Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Megan

The female name Megan was originally Welsh, though based on Meg, the English and Scottish short form of Margaret and a doublet of Mag, as in Maggie.

In Britain it is almost always pronounced ˈmeɡən, with the DRESS vowel.

Why, then, in AmE does it tend to be pronounced ˈmeɪɡən, with the FACE vowel?

I suppose the answer is that it is vaguely perceived as Spanish, or at least foreign, and that AmE tends to map Spanish e onto FACE. Compare Pedro, Spanish ˈpeðɾo, who becomes ˈpedrəʊ in BrE but ˈpeɪdroʊ in AmE. Alternatively, if thoroughly anglicized, Spanish e can be mapped onto (FLEECE), as in Toledo, OH and indeed San Pedro, CA, pronounced even by its Hispanic residents as sænˈpiːdroʊ.

Does anyone pronounce Megan as ˈmiːɡən, which I give as a third possibility in LPD?
The Renault Mégane car is usually pronounced məˈɡæn or meˈɡæn in BrE. I doubt whether it is widely known in north America.

37 comments:

  1. /ˈmiɡən/ is what I say, at least by default; it's a name that I expect at least some bearers to correct me to one of the others.

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  2. /ˈmiːɡən/ McAuliffe is Senior Lecturer in the Dept of Communication Disorders at Canterbury University, New Zealand and, incidentally, the organiser of the next International Clinical Phonetics & Linguistics conference in 2012 (see announcement on the Clinical Linguistics blog at clinicallinguisticsDOTwordpressDOTcom )

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  3. But if the name is Welsh then it would be pronounced /meːɡan/ (because in Welsh spelling I believe a single voiced consonant after a stressed syllable indicates a long vowel).

    So based on that, it makes sense to map the first vowel onto FACE rather than DRESS.

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  4. In Canada I've never heard /meɪɡən/, I would say is more like /ˈmɛɡən/ almost /ˈmægən/, here in Winnipeg they tend to pronounce a really open vowel there.

    BUT they always pronounce my name, César, as /'seɪsɑr/ or sometimes /seˈsɑːr/ even though they could simply use the english version.

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  5. Sorry, missed the accent off there: I meant to transcribe the Welsh as /'meːɡan/

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  6. ˈmiːɡən is standard in Australia

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  7. Another Australian English speaker here - growing up I only ever knew people called /ˈmiːɡən/. I thought /ˈmeɪɡən/ was an American pronunciation, until I moved to the UK and found it was similar here also.

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  8. From my experience (grew up in northern Chicago suburbs), I would say that the underlying form is /ˈmɛɡən/, but that the pronunciation approaches /'meɪɡən/ for many speakers because ɛ -> eɪ / _ɡ is a more or less common sound change in this area as well as other places in the US.

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  9. Like the previous commenter, I would attribute this to raising before velars, which is perhaps strikingly common in the US. (Out of disbelief, I did an informal survey and found that most people seem to think of "bank" as /beɪŋk/, with the FACE vowel, rather than /bæŋk/, with the TRAP vowel, as I do.)

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  10. I'll agree with the previous two commenters. [eig] for "egg" and [leig] for "leg" are common pronunciations, especially in the American South.

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  11. American association may be with Irish (regardless of actual origin of name), where Regan/Reagan is often pronounced with eɪ (my own pronunciation), though also with i. This is pure speculation on my part. I have no evidence or actual knowledge whatsoever.

    Oddly, Craig, which I have always pronounced with eɪ, is often pronounced with ɛ in the US. That one puzzles me.

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  12. Aong the American readers here, are there any that actually says /meɪɡən/?

    I must've been quite oblivious while listening to other Americans and watching local TV but I've always only heard /meɡən/.

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  13. As one who grew up in Seattle and have lived in several other parts of the US, I second what Ascent1729 says. I am accustomed to pronouncing the name [ˈmɛɡən] and hearing it so pronounced, and I would ascribe the pronunciation with [eɪ] to raising before [g]---though I wonder if anyone pronounces the names "Peg" and "Peggy" with [eɪ].

