Monday, 13 September 2010

Nokia

Lynne Murphy sent me a message about the
BrE and AmE pronunciations of Nokia, rendered as KNOCK-ee-ah and KNOW-kee-ah, respectively.

…the single consonant should signal an /o/ in my spelling world, so why the 'knock' vowel?

It’s true: in Britain we (all?) say ˈnɒkiə, with the LOT vowel, whereas Americans say ˈnoʊkiə, with the GOAT vowel. And it’s also true that the spelling o, when followed by a single consonant plus ia, otherwise corresponds to GOAT: phobia, Cambodia, magnolia, begonia, utopia, ambrosia, Scotia. (OK, anoxia is an exception, but x is pronounced as two consonant sounds, not one.) So the BrE pronunciation of Nokia does seem to be exceptional from a spelling-to-sound point of view.

(The rule in question does not apply to all vowel letters in this context: cf. Lydia, familiar, Abyssinia etc., with short ɪ. In bulimia we get not only ɪ but also unexpectedly . The same is true of memorabilia.)

It seems far-fetched to imagine any influence from gnocchi ˈn(j)ɒki. Anyhow, I believe Americans mostly say ˈnɑki if they know the word at all.

There is, however, a parallel in yog(h)urt, which is ˈjɒɡət in BrE but ˈjoʊɡɚt in AmE, and it may be relevant that in BrE we are happy to map ‘foreign’ o onto our rounded LOT, ɒ, whereas Americans are less ready to map it onto their corresponding unrounded and therefore phonetically more distant ɑ. However this plausible line of reasoning falls down when we consider the Australians, who use their GOAT vowel in yoghurt despite having a LOT vowel that is rounded, just as in BrE. (The word comes from Turkish yoğurt joˈuɾt.)

I don’t know what Australians do with Nokia.

In Finnish it’s ˈnokia, just as written. Finnish has contrastive vowel length, and these vowels are short. The company is named after a town near Tampere.

40 comments:

  1. moulting australian13 September 2010 at 09:31

    I'm Australian and pronounce Nokia the British way, but I moved from Australia to the UK 10 years ago, so it could be that the word wasn't in my vocabulary until after that. Almost none of the people I knew in Australia had mobile phones at that time, but in the UK they were already ubiquitous, so I encountered a problem I'd never experienced before, that of students' mobile phones going off in my classes.

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  2. Wasn't Sony pronounced with a short vowel in British English originally, too?

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  3. In the Netherlands, it is usually pronounced ['noʊkia] (conforming to the spelling), but Nokia commercials insist in calling it ['nɔkia]. I've always assumed this is because ['nɔkia] is closer to the Finnish pronunciation.

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  4. Is this choice any different from the American choice of GOAT vowel in cosmos?

    I say 'kɔzmɔs. John gives three American pronunciations in LPD. The one that always sounds arrestingly different to me is 'ka:zmoʊs.

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  5. @ David Crosbie: I'm guessing you mean GOAT in the second syllable of cosmos. Yes we do usually use GOAT in the second syllable of that word. LOT sounds really strange to me there. I've also noticed that people in England at least use LOT in Spanish words that end in os, e.g., Torremolinos where we use GOAT.

    John,
    Anyhow, I believe Americans mostly say ˈnɑki if they know the word at all.
    Were you trying to suggest something there?

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  6. Phil, no, except that this word is not widely known among English speakers, belonging as it does to a foreign (Italian) cuisine. (It may actually be better known in the US than it is in the UK.)

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  7. It may be very different for other speakers, but I associate the final -ia spelling with Latin-/Greek-based words. So, presented with an unfamiliar word spelled with -ochia, I might well read it with a GOAT vowel.

    But letter K somehow evokes a different class of word spellings. (Latin avoided the letter, and words derived from Greek do the same.)

    This class isn't traditional 'Anglo Saxon' — because -ia - spelled words don't belong there.

    So a word with -kia belongs to the class 'foreign'. (Well, it does for me.) Along with Slovakia — pronounced with 'short a' TRAP vowel.

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  8. @ John: Oh, I see. I was kind of asking that question facetiously, but it's difficult to indicate that on the Internet.

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  9. Another Australian here (only moved to the UK in the last year), and I've always said 'nokia' with the LOT vowel, as do all the other Australians that I can think of.

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  11. [Reposted because of a copy-n-paste error.]

    One factor could be the tendency to pronounce foreign looking words as foreign, ie counter-intuitive, as possible, but it might be possible that early television and radio commercials pronounced it like that, representing Finnish vowel quantity rather than quality.

