Thursday, 9 December 2010

Potidaea

As I prepare to drift off to sleep at night my bedside radio is tuned to BBC R4. After the midnight news comes the regular soothing sequence of Book of the Week, then Sailing By, then the shipping forecast… I’m usually deep in slumber by now.

Except when I am jerked awake by an interesting or unusual pronunciation. It happened twice last night.

The current Book of the Week is The Hemlock Cup, written and read by Bettany Hughes. It is a historical account of Socrates’s life in ancient Athens. Last night we heard how the philosopher, carrying out his citizen’s duty as a hoplite in the Athenian army, fought at the battle of Potidaea (Ancient Greek Ποτίδαια). Ms Hughes pronounced this name, several times, as ˌpɒtɪˈdeɪə.

But when I was at school it was ˌpɒtɪˈdiːə. Agh! the creeping non-classical-Greek, non-classical-Latin, non-English rendering of Greek αι, Latin ae as instead of classical or English post-Great-Vowel-Shift again! We’re used to this in vertebrae by now, but how far is it going to go? Are we going to start calling Caesar ˈseɪzə? Bettany Hughes is a Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London, part of the University of London, and well known as a historian, author and broadcaster. How does she pronounce Aegean, Aesop, Mycenae, Thermopylae? I only ask.

OK, non-classical words are different: Disraeli, Gaelic, maelstrom have .

I’ll keep the second sleep-inhibiting shock for tomorrow.

38 comments:

  1. Bettany came in for a lot of stick last year for a Radio Four Series on the Medici and the Renaissance in which she consistently said mɛ'di:tʃi:. But I reckon that the pronunciation was the producer's decision, since Bettany has more recently been on air saying something like 'mɛditʃi.

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  2. Of course in the Scottish context, Gaelic is generally pronounced /'gælIk/ by all but complete outsiders.

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  3. Well, ae is pronounced /e/ in the present-day Italian pronunciation of Latin, and Italian /e/ is usually mapped to English /eI/, at least in open syllables (e.g. Galileo). (Why on Earth one should base the English pronunciation of a Greek/Latin word on the Italian one, that's another issue.)

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  4. If you type in "Gaelic" on Wikipedia, it says:

    When referring to Irish Gaelic or Manx Gaelic, it is usually pronounced pronounced /ˈɡeɪlɪk/. In Scotland, "Gaelic" is usually pronounced /ˈɡɑːlɪk/ or /ˈɡælɪk/; [ˈɡalɪk] in Scots and Scottish English.

    So a Scot may pronounce "Gaelic" the same way an English person may pronounce "garlic".

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  5. It's a spelling pronunciation, but one that has no real basis in regular spelling. There are only a handful of words spelt with ae that are pronounced , and dozens that are pronounced , so it's hard to see how this trend started.

    There is one set of classical ae words that have always been pronounced : those with the aero- prefix (aeroplane, aerobics etc). But this suffix is from the Greek αερο, not αιρο, so the ae is actually two separate vowels rather than a digraph.

    That's why you get French aéroport instead of *éroport. Really in English one would expect three-syllable ˈeɪərəʊ rather than two-syllable ˈɛərəʊ.

    Anyway, whatever its origins, it seems the pronunciation of ae, at least for less familiar words, is on the up.

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  6. Ed: No-one in Scotland says /ˈɡɑːlɪk/ for Gaelic - at least I've never heard it.

    Scots has no BATH-BAT distinction, but English people living there say /ˈɡælɪk/ in imitation of the Scots /ˈɡalɐk/.

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  7. @ Pete: I have heard English people pronounce it as /ˈɡɑːlɪk/ though.

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  8. @ Pete and Phil: I think what the Wikipedia entry is trying to say is that some people pronounce "Gaelic" differently depending on whether it is the Irish or the Scottish variety, but most Scots pronounce it as /ˈɡalɪk/. It's not worded very well.

    Also, Pete, millions of English people (maybe the majority?) use /a/ rather than /æ/ in TRAP words. I do.

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  9. @Ed: Yes, I know that millions of English use /a/ rather than /æ/, just like me. What I meant was that Gaelic is pronounced with the TRAP vowel and not BATH (for speakers that have a BATH-TRAP split). Should have said that, I supopse.

    My point is that I don't think anyone has Gaelic and garlic as homophones. Mind you, from what Phil says above, maybe I've just not noticed it. I lived in Scotland with lots of English people for a few years and they all said either /ˈɡælɪk/ (Southerners) or /ˈɡalɪk/ (Northerners).

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  10. LPD says:

    Gaelic /ˈgeɪlɪk, ˈgæl-, ˈgɑːl-/

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  11. <nitpick>
    Slashes are supposed to indicate phonemes, so /æ/ means ‘the TRAP vowel’, however it's realized. You meant ‘use use [a] rather than [æ]’.
    </nitpick>

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  12. @ army: Thank you. I was going to say (write) that.

