Thursday, 28 January 2010

Aristotle

Kevin Tang asked me about the pronunciation of the name of the Greek philosopher Aristotle.
I pronounce it with the stress on the first syllable, ˈærɪstɒtl, and that is the only stress pattern I show in LPD.
Kevin, who is a Cantonese speaker from Hong Kong, says he has always pronounced it with the main stress on the third syllable (-tot-), and has discovered that an on-line pronunciation dictionary, howjsay, seems to agree with him.
I should explain that the website in question is “A free online Talking Dictionary of English Pronunciation” in which you can call up a sound file of any of some 128,000 words. They are all spoken, I think, by the author of the website, Tim Bowyer, who is clearly British. Jack Windsor Lewis blogged about this site a few days ago.
And it’s true: Tim pronounces ærɪsˈtɒtl. Listen!
What can I say? I told Kevin
My reaction would be that this is simply an error, or more politely an
idiosyncratic pronunciation.
People who have not been taught classics or philosophy by a live teacher can easily create idiosyncratic pronunciations on the basis of the spelling, because (as you well know) English spelling does not clearly indicate pronunciation.
Classicists and philosophers, believe me, stress Aristotle on the first
syllable.

At least Tim Bowyer pronounces epistle, apostle and pestle the way I do.
It is not 100% clear to me just why Aristotle is pronounced the way it is. Given his Greek name Ἀριστοτέλης Aristotélēs, you would expect him to have the same name in English, Aristoteles, and for it to be pronounced ˌærɪˈstɒtəliːz. (Compare Praxiteles.) Like other Greek names, it would have passed through Latin and become subject to the Latin stress rule (light penultimate syllable, therefore antepenultimate stress).
But this must be one of the rather few classical names that has taken on a distinctive English form rather than keeping the Latin form. Other examples would be the Roman/Latin names Livy ˈlɪvi for Livius, Ovid ˈɒvɪd for Ovidius, and Horace ˈhɒrɪs for Horatius and the Greek names Homer ˈhəʊmə for Ὅμηρος, Hómēros (Latin Homerus), Hesiod ˈhiːsiəd for Ἡσίοδος Hēsíodos (Latin Hesiodus), and Pindar ˈpɪndə for Πίνδαρος Pindaros (Latin Pindarus). I don’t know why we have these special English forms: for most classical names we just stick with the Latin.
To get back to Aristotle: given the underlying representation ærɪstɒtl with a final non-syllabic l, Chomsky and Halle’s SPE rules would predict that the main stress would indeed fall on the heavy final syllable (i.e. on the ɒ), but that the word would then be subject to the Alternating Stress Rule moving the main stress back to the initial syllable (i.e. stressing the vowel æ). Result!
So the pronunciation favoured by Kevin and Tim would constitute an exception to the ASR, in just the same way as words such as final-stressed guarantee, macaroon, chimpanzee etc. are exceptions to it. The pronunciation favoured by everyone else would be the regular one.

45 comments:

  1. Hmm, in my experience the standard pronunciation in Australia is with the third syllable stress, as described by Kevin Tang. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard it pronounced the way you say it, even amongst the handful of classicists of my acquaintance. And in that pronunciation, the final /l/ is (I'm pretty sure) syllabic.

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  2. Oh, the final l is certainly syllabic. It's only Chomsky and Halle's stress rules that require final syllabic consonants to be treated as if they were nonsyllabic. In the real world they're syllabic, or resolved into ə plus consonant.

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  3. "Classicists and philosophers, believe me, stress Aristotle on the first syllable."

    Are you trying to scare away mere dabblers in philosophy?

    I dunno, John, but I'd wager a public mea culpa (on my blog or on yours) that you're in the minority here as far as sheer numbers go. The US, in my cloistered experience, goes TOT on this one. If we add in Australia per Dez, and then the Tim Boyers of the world, your numbers are looking pretty grim.

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  4. philosophers, believe me, stress Aristotle on the first syllable

    Not Australian philosophers, though. At least not in the Monty Python rendition. (Warning: YouTube link.)

    That's where I learned my /ærɪsˈtɒtl/ from ;)

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  5. Clearly I was wrong... we live and learn. However I should point out that Macquarie Dictionary (Australian) gives only initial stress; so too do Webster's Collegiate (American), the American Heritage Dictionary, and the Kenyon and Knott Pron Dict of AmE.

