Friday, 29 January 2010

Bessacarr

My late aunt lived in a village on the edge of Doncaster called Bessacarr. You’d think it would be pronounced ˈbesəkɑː. But you’d be wrong: it’s ˈbesəkə.
The weakening of unstressed vowels is one of the trickiest areas in the pronunciation of British proper names. Those who first encounter them in writing tend to make them strong, while those who have local/personal familiarity with them know to weaken them.
The town of Todmorden in the Pennines (pictured) is most usually ˈtɒdmədən or just tɒd, though you can also hear ˈtɒdmɔːdən. (According to Wikipedia it can also be ˈtɔːmdn, though I rather suspect that this is no more than a Wikipedia contributor’s joke, particularly since English phonotactic rules would require an extra schwa, ˈtɔːmdən.)
In North Yorkshire there’s a village called Dishforth. It has an RAF station generally known (I think) as ˈɑːr eɪ ef ˈdɪʃfɔːθ. But the locals call their village ˈdɪʃfəθ.
I was at school with a chap called Spofforth ˈspɒfɔːθ. But the village of Spofforth near Harrogate is ˈspɒfəθ, which according to the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary is also for that matter the usual pronunciation of the surname.
Most English villages called Marden are of course ˈmɑːdn. But the one in Kent is also sometimes mɑːˈden.
Spelling pronunciation is a powerful influence. The place I know as ˈæskət, Ascot in Berkshire, is often heard as ˈæskɒt.
Even in America things are not necessarily as you might expect. Think of Poughkeepsie pəˈkɪpsi.

24 comments:

  1. Isn't that a pattern in Kent?

    Those who (have to) buy tickets to the Royal Enclosure tend to say Ascott, I hear.

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  2. There’s an industrial estate in Cornwall (where many a book on linguistics has been printed) called ‘Trecerus’, pronounced locally trəˈzɪəriz, which remains my all-time favourite shibboleth.

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  3. The less said about Slaithwaite, the better ...

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  4. But of course the Kent Marden is etymologically different from others and forms part of a set of Kentish names with -den which are stressed on the last syllable (or so I understood, and as Lipman seems to say). We might also mention Bearsden near Glasgow, which like so many names in this part of the world is stressed on the last syllable by Scots but not in England. I seem to remember the first National Lottery draw involved a linkup with a school in Bearsden, which the presented apparently pronounced [ˈbɪəzdən]. (It's the valley (dene) of boars not bears, by the way.)

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  5. John, I've seen plenty of Wikicisms of which it was obvious that you couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with them, but I don't think by 'Wikipedia contributor’s joke' you mean to imply that Wiktionary etc. transcriptions are a joke all round. Are you ever a contributor yourself? I was for a while, but it seemed a hopeless task.

    Lipman and Harry, I don't think I've ever heard Tenterden with even secondary stress, but who knows these days? And am I flogging a dead secondary-stress horse on the long-dead 'calliope' thread of 19th inst.?

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  6. Poughkeepsie pəˈkɪpsi

    Or for that matter, Pierre, the capital of South Dakota, which is locally /ˈpɪər/.

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  8. In the Wikipedia article, ˈtɔːmdn has two references for it at footnote 4. I've just checked one of them and it says tɔːmdɪn rather than ˈtɔːmdn.

    The strangest one for me is "Shrewsbury". The people of the town call it ʃru:zbri and that would be the spelling pronunciation as well. So why do so many people call it ʃrəʊzbri?

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  9. Bessacarr is near Doncaster. I've noticed that the BBC '''always''' calls the town 'dɒnkəstə. This is strange when most people say either 'dɒnkastə (Northern) or 'dɒnkɑːstə (Southern). It's as if the BBC gives strict guidelines on this particular town's name. It's been the news a lot lately for unfortunate reasons.

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  10. re Doncaster: the BBC Dict indeed gives ˈdɒŋkəstə (not ˈdɒn-), and that's also my own usual pron. If I put on a northern accent, though, I change it to -kastə. Same with Lancaster. It's like switching from my normal əkˈsept (accept) to northern akˈsept.