    Interesting thing about ˈjɒɡət and ˈjoʊɡət. Not only had I never realised this is a BrE/AmE thing but I say ˈjoʊɡət myself (RP). I was aware of the two pronunciations but thought they were both quite unmarked locally or else. Is ˈjoʊɡət older?

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  12. For what it's worth, I usually hear Americans say noʊˈkiːə (no-KEE-uh), with the stress on the second syllable. That's how I used to think it was pronounced until I learned better. I also assumed it was Japanese until I learned it was Finnish. I don't think I'm alone in either of these mistakes.

    This American pronounces gnocchi the Italian way. And I usually hear ŋ (or nj), followed by either ɑ or oʊ, from others here.

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  13. For me, gnocchi belongs to CLOTH=THOUGHT (and so I would assume LOT in people with CLOTH=LOT), but the /nj/ is definitely there. People with the four-way merger presumably do say /ˈn(j)ɑki/, of course, or perhaps /niˈjɑki/. I don't know what Americans without LOT=PALM say, but I bet it's LOT or THOUGHT.

    Italian is far and away the most common "foreign" cuisine in the United States, even when you exclude pizza. There is a (very small) restaurant chain in upstate New York called Four Brothers; the decor is Ancient Greek, and the owners are Greek, and there are a few Greek dishes available, but the great majority of the menu items are either generic American or Italian.

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  14. Compare "Nissan": FLEECE + PALM in the US but KIT + TRAP in the UK (hence the British advertising slogan "You can with a Nissan"). The spelling with a doubled consonant would suggest KIT rather than FLEECE.

    There is a set of words in which AmE is happy to use the traditionally long vowels while BrE prefers short vowels, like a reverse BATH set. I am tempted to say that recent borrowings are more likely to belong to this group.

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  15. I've seen the 'reverse BATH set' called the PASTA set.

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  16. @Amy Stoller said: "This American pronounces gnocchi the Italian way. And I usually hear ŋ (or nj), followed by either ɑ or oʊ, from others here."

    I too hear gnocchi in a similar fashion, though I believe what you mean isn't ŋ but ɲ, ie. a palatal nasal rather than a velar one. I hear more oʊ than ɒ in Toronto, but both are definitely possible.

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  17. The beauty of gnocchi is that a spelling pronunciation is out of the question (for the initial consonant, that is). So ɲ and n make the word equally familiar and equally intelligible.

    In Britain we do hear spelling pronunciations of the gl in tagliatelle. But not, for some reason, of the gn in bolognese. Perhaps we're influenced by gnocchi.

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  18. Oh, good grief, my eyes ... Thank you, Eric, of course I meant ɲ, not ŋ. I just hit the wrong key.

    Don't you just hate tpyos?

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  19. I second what Amy Stoller says about how Americans pronounce "Nokia," namely with the stress on the second syllable. In fact, I had no idea that the brand was anything but Japanese until I read her comment!

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  20. Thanks, MKR, for letting me know I was not alone!

    I don't believe I've ever seen a commercial for Nokia on television. But my curiosity was piqued by this discussion, so I went looking on the web, and finally found an American one. The actor said ˈnoʊkiə, so presumably someone high up on the Nokia food-chain approved oʊ for the US market, but also wanted to preserve first-syllable stress.

    If I'd ever seen one of these commercial on the air, I'd have realized much sooner that I was putting the emPHASis on the wrong sylLAble.

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  21. And of course I meant "one of these commercials" - plural. I shoulda stood in bed.

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  22. /'nɔkja/ in Danish despite us having a perfectly servicable /o/. (I'm not gonna put any money on the value of that a, though.)

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  23. The variation in pronunciation of yog(h)urt correlates somewhat with the variation in spelling. In Ireland these are usually GOAT and h-less respectively.

    Although "bolognese" doesn't have a spelling pronunciation, "spag bog" brings the g out right good.

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  24. David Crosbie and mollymooly: my father (born in Hampshire, UK, 1957) pronounces Bolognese with the /g/ i.e. /bɒl.əg.ˈneɪz/.
    (I've never heard anyone else pronounce the /g/ though).