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  6. I am miffed to see that wjarek got in there first with the Monty Python reference, but I have one observation to add. Since the members of the Philosophy Department of the University of Woolloomooloo also pronounce "René" as ['reni] and "Friedrich" as ['fraɪdrɪk], I always assumed that their pronunciation of "Aristotle" in that song was merely dictated by the metric setting. I am surprised to learn that it reflects actual Australian pronunciation.

    As for Beijing Sounds' claim that in the US, philosophers and classicists commonly stress "Aristotle" on the third syllable, I can tell you as someone who was student or instructor in philosophy departments in the US for over twenty years that if anyone pronounced the name in that fashion in my hearing, it escaped my notice, or at least has escaped my recollection. First-syllable stress is certainly more common.

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  7. I think Cleese et al. knew full well that the stress was off; they are Oxbridge people, aren't they? And that's precisely why they used the form. (The second possibility is, of course, making it fit with the metre of the song.)

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  8. @MKR: Sorry for repeating your point, I hadn't refreshed before posting.

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  9. I've only ever heard the primary stress on the third syllable in Canada:

    [ˌɛrɪsˈtɑtl]

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  10. Oh my. I'm afraid I have a real gem for you, from that pronunciation dictionary: Aristotle. Food for thought ;)

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  11. "The Princess Bride":
    Man in Black: You're that smart?
    Vizzini: Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?
    Man in Black: Yes.
    Vizzini: Morons.

    My recollection was that Wallace Shawn had third-syllable stress, but
    at 0m48s in this Youtube clip I'm not sure.

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  12. I'm US, classics major 50 years ago, and I certainly have a stress on both the 1st and 3rd syllable. I think the 1st syllable is more prominent, but I can't really tell.

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  13. I don’t know why we have these special English forms

    Also Tully for Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Chaucer's Boece for Boethius. I think that at one time there were anglicized names for all the famous fellows of antiquity, but all except the very commonest were lost in favor of learnèd forms around the 18th century or so.

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  14. For certain drunken N Americans it might:
    ˈɛrɪstlˈlɑtl?
    ˌɛrɪstlˌlɑtl?

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  15. @John Cowan: Don't forget "Austin" for the famous Bishop of Hippo!

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  17. I have spent time in Philosophy departments in both the UK and US (mostly in the 1990s), and I do not remember ever hearing anything other than first-syllable stress in "Aristotle"

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  18. @wjarek:

    What a bizarre transcription. Why the non-syllabic /l/ in the final syllable?

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  19. @vp: Don't ask me. That's what you get in the ODPCE. This entry shows at least two other contentious points that have been discussed on here recently: the /a/ for BrE TRAP (well, this one I think is defendable), and the indiscriminate /d/ for both /d/ and voiced/tapped /t/ in AmE. The non-syllabic /l/ just adds insult to injury. I think it makes it look as if the principles used for BrE are in fact different from those for AmE. Or maybe I'm missing something.

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  20. John, I followed up Jack Windsor Lewis's blog entry of a few days ago to which you refer. His admiration for the heroism of the howjsay enterprise seems to have made him less critical than you, though presumably he had not lit on Aristotle, on which I should have thought we could all agree. However he professes less than admiration for your 'optimism' in inviting comments, so I hope you do not mind my commenting here.

    He is certainly right to say "French items are at times too French to be realistic models for users of English", but among the more realistic he includes "kʀiː də `kɜː". That would already be UNrealistic for French, which is "cri du coeur", but what I hear on howjsay is [kʀi də ˈkœːʀ] which is even more absurd.

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  21. In his Golden Globe Award winning song "Until", Sting sings: "If I was smart as Aristotle", placing the stress on the third syllable, apperently to fit the rhythm.

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  22. I'm a British man educated in Classics and I've only ever heard and used the form with the stress on the third syllable

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  23. I've never heard anything but the form with stress on the third syllable here in the U.S., from philosophers or others. That's also the form I have always used.

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  24. Names of other authors I can think of off hand are

    Terence Publius Terentius Afer
    Sallust Gaius Salustius Crispus
    Plutarch Πλούταρχος changing his name to Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus (Μέστριος Πλούταρχος)
    Quintilian Marcus Fabius Quintilianus
    Martial Marcus Valerius Martialis
    Virgil Publius Vergilius Maro -- a change of spelling as well as a lost ending

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  25. I forgot

    Juvenal Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis

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  26. I'm a college student from Massachusetts and I've always used and (as best I can remember) heard the initial-stress pronunciation, until just last week when I heard someone use the penultimate-stress version, which struck me as quite odd. The horrible thing is I can't even remember if it was a professor or a student who said it, but they were a native anglophone.

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  27. For most Americans, the initial-stress version sounds very odd. I have an extremely hard time believing you had never heard the penultimate-stress version until last week. That's okay though.

