Monday, 7 December 2009

Vygotsky, Ausubel

Rosa Azucena Ledesma wrote
I would like to know how Ausubel and Vygotsky are pronounced in an English context. As regards the latter, some colleagues pronounce it /vɪ/ and some others /vaɪ/. I’d like to know which the correct one is.
My brief answer was that I don’t know. I have never studied educational psychology, and although I have seen these names in writing I am not aware of ever having heard anyone say them aloud.
If I had thought it necessary to include them in LPD, I would have had to do some research. I would have checked various reference books plus Wikipedia. I would have asked one or two psychologist colleagues at UCL. I might have approached the BBC Pronunciation Unit to see if they could help.

To take Vygotsky first: he was Russian (or Belorussian?), and Wikipedia shows his name as Лев Семёнович Выготский or Леў Сямёнавіч Выгоцкі (1896-1934). That tells us that the surname is pronounced vɨˈɡɔtskʲɪj or vɨˈɣɔtskʲi. Clearly the closest anglicization is with vɪ-, not vaɪ-. Depending on your criteria for correctness, that is presumably also the “correct” one: BrE vɪˈɡɒtski. Would Americans say vɪˈɡɑːtski or vɪˈɡoʊtski? I’d have to enquire (or possibly inquire).

The other name Ausubel, is more difficult. It looks as if it is German, though in German Ausübel would literally be “out-evil”, which seems an odd kind of name to have. So perhaps it isn’t German after all. In any case it doesn’t really matter, since the psychologist David Ausubel (1918-2008) was an American, born in New York. American anglicizations of foreign surnames are notoriously difficult for non-Americans to predict. They are generally based on the spelling, so I can surmise he might have been ˈɔːzəbl, but would not be at all confident about that. There’s no substitute for getting hold of someone from his family, or people familiar with him and his work — and asking.
Possibly some reader of this blog will know…

17 comments:

  1. Quite a few "ausuebel" hits with Google, but that doesn't explain much, as you wrote. Concerning the pronunciation, why not send a short mail to one of the many people of that name?

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  2. Well, I might if I really needed to know. The subtext here is that people write to me to ask things which they could discover for themselves if THEY really needed to know.

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  3. I woulda guessed French for Ausubel.

    www.languagehat.com is really good for names and all things Russian, so I really hope he reads this blog, since this question is right up his alley. In fact, I think I'll just tell him.

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  4. Of course.

    Anyway, it seems to be a Galician-Jewish name. Concerning the etymology, I couldn't find a matching place name even considering possible phonetic changes, neither does it make much sense as a Hebrew or Aramaic word. I found only very few instances of Oisibel (none for Oisubel), so that this is probably a not untypical incorrect transcription from Hebrew letters rather than the original, non-Germanised form.

    It might be aus + übel after all, with the meaning "may the evil be over." Doesn't really convince me, though, especially as a family, not a first name.

    The -el might be the diminutive suffix, then the question remains what (or where) Ausüb, Oisib or the like is. The German verb ausüben, without a Yiddish equivalent?)

    Maybe some form of Joseph, but that would have gone through several languages, not straight from Hebrew or Yiddish.

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  5. Sili, the "of course" was in reply to what JW had said, not a snidy remark to you.

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  6. Sili alerted me to this thread, so here I am. Your statement that an anglicized version of Vygotsky should use vi- rather than vai- is certainly correct; as for the stress, Vygotsky himself would have accented the first syllable, which is how it is marked in my reference books (the name is presumably from the village of Vygoda, also stressed on the first syllable). Judging by the Russian Wikipedia article, Russians now stress it on the second syllable, presumably on the model of more common names such as Vysotsky (and following a general tendency that's also seen in current Ke-REN-sky for traditional KE-rensky); everyone must decide for themselves whether to anglicize it as VEE-gutsky (reflecting his own pronunciation) or Vee-GOT-sky (as Russians now say it), but I suppose the latter fits more comfortably in an English context.

    According to pronouncenames.com, Ausubel is oss-suh-BELL.

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  7. I like Lipman's idea of Oisibel being a diminutive of Oisip for Joseph.

    pronouncenames.com's oss-suh-BELL is not very convincing. An ossome number of s's (to force ɑ or ɒ instead of ɔː?] and final stress? Back to Lipman's idea of ringing some of these people up, I think.

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  8. Mallamb - pronouncenames.com gives an alternate pronunciation as well - "aw s uh b eh l", which apparently mean ɔːsʌbɛl, with indeterminate stress.

    http://www.pronouncenames.com/search?name=ausubel

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  9. The name Vygotsky gets bandied about a fair bit in some of the circles I move in, and is consistently BrE vɪˈɡɒtski / AmE vɪˈɡɑ:tski.

    'aus + Übel' seems unlikely as an origin of Ausubel, though that wouldn't necessarily have much bearing on how the name's pronounced, anyway. I've heard it, though not very often, as ˈɔ:zjəbl.

    Interest in Vygotsky's work is on the increase, and I'd suggest him, at least, as a candidate for the LPD.

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  11. Please, check this link, there you have the English pronunciation of Ausubel. Pay attention to second 9... Is it /ˈɒzəbl/?

    "Eye to Eye: Jesse Ausubel (CBS News)"
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa8ZF8FudHc

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  12. Good find, thanks!

    It sounds like /ˈɒzəbɛl/ to me. But the first vowel might be /ˈɔ:/, I don't know enough about cot/caught mergers to tell. The last vowel is definitely /ɛl/. Of course, it's not her own name...