    To Ryan: I am pretty sure that the pronunciation of the TRAP vowel before [ŋ] as [eɪ] is much more common than the pronunciation of the DRESS vowel as [eɪ] before [g]. The latter is decidedly a regional pronunciation confined to a minority, while the former seems to me so pervasive as to be possibly the prevalent pronunciation among younger GenAm speakers. When senatorial candidate Sharron Angle was in the news, I noticed many broadcasters and commentators pronouncing her surname with [eɪ], so that it sounded rather like the name "Engel" than like what I think of as "Angle."

    To Amy: I have not noticed "Craig" pronounced with [ɛ], but I do remember that, when I was a child, I had difficulty both perceiving and remembering whether another boy was named "Craig" or "Greg." If some people pronounce "Craig" as [krɛg], I think it most likely due to hypercorrection---i.e., correcting [greɪg] to [grɛg], then applying the same rule to [kreɪg].

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  14. About the Renault Mégane: I have never heard of it, but if you wonder what Americans might make of the name, just remember what we did with the word "migraine"! More likely, though, we would make this one [mə'gɑn].

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  15. I used to sing in a choir in Northern California that included both a "Meghan" and a "Magen". Their names were homonyms (with the FACE vowel).

    And I only ever hear "Craig" with the DRESS vowel from Americans. This is most noticeable these days, of course, in the website "Craigslist".

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  16. "Lego" also has the FACE vowel over here, whereas I only ever heard it with DRESS in England. So pehaps JW is right that this is an example of what he called (iirc) "Continental vowellism" with foreign-looking words.

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  17. Thank you ascent, Ryan, Josef and MKR. I was just about to mention the raising of /ɛ/ before velars. Now I don't have to. Here comes a long list of replies:
    @ México: This is a nitpick, but I believe you meant [ˈmægən] (in brackets). You may have wanted to put some of the other transcriptions in brackets too. I'm not sure. Remember, [fəˈnɛɾɪks] /fəˈnɒləʤi/. It took me a while to understand that.

    @ ascent: Ditto with /'meɪɡən/. You meant ['meɪɡən], because you were describing the surface realization.

    @ Spectateur: Yes I do say something like ['meɪɡən], although I'm not sure if the underlying form is /'meɪɡən/ or /ˈmɛɡən/ (as ascent says). I think it's probably DRESS. I also pronounce egg and leg as ['eɪɡ] and ['leɪɡ] respectively. However I don't pronounce it this way in every word with DRESS before /g/. The name Craig has a "normal", non-diphthongized /ɛ/ for me for some reason, as Amy mentions.

    @ Ryan: I also think of bank as /beɪŋk/.

    Sorry for the long post, but I just find it interesting that I have some of these sound changes in my speech and I didn't realize it for a long time.

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  18. I've also never perceived Megan as Spanish. I don't even perceive it as foreign really. It sounds very American to me (not that it is originally).

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  19. I live in the American South, and I personally know (or have known) three Megans, and they all use the 'dress' vowel. I don't know that I've ever heard anyone call anyone 'Megan' with 'face', but it's possible that I've heard it but my brain didn't bother to record the difference (since most accents around here would render dress-Megan and face-Megan almost identical). I guarantee I've never heard of any real-life first-name Megans that use the 'fleece' vowel.

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  20. I'm surprised that John says "Why, then, in AmE does it tend to be pronounced ˈmeɪɡən, with the FACE vowel? " Where does that come from? I would certainly map it to DRESS here in Canada, and in the US, too. (My cat is named Meg, so I've heard lots of people say it on both sides of the border, as she and I have lived in Canada and US...) I agree with other posters that some people do have DRESS raising (!) before velars, but I wouldn't map that to FACE.

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  21. @ Eric: "My cat is named Meg, so I've heard lots of people say it on both sides of the border, as she and I have lived in Canada and US..."
    Yes, but Meg isn't the same as Megan. I have the raising in Megan but never in Meg (that would sound strange to me). I've never heard anyone else say Meg with the raised diphthong either. Also the raising may not be as common in Canada.

