Thursday, 22 April 2010

proven

I don’t know enough about the history of our spelling to be able to explain with certainty the oddity of having the letter o correspond to the pronunciation in the words move (and remove) and prove (approve, improve, reprove), but I assume we have to blame those Norman clerks who didn’t like to write u next to the then identical v. Awareness of the etymology may have played a part, too, given that these verbs come from Latin movēre, probāre.
Despite the spelling–pronunciation anomaly, there is no tendency at all to regularize the position by adopting a spelling pronunciation. No one says məʊv instead of muːv, or prəʊv instead of pruːv.
But people in Britain do quite often say ˈprəʊvən rather than the expected ˈpruːvən for proven. This is one of the two possible past participles of prove, alongside proved. To some extent it has taken on a life of its own as a prenominal adjective (as when we say “a proven track record”, though never “a proved track record”).
The variant ˈprəʊvən seems to be quite recent. It is not mentioned in EPD prior to Roach’s editorship. Unless someone can prove the contrary, I shall tentatively claim that LPD was the first dictionary to include it, just twenty years ago.
According to OBGP, it is particularly associated with the Scottish legal verdict not proven. Is this true, and if so, why?

36 comments:

  1. >people in Britain do quite often say ˈprəʊvən <

    LPD seems to imply that they do so in N America too.

    I suppose being rarer and more marked than 'proved' it is more vulnerable to spelling pronunciation.

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  2. LPD seems to imply that they do so in N America too.
    No. If they did there would be the AmE transcription ˈproʊv- paired with BrE ˈprəʊv-.

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  3. Yes of course. Sorry. I couldn't see for looking for what I expected to see, namely that the two pronunciations covered both AmE and BrE. I was under the impression that I had heard the spelling-pronunciation from US speakers as well. Was I imagining that?

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  4. Jack Windsor Lewis22 April 2010 at 12:05

    Sorry to disappoint you, John, but old James Murray put it into the OED in 1909. On the other hand it might well have not got in there if he hadnt been a Scot. In 1972 I think it struck me as too unusual to commend to the EFL user in my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary. It certainly seems to me to have increased in circulation over the last few decades.

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  5. Indeed, muve would be seven consecutive minims followed by e. I am astonished to hear of this alternative pronunciation of proven, however — I think it is unknown in the U.S.

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  6. I've never heard the alternative pronunciation of "proven" in the U.S. either. It sounds quite odd to my ears.

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  7. Well that answers my question. I probably am delusional, but in my experience AmE goes in for spelling pronunciations more than BrE, so I may not have imagined it and you may yet hear it now that you are aware of it.

    If Jack is right about it being a Scottish import by James Murray, it's puzzling why as a legal term in Scotland (as in the verdict "not proven") it should have strayed from the conservative pronunciation in the first place. And it wouldn't have caught on just because it was in OED. The quantum leap from Jack's 1972 to John's 20 years ago does still seem to me quite likely to have been because of its greater markedness both connotationally and idiomatically with respect to 'proved'.

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  8. @mallamb:
    in my experience AmE goes in for spelling pronunciations more than BrE

    I'm not so sure about this. For any given case, one must determine whether an apparent spelling pronunciation is in fact a retention of an older historical form. There are cases like BUOY, which some AmE speakers pronounce "BOO-ey" (sorry no IPA), which I think are in fact retentions. On the other hand, the widespread recent reintroduction of /l/ into words such as CALM and FOLK is probably a spelling pronunciation.

    On the BrE side, there are examples such as "often" with /t/ and "tortoise" with the CHOICE vowel which come to mind (I've never heard either one in the US). Proper names no doubt belong in their own category, but "Colombia" with the LOT (rather than STRUT) vowel in the second syllable is one I hear only from BrE speakers, and find surprisingly annoying.

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  9. On the historic side, isn't the o spelling for current u: a fossil from pre vowel shift days? Also roof, do, to etc.

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  10. (1) I thought that in the UK, the past participle of "prove" was usually "proved" rather than "proven." If that is the case, then it would explain why some BrE speakers would give "proven" a spelling pronunciation -- just as Americans commonly give the rare forms "bade" and "shone" spelling pronunciations (rhyming with "grade" and "cone" rather than with "pad" and "gone").