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  13. Leo, I agree 100% with your transcription ˈɒzəbɛl. The first vowel certainly doesn’t seem to be /ɑ/, but it is too short to be ɔ:. However I think US speakers would perceive it as a non-long ɔ. This is not a matter of what competent linguists could actually agree to hear, but of how they represent it. You may have observed I got told off by John Cowan for representing US 'moths' as [mɑðz] or [mɒðz]. He said "Probably you heard [ɔ] ~ [ɔ:] (remember that length isn't phonemic to Americans) in moths. That would be the expected outcome for people like me (THOUGHT=CLOTH, LOT=PALM), whereas [ɑ] appears in the speech of those of us who merge all four."

    And I think I really need to give my answer to that again: "Of course I heard what is usually transcribed as [ɔ] ~ [ɔ:], but this is a perverse transcription phonetically speaking. Very far from Cardinal, and so open and unrounded that to an Englishman it sounds more like [ɑ], which I know appears in the speech of those of you who merge all four. My point is that even with that vowel you do get [mɑðz] with voicing in Am. Obviously you get it in [mɒðz], which following lexicographical conventions based on perceived parallels with BrE you think of as having [ɔ] or [ɔ:]."

    What you and I both hear on the CBS recording is I think actually closer to [ɔ] than what I was talking about there, but as Brits we agree that ɒ is still the symbol for what we hear. You say you don't know enough about cot/caught mergers to tell whether the first vowel might be /ɔ:/, but that is only because you have it in solidi and are wondering whether you ought to defer to US usage, which would be to talk about kɑt/kɔt. You probably don’t have that merger yourself, and would as a Brit write kɒt/kɔːt for your own opposition, but would probably prefer as I do to say the US merger is between [ɑ] and [ɒ]. And you don't need to know enough about cot/caught mergers to do the transcription!

    The pronouncenames.com pronunciation "aw s uh b eh l" that you gave me, which you say apparently means ɔːsʌbɛl, with indeterminate stress, therefore means to me ɒ(ː)səˈbɛl. The guide isn’t in fact indeterminate as to stress, as it gives languagehat's oss-suh-BELL further down, saying:
    oss - rhymes with boss
    suh - rhymes with duh
    Which looks less like ɔː than you earlier supposed in your transcription ɔːsʌbɛl, which you got from the chart giving
    aw – law
    uh - up
    eh - pet

    I think we can agree on lɒ and əp, and lɒ being open could easily be as long as [lɒː] (but they are simply being careless about phonetic length, since it is not phonemic for them – 'duh' is equally unhelpful), but boss is quite capable of being [bas] or [bɒs] or even [bɔs], and if it is intended to be short here, it would in fact be giving the pronunciation we hear on the CBS recording, apart from the voicing of the s.

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  14. What I meant about cot/caught was that if the CBS announcer had been representing it to herself as /ˈɔ:zəbɛl/ - perhaps on the basis of orthographic "au" - then I doubt I could reliably distinguish the result of that from her /ˈɒzəbɛl/, particularly since I don't know anything about her. Of course the vowel that we hear is nothing like cardinal [ɔ], but I hadn't the confidence to conclude that it definitely wasn't phonemic "au" as in caught.

    As for pronouncenames.com, I think the two versions they give - "aw s uh b eh l" and "oss-suh-BELL" - are two completely different attempts by different people using different transcriptive methods. You are right that the second one has final stress, but if I'm right, the first one was provided by somebody else and simply omits stress, so cannot be taken to support the stress pattern of the other. (Notice how there are separate links for evaluating/correcting the two different prons.)

    Voicing of the s - yes, I actually had to think for a bit about whether to transcribe /z/ or /s/. She might even be deliberately making it ambiguous in order to hedge her bets - I imagine many of us would start doing that if our jobs involved pronouncing unfamiliar names on network television.

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  15. LOL. Such sophistication in an announcer!

    But I really do wonder about this business of people "representing things to themselves". I can't see how the announcer would represent it to herself as being marked as long, at any rate, and the orthographic "au" would hardly imply that to a US speaker for whom length isn’t phonemic. So why should anyone be able to "reliably distinguish the result of that from her /ˈɒzəbɛl/"? She wouldn’t have an /ˈɒzəbɛl/ in the first place if it weren’t for our preferences for its "representation"!

    So yes, yes! The vowel that we hear is nothing like cardinal [ɔ], but that is indeed no reason to conclude that it wasn't phonemic "au" as in caught.

    – As for pronouncenames.com, I think the two versions they give - "aw s uh b eh l" and "oss-suh-BELL" - are two completely different attempts by different people using different transcriptive methods. You are right that the second one has final stress, but if I'm right, the first one was provided by somebody else and simply omits stress, so cannot be taken to support the stress pattern of the other. (Notice how there are separate links for evaluating/correcting the two different prons.)

    You're right, of course. I should have familiarized myself with the site's conventions.

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  16. David Marjanović12 December 2009 22:08

    and following a general tendency that's also seen in current Ke-REN-sky for traditional KE-rensky

    The good man started his autobiography by complaining that everyone gets it wrong and stresses him on the second syllable, while the stress goes on the first because the name comes from the river Kerenka which is also (and just as unexpectedly) stressed on the first syllable.

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  17. This was really clear for me: "Wikipedia shows his name as Лев Семёнович Выготский or Леў Сямёнавіч Выгоцкі. That tells us that the surname is pronounced vɨˈɡɔtskʲɪj or vɨˈɣɔtskʲi" I have no idea what any of those symbols mean.

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