Monday, 1 February 2010

English as she are talked

Although I've not teased her about it for some time, for a while there was much good natured ribbing over accents and the apparent difficulty in pronouncing "Warwickshire".

But surnames, like place names, will often retain a spelling from five hundred or even a thousand years ago while the pronunciation changes with emigration, education or isolation.

Some examples of surnames not pronounced as they are spelt:

Beaconsfield - Beckonsfield
Beauchamp - Beecham
Belvoir - Beaver
Cholmondeley - Chumley
Marjoribanks - Marchbanks
Wemys - Weems
Hairstones - Hastings
Eyre - Air
Geoffrey - Jeffrey
Colquhoun - Cohoon
Urquhart - Urhart or Urkurt
Dyllwyn - Dillun
Waldegrave - Walgrave
Cockburn - Coburn
Mainwaring - Mannering
Cowper - Cooper
Froude - Frood
Knollys - Knowles
Gower - Gor
Meux - Mews
Kerr - Car
McLeod - McCloud
Ruthven - Ri’ven
St. John - Sin Jin
St. Clair - Sinkler
Bourne - Burn
Featherstonehaugh - Fanshaw

Additionally, the printed page will alter the way a word is pronounced. In Scots (also known as Lowland Scots) there was no Z (Zed). There was however a character called a Yogh. This made a nj sound (smiliar to the ñ in Spanish).

The character looked like this: .

With the introduction of moveable type, it was found easier to substitute the Z block for the Yogh and just pronounce it the right way. But lack of education and an influx of people who could read English but not Scots gave a shift with such names as Menzies or McKenzie, which should be pronounced mingis and makenyie respectively.

Is it any wonder that the old practice of "sound the word out" will only further confuse rather than assist though who read the language rather than speak it.


Andy said...

And then, as you say, there are the place names, from Beaulieu (b'you-lee) to Happisburgh (haze-burrah). Not to mention Wymondham (Wind'm) and Wymondley (Wy-mondly).

Interesting post, thanks.

AD (formerly, Random Merryman).

Rhianon Jameson said...

Rightly or wrongly, some of those historical pronounciations don't migrate well. Fort Belvoir, down the road a bit from my typist, seems to be pronounced "Bel-vore" around these parts.

I recall the James Bond movie "View to a Kill" in which Bond (accompanied by Patrick McNee, of all people) infiltrates a posh gathering posing as "James St. John Smythe" which, of course, he pronounces "Sinjin." It was not until my third viewing of the movie that I understood what he was saying.

Galactic Baroque said...

Worchester, Massechusetts, is pronouned "Wooster," or "Woostah" in the local accent.