    (2) I am fairly sure that I have never heard a fellow native of the US pronounce "proven" to rhyme with "cloven." "Proven" is the prevalent past participle of "prove" here and it has the same vowel, [u]. An American who said it with [ou] would most likely be regarded as dotty or worse.

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  11. I'm American and I hear "often" pronounced with /t/ the majority of the time (it's the pronunciation I've always used myself). But it isn't worth arguing about. It's just what I've observed.

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  12. @MKR,

    Out of curiosity, what is your source for saying that "proven" is the prevalent past participle of "prove" in the US? A quick look at CODA shows that the regular form "proved" is slightly more common than the irregular "proven"(unlike, say, "show," where the irregular past participle form "shown" is more frequent than the regular form "showed").

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  13. vp: the widespread recent reintroduction of /l/ into words such as CALM and FOLK

    This is something I was completely unaware of. But judging from this thread on the pronunciation of PALM, it does seem quite widespread in the US. Though my own idiolect has migrated considerably from General American, I first learnt English in Northeastern US and I don't remember hearing the spelling pronunciation with /l/ in words like CALM and FOLK that part of the country.

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  14. Um...I'm sure that I, too have never heard a fellow American rhyme "proven" with "cloven." And as a writer, I definitely prefer "he had proven" to "he had proved." But there are regionalisms, and I seem to have a distinct Northern California accent.

    So...how do non-AmE speakers pronounce "buoy?" Don't know how recent it can be, but I do pronounce the l in "calm" but not in "folk." "Bade" and "shone" rhyme with "bad" and "cone." No "t" in "often," though.

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  15. Yes, vp (22 April 2010 20:34),
    > one must determine whether an apparent spelling pronunciation is in fact a retention of an older historical form.<
    But how do you determine whether an apparent spelling pronunciation is in fact a retention of an older historical form or a reversion to it? We have to give at least some English spellings credit for having been originally intended to represent the pronunciation of the time!

    I must confess I originally thought that any pronunciation deviating from the Queen's English in the direction of the spelling must be a spelling-pronunciation, but I had that knocked out of me by my earliest encounters with Americans. Now nothing much annoys me unless it is a spelling-pronunciation of a spurious spelling which never did reflect the historical pronunciation. And indeed even your examples ˈbuːi and ˈtɔːtɔɪz may be a retention and a reversion respectively. Βuoy may be from Du. boei, MDu. boeie (oe being uː) rather than OF. boye, and tortoise appears c 1569, preceded by tortoyse, 1552 (OED), though it has no business to, by the looks of the word's previous history.

    But I still think AmE goes in for spelling pronunciations more than BrE. And so does the odd American who joined in the knocking things out of me: one such American actually wrote to an American radio announcer named Antony who called himself ˈænθənɪ, berating him for not being able to pronounce his own name, and got a reply! An apologetic one, pleading that he had been educated by spelling-pronunciation-prone nuns. On the other hand at St Antony's, Oxford, I had a student who described himself on the title page of his thesis as a student of "St Anthony's College, Oxford". Most of the Americans there pronounced it that way.

    Sidney, we can blame a lot of things on Norman clerks who didn’t like to write u next to the then identical v, but I think you have a point about 'move' and 'prove'. Those particular examples are not very convincing cases of that, or even of Latinate etymologizing. To judge from the OED, they could simply be OF spellings, as opposed to 'love' for example, which it does seem we can blame on the waggles, even if they weren't all minims.

    Anon, the statistics you quote may invalidate MKR's second but not his first point about 'proven' (which echoes my earlier point), as that form for the verbal as opposed to the adjectival past participle has at least some currency in AmE but virtually none in BrE.

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  16. Well, this linguistically conservative American has always been annoyed by the form proven rather than proved, but has always pronounced it /pruːvən/.

    Another British spelling pronunciation is herb with an initial /h/. The American vowel-initial pronunciation is older.

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  17. I apologize in advance for the length of this comment.