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  22. (continued) Now I'm thinking it is the FACE vowel in Megan, because if the raising happens in Megan then why wouldn't it also happen in Meg? If it happens in egg and leg, then why wouldn't it also happen in Craig? I'm confused now.

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  23. @Eric Armstrong:

    My experience (Northern California) is the opposite. I hear the same people pronounce "Megan" with what sounds like the FACE vowel, and "Craig" with what sounds like the DRESS vowel.

    The only explanation I can come up with is that there is a genuine difference of lexical incidence in these words.

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  24. I have known [mɛgən]s, [migən]s and [me(ı)gən]s; they have all been quite particular about how their name should be pronounced. I am a bit perplexed as to how the DRESS vowel might correspond to [e] (or /e/) - that seems very wrong to me, somehow. I must be missing something.

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  25. @Amy Stoller "Regan/Reagan is often pronounced with eɪ though also with i"

    I've never thought about this, but I would have said that, in Ireland at least, "Regan" is always /i/ and "Reagan" always /eɪ/. This was useful in distinguishing Donald Regan from his boss Ronald Reagan.

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  26. In the US, we have trouble with that rule. When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, the newspeople consistently pronounced it with /i/. When he ran for President, it magically became /ei/. After he became President, your rule became useful.

    I've always interpreted Megan with DRESS, Craig with FACE, which runs against Eric's. Maybe I'm just too old to know enough Megans?

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  27. If some Americans say Megan as ˈmeɪɡən, do they say Meg as ˈmeɪɡ?

    The Meg in Family Guy (American) is always called ˈmeɡ.

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    1. No, on Family Guy Meg is pronounced meig. YouTube it and listen closely. I think people tend to hear what they expect to hear because the sounds are similar.

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  28. If future parents are word, they may stick in a second and spell it Meggan. That'll solve most of the problem.

    Although i'm glad to see from above that the spelling doesn't always prevent a word such as 'egg' from having its vowel lengthened.

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  29. Yet another confirmation that ˈmi:gən is standard in Australia.

    On the subject of names, another subject of cross-dialectal amusement is that the boys' name "Aaron" pronounced by an American speaker sounds practically identical to the girls' name "Erin" pronounced by an Australian or British speaker. There is a difference in vowel length, but that doesn't count for anything on the phonemic level.

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  30. @outerhoard: I thought "Aaron" and "Erin" were actually homophones for many Americans In British English, "Aaron" has two pronunciations, one with TRAP and one with SQUARE. Because of my own experience of the preferences of people I've met with the name, I tend to use TRAP.

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  31. But Erin would normally end with -ɪn in BrE, which presumably isn't true of Aaron in AmE.

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  32. I've got FACE in Megan by default, though I couldn't tell you why. I use FACE in Craig too, though I've known or known of enough Craigs who use DRESS that I sometimes go back and forth on it.

    I'm an Aaron who uses TRAP.

    I use SQUARE in Sarah, though I've heard people using TRAP in it as well.

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  33. Here in Vermont, I've never heard anything but ˈmɛɡən from native speakers. My daughter reports that one of her teachers did say ˈmeɪɡən, but the ˈmɛɡənz in his class protested vigorously.

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  35. Another commentator mentioned AmE "raising before velars": 'bank' as [beɪŋk], "with the FACE vowel, rather than /bæŋk/", and corresponding pronunciations of 'egg' [eɪg] and 'egg' [leɪg]. My brother and father share the name 'Greg' which our next-door neighbors (to our chagrin) always pronounced [gɹeɪg]. My wife's family is from northern Minnesota, and extends pre-velar raising to words such as 'bag': [beɪg].

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  36. Here in New York, I have always heard it /ˈmɛɡən/ or /ˈmɛɡɪn/.

    /ˈmeɪɡən/ sounds a little hicky.

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