘ː.ð̬ː.foː.ð̬] is what I’m willing to commit to today, I probably said something else last time this came up.

    And it’s more like “barn foreman,” at that. Third in command on the estate after the owner and the hated reave proper (ridefoged).

  37. PlasticPaddy says

    How would the Danish national footballer Delany’s name be pronounced, e.g., by sports commentators?

  38. David Eddyshaw says

    Bah! Happy-tensing is for the followers of /tʃɔmskɪ/.

    We follow the Way of the Ancestors, as revealed to us in Brief Encounter by the Blessed Celia.

  39. PlasticPaddy says

    Re foget, the German name is Vogt (or Voigt with “Dehnungs-i”) from Latin advocatus.

  40. So they just dumped the Latin locative prefix?

  41. David Eddyshaw says

    However, by morphic resonance, avocado means “testicle.” Among other things.

  42. David Eddyshaw says

    Huh. I trusted Frances Karttunen. I – well – I must say that I feel let down.

  43. the German name is Vogt (or Voigt with “Dehnungs-i”
    Just to avoid any confusion, both spellings are common for the last name, but for the noun (now mostly a historical title) only the first spelling is correct.

  44. PlasticPaddy says

    @hans, Y
    I am sorry for not writing more earlier. re advocatus > Vogt, DWDS gives advocātus > Late Latin vocatus (this may have short a and may even have 1st syllable stress by internal (pre) Romance development-Etienne?) > AHD fogā̌t (here the 1st vowel might be long according to later reflexes, but these later reflexes might be due to parallel sound changes). You can probably see why I do not write more, I do not know enough to interpret my sources better than this.😊

  45. John Cowan says

    “Aspects of the X of Y”

    I’m rather partial to “Prolegomena to an Introduction to the Elementary Theory of Z” myself.

    Bah! Happy-tensing is for the followers of /tʃɔmskɪ/.

    Spinach! The Hat, an open and notorious anti-Chomskyite, is a happy-tenser. As am I. (In any case, He Who Must Not Be Named has a normal LOT=PALM vowel, not THOUGHT.)

  46. The Happy Tenser could be a pub or something.

  47. Tenser, said the tensor.
    Tenser, said the tensor.
    Tension, apprehension,
    And dissension have begun.

  48. I’m surprised Republicans never made an issue of Barack Obama’s suspicious lack of happy-tensing.

  49. Stu Clayton says

    I must say that I feel let down.

    That is most fervently to be desired. An undescended avocado is no laughing matter. Forty years ago a friend of mine found out he had one when it got entwisticated on an amusement park ride.

  50. David Eddyshaw says

    True. One should count one’s blessings. (Two.)

  51. Lars Mathiesen says

    @PP, re Delaney: His last match for FCK. Listen at 1:20.

    That’s the best approximation to English phonology you get in Danish.

    Here is a cute subtitled!) clip where his teammates try to identify a faded photo from his earliest days as a footballer. The name is said at 0:44. (There are lots of discourse and other particles left out from the subtitling, of course, it’s for the hard of hearing, not for you).

  52. PlasticPaddy says

    This is excellent. I expected something like DELL-a-nee (same stress as Eriksen). To see how good you are, just compare with when it is the other way round…

  53. David Marjanović says

    here the 1st vowel might be long according to later reflexes, but these later reflexes might be due to parallel sound changes

    If the second vowel was still there when open-syllable lengthening struck, length is inevitable in the first vowel…

    …except in Switzerland, where open-syllable lengthening never reached. The Big Bad of the Tell story is a Landvogt. Anyone know how he’s pronounced locally…?

  54. Stu: I was immediately imagining someone carrying an avocado on a Ferris wheel. My first thoughts were, why would one take an avocado with them on such a ride? And why wouldn’t it descend, like everything else on the ride?

  55. As the fifth Jewish sage said: “it’s all relative”.

  56. Or as Robin Williams said, If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother. (He speaks surprisingly decent Russian in the leadup to that line.)

  57. Lars Mathiesen says

    @PP, Danes learn English from age 9, and our native phoneme inventory covers English pretty well. Default stress is initial, yes, but there are lots of exceptions. We may not always navigate English orthography very well, but once a Dane hears Delaney with second syllable stress and diphthong, it’s copied like that.

    There is lots of phonetic nativization in the pronunciation, a Dane speaking English is rarely hard to spot, but stress and vowels are not the problems. (Now /z/…)

  58. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The one that surprised me was the well known chemist* William Labov (not now but a couple of months ago when I first looked him up) . After seeing his name written for several years by Peter T. Daniels I assumed it was said as a British English speaker would expect, i.e. [‘læbɔf], with almost nothing in common with the way he apparently pronounces it himself. The misplaced stress is, of course, characteristic of how British and American speakers pronounce names – mainly foreign names, like Monod, [mnəʊ̯] in American, [‘mɔnəʊ̯] in British, but also some perfectly good English surnames, like Barnett.

    Does anyone know the origin of the name Labov? It looks vaguely Russian, but if so the final v should surely be [f] — am I wrong about that?

    *I refer to his origins as a chemist because I know it annoys Peter T. Daniels, and what higher aim in life can there be?

  59. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The only Rumanian I ever knew well had a Czech name and grew up in a Hungarian-speaking family. He certainly spoke Rumanian and Hungarian (and English) but I don’t think he spoke Czech. He attended a meeting I organized in Visegrád in 1999, and his Hungarian proved to be very valuable. I needed a Hungarian speak to go in the bus on a tour to Budapest. The Hungarians at the meeting were very unhelpful (“we’ve all seen Budapest before, and don’t need to go on a tour”), but Stefan rose to the task, and did it very well.