    I'm very interested in mallamb's claim that Americans go in for spelling pronunciation more than the British. I think I'm a bit suspicious of it as well. My suspicions probably have to do with an oversensitivity to any possible suggestion of a superiority of BrE over AmE. I'm certain that wasn't in mallamb's heart or head, but our last president traumatized me a little and I'm hypervigilant.

    Back to the claim. What we need is some evidence. What are these spelling pronunciations that are more prevalent in the US? So I've pulled the list from the Wikipedia page on the subject. I give my impressions from the American side below. If anyone is willing to offer the British view, we can count up the numbers and see who scores highest.


    often ˈɔftən
    I hear it frequently

    clothes kloʊ̆ðz
    I hear it only in “careful” speech

    salmon ˈsælmən
    I’ve heard of it and I’m sure some folks use it
    falcon ˈfælkən the only pronunciation I hear in the US

    comptroller kɑmp˺ˈtɹoʊ̆lɚ
    By far the most prevalent

    tortilla tɔɚ̆ˈtɪlə
    I have heard this only in jest

    victuals ˈvɪkʧʊ.əlz
    An uncommon word, but I hear a lot of first readings of Shakespeare plays so I hear this very frequently. I do believe that the word in the more phonetic spelling “vittles” is still used.

    waistcoat weɪ̆st koʊ̆t
    Another uncommon word so when I do hear it spoken it is usually in this form.

    conduit ˈkɑndu.ɪt
    Frankly, I was unaware that this had another pronunciation

    medicine ˈmɛdɪsɪn
    A very clear US/UK distinction, and it is true that /ˈmɛdsɪn/ is the older pronunciation with the three syllable version likely arising out of a reading of the spelling.

    figure ˈfɪɡjɚ

    Again, Americans use only this pronunciation. Wikipedia claims /ˈfɪɡə/ as the older pronunciation so I guess the newer one is based on spelling…or etymology

    trait treɪ̆t
    Wikipedia tells me that /treɪ/ was common in England in the 19th Century. In the US I have never heard that pronunciation. If I did, I would take that as the spelling pronunciation, applying a French pronunciation to what is now a fully English word. Similarly, “forte” in the sense of a personal strength is commonly pronounced with an Italian reading as /ˈfɔɚ̆teɪ̆/contrary to the word’s origin in French.

    Bartholomew bɑɚ̆ˈθɑləmju This is the only pronunciation I’ve heard. is it /ˈbɑɚ̆rtəlmi/ in the UK?

    Anthony ˈænθəni I’ve certainly heard it this way, but also /ˈæntəni/ or /ˈænt˺ni/

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  18. @mallamb:

    Yes, "Anthony" with a /θ/ is a classic spelling pronunciation, which I thought of just after I'd hit the "post" button. I think the "th" was introduced into the spelling in a mistaken belief that the name came from Greek. "Antony" with /θ/ is even funnier.

    Now I think about it: spelling pronunciation of "th" in proper names is endemic in the US: I think of "Blumenthal" etc. And Wikipedia tells us that the River Thames in Connecticut is pronounced /θeɪmz/.

    I wonder why no one pronounces "Thomas" with an initial /θ/? Other words transmitted to English from Greek via Latin/French usually have /θ/ for Greek theta. And, from what little I can make out from Wikipedia, there seems to be a decent chance that /θ/ was in the original Aramaic.

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  19. @Phil:

    Is the yod-less pronunciation of "figure" really older? I would be surprised by this, because /gj/ is a rare cluster in English, and because yod-insertion seems much less common in general than yod-dropping or coalescence. I don't see a source for this claim on the Wikipedia page.

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  20. "...this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven / From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven" - 'Canal Bank Walk', Patrick Kavanagh, Dublin, 1958

    In Ireland I've often heard TH in "Thomas", "Thailand", "thyme"; I presume all are hypercorrections by those desirous of avoiding the merger of t/d with th.

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  21. Tonio Green said...

