Wednesday, 20 October 2010

latter-day saints

Another not-me pronunciation from our bouncy new local TV newsreader (blog, 13 October): she pronounces St Paul’s Cathedral as ˈseɪnt pɔːlz kəˈθiːdrəl. (What I would say myself, of course, is sənt ˈpɔːlz kəˈθiːdrəl. The first word, St, could also undergo one or more of syllabic consonant formation, glottalling, elision and assimilation, to give sn̩ʔ, sn̩, sm̩p, sm̩ʔ, sm̩.)

Traditionally we regard the use of the weak form of Saint in names as more or less categorical in BrE. Obviously it is much less usual in AmE. But in BrE this seems to be changing: I keep hearing Brits using the strong form. I’ve heard Snt Albans, Snt-Leonards-on-Sea, Snt George’s Hospital, though never yet as far as I am aware Snt Helens (in Lancashire). Perhaps there is something special about Lancashire: I don’t think I’ve heard Lytham St Annes with strong seɪnt, either.

Personally, I weaken saint not only in all the names just cited but also in the names of all those West Indian islands, too, though I know the locals don’t: St Martin, St Thomas, St Barts, St Kitts, St Croix, St Lucia, St Vincent.

The only saintly island I can think of in which I wouldn’t use the weak form is St Helena, in the south Atlantic. But it has the idiosyncratic pronunciation ˌsentɪˈliːnə (or variants thereof — the author of the relevant Wikipedia article doesn’t know this). On the other hand I’d call the lady herself sənt ˈhelənə, and I believe the place in California is ˌseɪnt (h)ɪˈliːnə. (What do Australians do with the place in Victoria? It’s supposedly named after the Atlantic island.)

And you’ll know about the idiosyncrasies of the surnames St Clair/Sinclair ˈsɪŋkleə, St John ˈsɪndʒən, and St Leger ˈselɪndʒə, as well as of Gilbert & Sullivan’s reference to the London street St Mary Axe ˌsɪməriˈæks in the song about someone with a name very similar to my own.

17 comments:

  1. I'm of an age below 30, and have been known to use both sənt and seɪnt. It probably depends on how fast I'm speaking, and how tired I am. You're probably right that younger British speakers don't tend to see the weak form as mandatory.

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  2. I have heard a lot of /seInt/ Helens myself actually and it reminded me of this advert which used to be on North-West TV for St. Helens Glass:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XG7Tg60xDzI
    I remember the jingle at the end pronounced it /seInt/ but this could be due to it being sung. However, the woman in the advert also say /seInt/.

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  3. In Spanish, the word "San" never get accented (but its vowel always remains full), nor does "Santa" when combined with a following name:
    "San Fran\CISco", as if in John Wells's speech "St. Fran\CISco"; also "Santa \FE" as if "St. Ma\drid" (Sorry, I can't think of any English name with stress on the last syllable).

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  4. Oh shit! I meant the word "San" never getSSSSS..."

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  5. I believe St Osyth in Essex is traditionally pronounced ˈtuːzi.

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  6. In Romanian the literary form of saint is sfânt for the male and the neutral gender and sfântă for the female gender, in the past and still in different remote regions there are sânt, sân, sâm for the male and neutral gender and sânt or sântă for the female gender, the neutral gender is here if it is an object, these forms are also seen in the toponymy of some localities. Sânt also means to be, and it is written and pronounced sunt in the current orthography. Sân, sâm pronunciations are similar in English.

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  7. In Cornwall, "Saint" is usually dropped altogether, so Issy for St Issy. But I have seen 16th c. spellings Twenn and Twenna for St Wenn.

    As to the pronunciation of broadcasters, I suspect that the companies have engaged elocutionists in response to public complaints that no-one speaks English any more on television.

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  8. The American Sinclairs I know use final stress. I don't know any Americans with the other two surnames, but they most likely either say /seɪnt ˈdʒɑn/ and /seɪnt ˈlɛdʒɚ/, or else they spend their whole lives explaining how to pronounce and spell their names (as I do with my deceptively simple surname, which is MOUTH, not GOAT).

    The Spanish place names with San and Santa in the western U.S. keep the Spanish stress patterns, though the vowel is unreduced TRAP.

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  9. I consistently use the weak form, but for me that's /sɪnt/, so /sɪnt ˈpɔːlz kəˈθiːdʒrəl/ (sic) etc. I'm always a bit surprised to find that RP speakers have /ə/ where I have /ɪ/, the other way round being commoner.

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  10. Is BrE generally less accepting of /eɪ/ in unstressed position? I can think of several cases where AmE has unstressed /eɪ/, while BrE has reduced it to to /i/ or /ə/. The days of the week, for instance.

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  11. @dirck: the BrE I speak has unstressed FACE in the days of the week, and in many other examples (including a lot of French loanwords where AmE tends to stress the vowel in question, like "ballet" /ˈbaleɪ/).

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  12. I see I shall have to trot out my anecdote about St Antony's, Oxford, where I had a student who described himself on the title page of his thesis as a student of "St Anthony's College, Oxford". Like most Americans he pronounced it seɪˈnænθəniz. (Note my hommage to the AmE equivalent of the Spanish San form.)

    LPD doesn't have an entry for St. Antony, but for St. Anthony only recognizes the θ for AmE: sənt ˈænt ən i §sən- ǁ seɪnt̬ ˈænt ən i -ˈænᵗθ ən i.

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  13. I didn't know about St Leger /ˈselɪndʒə/, though I am familiar with the name Saint-Léger in French. So that's where 'Salinger' comes from!

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  14. "St Helena" (the Atlantic one) is [ˈhɛlənə] in the Oxford American Dictionary, [həˈlinə] in the Random House Dictionary. OED doesn't have placenames, but the gentility is [sənt həˈli:nɪən].

    All of which feature [h].

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  15. gentilly -> gentilic (demonym). Fr: gentilé.

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  16. It's always been /seɪnt/ for me. I thought that /sənt/ was a casual/weak form.

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