  60. PlasticPaddy says

    Here is what I was able to find…
    Фамилия Лабов зародилась из Лыкошино (Тверская область). В актах поселения Торопец – пильщик Станислав Лабов (1702).
    Фамилия Лаба имеет довольно интересную историю происхождения и По одной из версий, фамилия Лаба образована от литовского слова labas – «благо», «добрый, хороший». Возможно, основатель рода Лаба был приятным в общении или милосердным человеком. Согласно другой гипотезе, в основе этой фамилии лежит польское слово laba – «безделье». В этом случае прозвище Лаба мог получить лентяй. Наконец, нельзя исключить, что эта фамилия связана с эстонским словом laba – «гребок».

    Источник: ©
    To paraphrase, the name is attested in Stanislav Labov from 1700 in the Tver region, and it looks like Labov comes from a Polish, Baltic or even Estonian laba or labas.
    Polish laba-idleness
    Lith laba/ labas-good
    Est laba-paddle

  61. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Thanks. Looking up Lykoshino on the map I see that it’s almost exactly half way between Moscow and St Petersburg.

  62. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    … which reminds of an incident that occurred on my first visit to Russia, a school trip to Moscow and Leningrad in 1960. We were accompanied by two masters, one of whom spoke Russian well enough for them to understand him, and he could understand them. The other spoke Russian much less well than he thought. We took the train from Moscow to Leningrad and during the journey he had a conversation in my presence with a Russian, who was too polite to say that he didn’t understand a word. The master told him the story about why the line is not completely straight but had a kink in it. The Russian said, that’s very interesting, and then proceeded to tell exactly the same story.

  63. I am glad they didn’t exchange stories about why Russia uses a wider gauge than Europe.

  64. John Cowan says

    he had a conversation in my presence with a Russian, who was too polite to say that he didn’t understand a word

    Perhaps the Russian thought he was being addressed by one of those crazy Hungarians in his own language, and preserved a judicious (not to say fearful) silence.

  65. Возможно, основатель рода Лаба был приятным в общении или милосердным человеком.

    Or he just had a habit of saying labas rytas/laba diena/labas vakaras/labanaktis ‘good morning/afternoon, etc’

  66. Language Hat: that was creepy. (you quoting The Demolished Man). In the Bulgarian translation that paragraph was typeset as a spiral.

    “Tenser, said the tensor.”

  67. What is it in Bulgarian?

  68. My copy (of the Bulgarian translation of The Demolished Man) is in another city and in an apartment that is currently being renovated, unfortunately.

  69. Actually no, I found the book, but I’ll have to read the whole book to find the phrase. I think it was somewhere near the end? I might just read it again in Bulgarian until I encounter the phrase, it’s not too long.

    It’s “Дай зор с този тензор.”

  70. Sorry for triple posting, but I just found it before the edit timer expired: it’s “Дай зор с този тензор.” — “зор” and “тензор” rhyme, a good translation I think. I don’t know how to translate “зор”, though — “urgency”? “Give it urgency with that tensor”?

    “Зор” is a noun and “tense” an adjective, but “дай зор” means “give it urgency / it is tense”.

  71. Yes, I like that — thanks for taking the trouble to find it!

  72. John Cowan says

    I’m surprised Republicans never made an issue of Barack Obama’s suspicious lack of happy-tensing.

    Nor of [dʒɪmɪ k(j)ɑtə]’s, either. Not everything is politicized.

  73. January First-of-May says

    I’m a little surprised that Israeli Roni Katzir’s name is written with an [r]. I’d expect the two r’s to be [ʀ].

    As far as I could tell from Wikipedia’s descriptions of Hebrew phonology, Standard Hebrew would indeed put a straight [r] in there, while Modern Hebrew would probably use [ʁ̞] or something very similar.
    (The pronunciation used by Roni Katzir personally would probably depend on their ethnic and cultural background, which I don’t know enough about to comment; the name is generic Israeli, of the kind that get adopted at immigration, so says nothing about his origin.)

    However, by morphic resonance, avocado means “testicle.”

    Indeed; a natural metaphor given the fruit’s shape, especially if (as seems likely) the 16th century version would have been much smaller than the modern ones.
    (The translation usually given as confirmation actually literally means “companion”, but AFAICT there are other sources supporting the body part meaning.)

    Russian, of course, compares the body part in question with eggs instead, and English with nuts – which are, if anything, a bit smaller than that.

  74. Colloquial German goes with Russian here.

  75. JfoM: I’d assumed he was Ashkenazi, maybe because Israel’s most famous brothers Katzir were formerly Kachalsky: both were professors; Aharon died in a terrorist attack, and Ephraim later served as the Israeli president. I wouldn’t be surprised if Roni is related. But as you say, you can’t tell.

    Mizrahis and Sephardis use [ʀ]~[ʁ] more often these days, even some who still retain some [ħ] and [ʕ].

  76. The pronunciation of Trudgill [tɹˈʌdɡˌɪl] reflects its origin from Threadgold.

  77. Where does the convention come from of marking an accent before the syllable nucleus? IPA marks it before the onset.

  78. @Y : Gouskova herself, who says “I mark stresses before the stressed vowels because life is too short to try to figure out the syllabification in some of these names”

  79. David Marjanović says

    Where does the convention come from of marking an accent before the syllable nucleus?

    It seems pretty common in German, with the express (and greatly exaggerated) justification that syllable boundaries are hard.

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