    >Well, this linguistically conservative American has always been annoyed by the form proven rather than proved, but has always pronounced it /pruːvən/.<

    You can't mean you've *always* been annoyed by it – there are so many cases like JW's “a proven track record”, though never “a proved track record”. Do you mean you're annoyed by the verbal use I suggested MKR may have been referring to, as in Julie's "he had proven"? That certainly annoys the hell out of me, but I'm not American, so why does it annoy you?

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  22. Phil,

    Gosh, here we go again with the expectation of academic rigour from us humble contributors.

    I do feel for your PTSD from the Bushisms. Your hypervigilance deserves a bit of the same from me: you have alerted me to the terrible possibility that my above-mentioned American friends may have succeeded in knocking any suggestion of a superiority of BrE over AmE out of my head, but not out of my heart!

    Thanks for drawing my attention to the Wikipedia page on the subject. Most of the shibboleths it featured I was already aware of, but although I knew of the horrific waɲɔ̃ it hadn't occurred to me that Montaigne is spelling-pronounced. And Eloah is a bit of an eye-opener, isn't it? That makes the Elohist look pretty stupid, doesn't it? Tho not so stupid as the Jehovist, surely.

    So here is my British view:

    ˈɔftən (or ˈɒftən) Don't like it but it seems no significantly greater a threat in Cispondia: LPD Preference polls give 27% with t vs American English 22%.

    kləʊ̆ðz for me in any sort of speech, but kləʊ̆z too in anything but “careful” speech.

    ˈsælmən unspeakable!

    ˈfælkən doesn't bother me but I say fɔːkn,

    comptrollerː in deference to the semantic and/or contextual opposition between it and 'controller' I'm for kəmp˺ˈtrəʊlə vs knˈtrəʊlə, and I see LPD recognizes this.

    tortilla tɔːˈtɪjə

    victualsː it's interesting that LPD recognizes a spelling pronunciation for 'victualler' but not this. I can't really imagine either, but it gives the transcription ˈvɪt əl‿ə ǁ ər, and the sound files for UK and US give ˈvɪtlə (with non-syllabic l and sounding like JW's own voice) and ˈvɪt̬l̩ɹ respectively. I would say ˈvɪtl̩ə.

    waistcoat: I always knew this was supposed to be ˈweskət (Wikipedia's ˈweskitˈ is I think Dickensian), but would feel a fool saying anything but ˈweɪ̆skəʊ̆t.

    conduit: I used to say ˈkʌndɪt but have settled for ˈkɒndɪt.

    medicine ˈmedsn. I sometimes feel self-conscious saying this, but if I say ˈmedɪsn it sounds even more ridiculous.

    ˈfɪɡjɚ did use to annoy me, but I got over it! What astonishes me is ɡuːbə(r)nəˈtɔːriəl etc. where I would say ɡjuː.

    Trait: I have always said treɪ̆ – and it's not a spelling pronunciation of a fully English word! It's still the mainstream Brit pronunciation of a fully English word. But I'm surprise you have never heard that pronunciation in the US. One does hear French pronunciations of fully English words there, including wrong ones!

    “forte: ’fraid I say fɔːtɪ.

    I guess 'Bartholomew' had t in the UK long enough to give us St Bart's.

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  23. vp said...

    > Now I think about it: spelling pronunciation of "th" in proper names is endemic in the US: I think of "Blumenthal" etc. And Wikipedia tells us that the River Thames in Connecticut is pronounced /θeɪmz/.<

    Our own Maureen Lipman pronounces her late husband's surname (and therefore her children's) ˈrəʊznθɔːl, and most such names behave like that in the UK too. I doggedly say niˈændətɑːl, but I mostly hear about niˈændəθlz, from niˈændəθ, presumably. But /θeɪmz/ is as egregious as ˈænθəni (which I should have written for the radio announcer's pronunciation of his name instead of ˈænθənɪ) – the h has no business to be in that either, at any rate in England, but in Connecticut they can call their rivers whatever they like, and I hope shall remember to call theirs the /θeɪmz/ if I ever have occasion to.