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  25. John sez “the BrE pronunciation of Nokia does seem to be exceptional from a spelling-to-sound point of view”. Okay, but it’s certainly not uniquely so. Most of us say Sŏnia rather than Sōnia, tho the reverse applies to Sony. He adds “In bulimia we get not only ɪ but also unexpectedly iː. (The same is true of memorabilia.)” Right, but it’s not so very unexpected if we remember that EPD for Cecilia always had only /ɪ/ before 1977. John was no dout right to give /iː/ first in LPD1 in 1990. These are just the ongoing influence of Continental languages that accounts too for /iː/ replacing /ɪ/ in niche. Slovakian has had all three of /ӕ, ɑː & eɪ/. As to /-gl- in tagiatelle but “not, for some reason, of the gn in bolognese. Perhaps we're influenced by gnocchi”.
    That last I dout but it seems that spaghetti bolognese is widely influenced by confusion with the French bolognaise usually /bɒlə`neɪz/. Apologies to US readers for talking only in terms of Brit usages.

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  27. In fact orthographic i seems usually to be KIT, and never PRICE, before orthograpic Cia$

    Examples include tibia, trivia, militia, ilia, and all the -philia and -bilia words. Perhaps this is an accident of Latin vowel lengths.

    Words courtesy of http://www.visca.com/regexdict/

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  28. Thanks for the post, John--it was actually the question of one of my Twitter followers, @Boston1775.

    @vp--I'd raised the same point about Nissan in my original message...seemed related to me too, though I must admit I don't think I've heard the word in BrE, just in South African E.

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  29. For me at least, the iss spelling in Nissan is decisive. It puts it out of the class 'foreign'. I don't mind a BATH vowel in Iran, Koran and other exotics, but it's out of the question with 'Anglo Saxon' words like ran and man or even relatively 'foreign' words like sedan.

    In fact, 'nɪˌsæn isn't the obvious spelling pronunciation. For many of us in Britain, that would be 'nisn. Somehow the secondary stress has spread through speech. But Nissan is a word that we read more often than we hear or say, and the spelling effect is strong here.

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  30. David, does the same apply to the iss in Italian words like glissando or Caltanissetta?

    After all, the sequence signals an [i] followed by a geminated s in both Italian and the romanization of Japanese.

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  31. to me, anything other than n at the beginning of gnocchi sounds unbearably pretentious

    The g with a bar in Turkish makes the previous vowel sound longer, so as a former low Elementary speaker of the language it sounds more like the American pron of yoghurt than the British one to me

    I think Sony has a short sound in Japanese, but not sure

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  32. Jeongseong

    I say glɪ'sændoʊ and would say kæl,tæni'sɛtə — unless, of course I am (or were) in Italy and/or speaking to an Italian. (My stress of the unfamiliar Caltanissetta would be a guess.)

    I wouldn't think of them as 'anglo saxon' words, but I neither would I think of them as 'foreign' in the sense of cancelling out English spelling conventions.

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  33. I wonder why THOUGHT is so rare in recent loanwords. Very often is a far better approximation to the original sound than either GOAT or LOT.

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  34. Maybe because people more or less consciously assume there the "letter" O comes in two sorts - the short one (LOT) and the long one (GOAT) - and that's it.

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  35. First time poster, and non-IPA speaker: re the first syllable of yoghurt in BrE vs AmE, would there be a parallel in the pronunciation of the o in Van Gogh?

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  36. @Alex,
    I think Sony has a short sound in Japanese, but not sure

    It does have a short sound in Japanese. (And a long one: the y is ī, though not consistently long in Tokyo.) LPD makes this quite clear, and gives the variant ˈsɒni for BrE, but not for AmE.

    @David
    I say glɪ'sændoʊ and would say kæl,tæni'sɛtə — unless, of course I am (or were) in Italy and/or speaking to an Italian. (My stress of the unfamiliar Caltanissetta would be a guess.)

    Not a very long shot, is it?

    I wouldn't think of them as 'anglo saxon' words, but I neither would I think of them as 'foreign' in the sense of cancelling out English spelling conventions.

    Good for you. I say ˈnɪsæn.

    @Sam
    would there be a parallel in the pronunciation of the o in Van Gogh?

    And if AmE dropped the gh in yoghurt as well it would be an even better parallel, and unlike Van Gogh, justified by the original. Again, goto LPD. That also accepts my væn ˈgɒx, which doesn’t conflict with my support for David as I include [x] in English spelling conventions.

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  37. Mallamb

    I heard one better than 'nɔki or glɪ'sændoʊ on Woman's Hour this morning. A youngish-sounding RP-accented female reporter in an Italian restaurant painted a picture of odd things ion the kitchen shelves, like the fju:'sɪlɪ pasta.

    Foreign food vocabulary is generally learnt from menus.

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  38. What's to odd about /fju:'sɪlɪ/ ? It is just following regular English spelling conventions.

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  39. vp

    For me personally the ju: would be an anglicism too far.

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