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  11. My in-laws live near Shrewsbury and they tell me that a traditional pronunciation of the name is [ʃʊzbri].

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  12. On Doncaster:

    Speaking as someone from South Yorkshire, but not Doncaster itself, I've always used the /a/ version.

    I think the reduced version is quite common amongst Southerners, but the /ɑː/ version (which is what I intuitively expect Southerners to use) is certainly out there as well. I've heard all three versions from people I'd consider RP speakers, and am not terribly impressed by the BBC guide only giving one pronunciation.

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  13. I live in Sheffield now, and am originally from West Yorkshire. You don't seem to get the same consistency with, say, Castleford, in which the BBC may use /a/ or /ɑː/.

    I noticed during PMQ this week that Gordon Brown calls it ˈdɒŋkastə whereas David Cameron calls it ˈdɒŋkəstə. All the Southerners I have known have called it ˈdɒŋkɑːstə, but that might just be pot luck.

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  14. I've picked up enough s(h)ibbolets that I know have to remind myself that element 97 isn't /'barklɪəm/.

    It's a pity that there haven't been any prominent chemists named Featherstonehaugh.

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  15. Is there anything in the idea that the authentic pronunciation of "Shrewsbury" was thought to be /ʃrəʊzbri/ because that was how the locals pronounced /ʃru:zbri/?

    John M's ʃʊzbri suggests that even this /ʃru:zbri/ that they were pronouncing [ʃrəʊzbri] may have been a spelling-pronunciation.

    So the answer to the question why so many people call it ʃrəʊzbri would be that for whatever reason that has become the accepted norm. But in the meantime the dialect speakers would have given place to locals who are either no longer dialect speakers themselves, and therefore pronounce it the way their predecessors had intended to pronounce it all along, or blow-ins who have spelling-pronounced it back to /ʃru:zbri/!

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  16. Here in Massachusetts, it's not uncommon to hear the locals referring to our Shrewsbury as ['ʃu:zbɛri], "shoes-berry".

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  17. Who was it who said she couldn't quite believe that there was a whole country where people called ˈgu:sbɛriz ˈgʊzbrɪz?

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  18. "Southwell" in Nottinghamshire is another place with a distinctive pronunciation. I have only ever heard it pronounced ˈsʌðl, but according to this BBC website some locals pronounce it as if two separate words: south + well:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/nottingham/content/articles/2005/08/24/southwell_suthell_feature.shtml

    I don't think it's always correct to assume that the predominant local pronunciation is the "authentic" one -- whatever that might mean.

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  19. Mallamb - I call them ˈɡuːsbɛriːz, even though I'm fully aware that this is non-standard in the UK. I also call scallops ˈskæləps. As soon as a spelling pronunciation achieves any status at all, I'm in favour of it.

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  20. Good to hear from you again. Leo. If you were hoping that might be provocative, I have forestalled you: I have already said "English pronunciation may eventually get back in synch with English spelling, and the spelling reformers will be out of a job."

    For the context, see http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2010/01/pestle.html?showComment=1264531557922#c4831482966215553624

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  21. Hello again Mallamb.

    əʊn day I'll think of something original, I promise!

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  22. I agree that the weakening of unstressed vowels is difficult to remember when pronouncing, e.g., "Birmingham" or "Nottingham".

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  23. Cogenhoe near Milton Keyens is pronounced "Cuckno"
    And when I lived near Nor-famton (as the locals prounounced it there is a village call Duston which you would pronounce Duston, but in Nor-famton they pronounced it Dusson, except in Dusson itslef where they reverted to Duston. I reasoned that Nor-famtonians applied the familiar because they might go or navigate by it, and use the name. In hte village they would more likely say they were going into the village or the pub etc so by diminished usage it was easier to say it more phonetically, but that was just a theory.

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  24. I think I've found the reason why /ʃrəʊzbri/ is so common. The announcer of football results says /ʃrəʊzbrɪ/. As England is so football-obsessed, how well-known a town is often linked to the success of its football team (think of tiny Blackburn) and the announcer's pronunciation is influential. However, that doesn't solve the puzzle of how /ʃrəʊzbri/ ever came to be used in the first place.

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