    And thank you for the grist to my AmE spelling-pronunciation mill provided by "Thomas" with an initial /θ/ – Some Americans do so pronounce it, but in my experience no Brits – not even Irish Brits, unless any of mollymooly's hypercorrectors are naturalized! I remember one American Thomas who always pronounced his own name that way, and I am not so delusional as to have imagined *that*. I hasten to add that I no more queried it than JW queried əˈɡæθə. So I don't know whether his parents were so learned as to have insisted on an Aramaic pronunciation!

    BTW I hope this isn't another false memory I find has been jogged by mollymooly, but my American radio announcer's nuns were Irish!

    > Is the yod-less pronunciation of "figure" really older? I would be surprised by this, because /gj/ is a rare cluster in English, and because yod-insertion seems much less common in general than yod-dropping or coalescence. <

    Well to come back to my point about determining whether an apparent spelling pronunciation is in fact a retention of an older historical form or a reversion to it, 'figure' presumably had a yod in between having the falling diphthong the 'u' had previously represented and getting reduced to ˈfɪɡər and ˈfɪɡə, making the form with yod the older, but the yodless form does survive in AmE. Do you think the older form emigrated with it? Or are you enough of a diffusionist to believe that ˈfɪɡər evolved there independently alongside the orthoepists' beyodded form? Don't you think it's more likely that a spelling pronunciation was introduced in AmE but not BrE? You could still say that the yod-less pronunciation of "figure" IS really older, but of course it would not be as old as the one with yod the first time round.

    In some less common words in which this element occurs, the reduction to ˈfɪɡər and ˈfɪɡə appears not to have happened, and where it has happened or is happening it is probably only by analogy. Thus I inconsistently say ˈfɪɡə and ˈfɪɡərətɪv, but fɪɡjəˈreɪʃn, knˈfɪɡə, knˈfɪɡərətɪv and knfɪɡjəˈreɪʃn, trɑːnsˈfɪɡə, trɑːnsˈfɪɡərətɪv (I suppose) and trɑːnsfɪɡjəˈreɪʃn. Though that does seem to be sort of consistently inconsistent. LPD is differently inconsistent, no doubt duly reflecting the different inconsistencies, and OED seems to want jʊə all over the place.

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  24. @Julie:

    In BrE (and some AmE), "buoy" is homophonous with "boy".

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  25. The cook seems to call himself [bluːmənθɔːl], and Althorp [ɔːltrʌp] is in danger, too.

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  26. John Walker, in his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary(1824)gives what we might take to be an orthoepical view of "figure":

    "There is a coarse and a delicate pronunciation of this word and its compounds. The first is such a pronunciation as makes the u short and shut, as if written figgur: the last preserves the sound of u open, as if y were prefixed, fig-yure. "

    Was Walker inventing "fig-yure" through wishful thinking? Or was there a surviving yod-ful version of this word that traveled to America and there, through Yankee pluck, managed to spread to largely supplant the vulgar "figgur"?

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  27. BTW, Walker also gives both /tɹeɪ̆/ and /tɹeɪ̆t/ for "trait". The word seems to have shown up in English in 1752. I really know nothing about the history of French pronunciation. Can anyone tell me if the final /t/ would have been pronounced in 18th century French?

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  28. On the subject of spelling pronunciation of 'th' names in the US, I was astonished to hear Jon Wertheim, an American writer for Sports Illustrated magazine, pronounce his last name /ˈwɝːθaɪm/. Not only is there no /θ/ in German, but the syllabic division would be Wert-heim in the original language.

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  29. Phil: Can anyone tell me if the final /t/ would have been pronounced in 18th century French?

    I'm quite sure that it would not have been. French final consonants began to be dropped in certain contexts from the time of Old French, and by around the 17th century, they were dropped in all situations save for cases of liaison.

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  30. Lipman said...

    > The cook seems to call himself [bluːmənθɔːl], and Althorp [ɔːltrʌp] is in danger, too.<

    Althorp [ɔːltrʌp] is in a different case from the [θɔːl]s. It's sad to see it go, but at least it's entitled to its h and therefore its θ. So what was German Thal etc all about? It persisted into the 20th century, and though I have said I grew up on Fraktur and was still reading mostly that as a student, it seemed to take a helluva long time for all those native German words to lose their purely decorative hs. Jongseong's Wertheim at least has a native h to spelling-pronounce with his t!