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  28. It could be a regional difference, but I have a hard time believing that even.

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  29. @Anonymous: Where did you get this "most Americans" figure? For reference, the initial-stress version is the only pronunciation listed at dictionary.com and m-w.com.

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  30. Just doing a cursory search, most (though not all) of the Americans that I can find on YouTube saying "Aristotle", use the initial-stress version as I expected.

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  31. Could it be that there are two widely co-existing pronunciations that sound similar enough to each other that the difference is not noted?

    For example, I have first-syllable stressed (like JW). But if someone pronounced "Aristotle" with third syllable primary stress and a decent secondary stress on the first syllable, my brain might interpret this in line with what I was expecting (i.e. first syllable primary stress).

    Perhaps this explains the disagreements in this comments thread.

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  32. I'm American and I put the stress on the first syllable: /ˈɛrɪstɑtl̩/. (I double-majored in classics and linguistics as an undergrad.) I also pronounce Hesiod /ˈhɛsiəd/ with the DRESS vowel rather than the FLEECE vowel in the first syllable.

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  33. I still think most (normal) Americans pronounce it with stress on the penultimate syllable. I think people who pronounce it the other way had to learn to pronounce it that way, therefore it isn't their natural pronunciation. They must have thought it was somehow better than their natural pronunciation.

    Dictionary.com often doesn't list very common pronunciation variants. For example, if you look up the word "catch", it doesn't even list the variant with DRESS, despite the fact that it's a very common pronunciation in America. Yes, I'm aware that it does list this variant if you scroll down to American Heritage, but Dictionary.com itself doesn't.

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  36. "I think people who pronounce it the other way had to learn to pronounce it that way, therefore it isn't their natural pronunciation. They must have thought it was somehow better than their natural pronunciation."

    I can tell you firsthand that that's nonsense - I just wrote that I was unaware of the other pronunciation until recently. In any case, I'm highly dubious of your claim that the penultimate stress is predominant. I think you've fallen into the common trap of imputing your speech characteristics onto the majority.

    EDIT - "Obvious and stupid. At least I know I'm right though."

    Ah, we merely have a troll on our hands.

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  38. I have deleted two anonymous posts. Let's not descend to invective.

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  39. I'm in the US (California), not especially educated in the Classics but did have exposure to them in my intro humanities courses, and I pronounce it with third syllable stress. The first syllable stress sounds odd to me (seeing that other Americans above mentioned being from the East, maybe it's a regional thing?).

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  40. The pronunciation, ``Aris`totle, (primary stress on the third syllable, secondary stress on the first) patterns with the majority of double-stressed proper names in English. Roger Kingdon (1958[1966]), in Section 14 of 'The Groundwork of English Stress' states "They are almost all foreign names, and the great majority are pronounced with four syllables." The list on pg25 includes mainly Greek and Italian examples, e.g. ``Aphro`dite, ``Leo`nardo, ``Gali`leo, but there is also ``Hia`watha. For this set of words the Alternating Stress Rule would not apply (consistent with SPE). I suspect that native speakers of English apply this stress pattern as a default to foreign names and places. Those speakers who know the stress pattern in the originating language may opt for that pronunciation instead resulting in variant patterns.

    The pronunciation `Aristotle, with primary stress on the first syllable, is also possible of course given the optional nature of the Alternating Stress Rule.

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  41. I stand corrected, thanks! I'll amend the howjsay entry to " 'ari..., also 'totl " - I feel I have to add the 'also', if only in light of the above posts.

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  42. Tim,
    You have my greatest admiration for being so interactive. I'm afraid some of us were too ready to assume that you had abandoned this baby on which you had lavished so much heroic dedication.

    So do you feel inclined to also respond to Jack Windsor Lewis's reservation that "French items are at times too French to be realistic models for users of English"? I was complaining that even among the more realistic he includes "kʀiː də `kɜː". That would already be UNrealistic for French, which is "cri du coeur", but what I hear on howjsay is [kʀi də ˈkœːʀ] which is in a beautiful French accent, but inappropriately so!

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  43. Thanks Mallamb - I take non-English entries case by case, but normally I give the anglicised pron followed by the non-English pron (if I feel capable of approximating to it!). I have already amended the entry for cri de coeur, with thanks to Jack Lewis for pointing this out - the French pron is now for "du" rather than "de".

    Please forgive me if I do not always find time to respond to these posts - each day I have to trawl through some 50,000 unsuccessful searches in order to identify new entries for howjsay, so my time is a bit limited.

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