    Phil said...

    > John Walker, in his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary(1824)gives what we might take to be an orthoepical view of "figure"… Was Walker inventing "fig-yure" through wishful thinking? Or was there a surviving yod-ful version of this word that traveled to America and there, through Yankee pluck, managed to spread to largely supplant the vulgar "figgur"?<

    Yes I've got that and should have thought to look at it. But I did point out that the yodless form does survive in AmE as well as BrE, and mention the possibility that the older form with yod emigrated with it. So I certainly don't think Walker invented it. But I still think it's more likely that it died out in both Englishes, stayed dead in BrE and was introduced as a spelling pronunciation in AmE but not BrE.

    But I agree it took pluck for all those schoolmarms and nuns to impose these things on their vulgar charges!

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  32. Unless I've missed something, nobody here shares my prejudices.

    In the 'Scottish verdict' I would hear pru:vᵊn as an error. In proven ability I would hear it as a variant.

    In an advert claiming support from laboratory trials, I hear it as a deception.

    For the first half of my life (I'm now a pensioner), I was only aware of proven as part of a verdict or as a premodifier. When I first heard it in TV commercials, I initially thought that they were cheating: using the word in the sense of 'tested' with the illusion that they meant proof that could be defended.

    Nowadays, I see it as a substituted for found. And thanks largely to Ben Goldacre's Bad Science stories, I see either word as meaning 'the result of our tests based on our assumptions'. My scepticism is now based on the assumptions rather than the word proven. Even so, I can't help feeling that proven to be so is less honest than found to be so -- and that proved to be so is a stronger claim, one that the speaker is prepared to defend.

    Like the Scottish verdict, this 'found' sense is very narrowly used (or so it seems to my prejudice) -- and so only one pronunciation (prəʊvᵊn) strikes me as 'normal.

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  33. My father was, as I have said before, born in the Irish ghetto of South Philadelphia in 1904 (it's still a ghetto, but not Irish), and hardly met an "American" until he left school. His given names (or given name and confirmation name, I'm not sure which) were Thomas Anthony, the former with /t/ and the latter always with /θ/. My brother is also Anthony, pronounced in the same way, and I would go so far as to call it the usual pronunciation in AmE. (The hypocoristic form Tony, which my brother normally uses, is unaffected.) This is true even among non-Irish stocks: a close friend of mine in high school was Stephen An/θ/ony, though his last name was Italian. (By the way, he used /t/ in often, whereas I and most others around us did not.) None of us, incidentally, were taught by nuns. Additional evidence is that people baptized Antonio normally do not anglicize their first names to Anthony, which is, I think, felt to be "too different".

    I have THOUGHT and evanescent /l/ in falcon, which makes it anomalous (TRAP and full /l/ in balcony, THOUGHT in chalk).

    Phil: Not "Yankee pluck" but Yankee social anxieties are most likely to account for the survival of figure with /gj/. There has always been a huge demand in America for authoritative (if not necessarily accurate) books on orthoepy. Gubernatorial, like presidential, is an Americanism popularized by Thomas Jefferson, so it has probably always been yodless; it's a little bit oddball, because Latin does not have *gubernatorius, *gubernatorialis.

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  34. Another 'th' name that's almost universally mispronounced, at least in the U.S., is Rothschild: /ˈrɒθ(s).tʃaɪld/

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  35. I originally thought that any pronunciation deviating from the Queen's English, There is always problem with such word to pronounce!

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  36. For what it is worth, I am a Canadian with a English grandfather, and I now live in Philadelphia (after a couple year stint in British Columbia). As such, I am no stranger to regional variation, and my pronunciation is now a weird amalgamation of all three influences. Progress and Proven both begin with 'pro' as rhymes with 'show'. I say either as eye-ther. Often certainly has a /t/ - it sounds bizarre to me otherwise. However, I can't say I've ever been able to naturally say calm or folk without omitting the /l/. Shone rhymes with cone, and surprise never has the first /r/.
    Ultimately, no matter where I go now, everyone thinks I pronounce something incorrectly.

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