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  13. I must admit that I tend to the /eı/ pronunciation for most -ae- words, including Aegean. I'm sure that my ex-classics professor granddad would probably shudder in dismay if he heard me. I do know to use /aı/ if I am reading a passage written entirely in Latin, because I was a dreadful swot who actively sought out the one Latin course that was available in my school; but if I am reading an English text that happens to contain a classical word I'd probably use /eı/.

    I imagine that it's the virtual disappearance of compulsory Greek and Latin courses in school that's to 'blame' for this pronunciation shift. We are more likely to encounter non-classical words with -ae- when learning to read, when we do end up coming across the classical words we generalise from those we already know. (I strongly doubt that 'caesar' is likely to change pronunciation, btw, it is too widely familiar a word in the form of salad!)

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  14. What kind of accent does Bettany Hughes have? Londonish?

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  15. I went to a performance of the Bacchae recently with a classics schoolteacher. I spent the evening saying /bakai/ while she continued to say /baki/ (no length on the /i/). I suppose I should have been grateful pt was not /bakei/

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  16. @Ed:
    [ˈɡalɪk] in Scots and Scottish English ... So a Scot may pronounce "Gaelic" the same way an English person may pronounce "garlic".

    What English people pronounce "garlic" as [ˈɡalɪk]? I would expect at least [ˈɡa:lɪk]

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  17. Yeah I was working recently for a few days as a tekkie on a performance of the Greek play 'Phaedra', and everyone kept calling it [feɪdrə]. Actors, directors, the lot. Obviously they were wrecking my buzz, but none of them would stand for my pronunciation of [faɪdrə], and kept on correcting me.
    As for - I've often seen it spelt in Scotland as .

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  18. @ Des Ryan - I think your last sentence must have failed because you tried to use angle brackets. Browsers treat any material in angle brackets as an HTML tag. If you really need to use them for your comment, type "&lt;" for < and "&gt;" for >.

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  19. @ vp: I was referring to the /ˈɡɑːlɪk/ pronunciation listed. Then my later post was a completely different interpretation of the same text, having tried to understand it in the light of Pete's comment.

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  20. @Des - Yes but the point is that in English Phaedra has always been pronounced /ˌfiːdrə/. Your /ˌfaɪdrə/ at least agrees with the original Greek (or Latin) though.

    The reason for all this is that Latin was once pronouced in the English-speaking world as if it were English. This has left us with hundreds of Latin loanwords that are still pronounced in this way. The current change in pronunciation of unfamiliar words is creating discrepancies between the two systems of pronunciation, one for some words and one for others.

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  21. Then go ahead and pronounce it not f but (easy one, I take it, but remember to pronounce an actual p as a p, not ). And roll your r and don't reduce the to a schwa. You'll get the musical accents right, of course. No doubt you'll use the right case ending, too, depending on the syntactic situation.

    Or use the English pronunciation.

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  22. I'm at a loss - can anyone give me an example of a commonly encountered English word (other than 'caesar') where the -ae- would be pronounced as /i/? I definitely had a somewhat deficient and corrupt education, and have many words in my vocabulary that I know how to spell, and how to read, but not necessarily how to say (hence my early misadventures with the name Penelope). But I'm trying to think of examples of relatively common words that would (of course) have an /i/ and I am coming up short. I have, perhaps, been corrupted by spending part of my childhood in North America. It certainly means that I can't rely on my intuition in matters of pronunciation an awful lot of the time, so I wouldn't be surprised.

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  23. Anyone here willing to spot Ms Hughes as regards her accent?

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  24. @ella:
    aesthetic (BrE), archaeology (accents with happy tensing), algae, larvae, leukaemia, faeces, formulae, ...

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  25. (In AmE most of those would have ae replaced by e, except the plural ending.)

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  26. @ella: the first two that spring to mind are mediaeval and encyclopaedia. Both are often spelt with a simple e, of course.

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  27. The use of a TRAP=BATH=PALM vowel in Scotland and a FACE vowel in Ireland reflects an underlying difference in the word itself, which is Gaeilge in Irish but Gàidhlig in Scots Gaelic. The core vowels are e [e] and à [a:] respectively; everything else is either schwa or a (non-)palatalization diacritic. This accounts for the Irish report on the destruction of a graveyard monument first thought to be a matter of vandalism but later attributed to natural causes: "The Gaels put it up, and the gales blew it down."

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  28. @ella:

    In the US, I often hear "Israel" pronounced something like /'ɪzri.əl/ or /'ɪzril/.

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  29. @vp: I think that's more to do with a general tendency to realize unstressed 'a' followed by another vowel in Biblical names as i/ɪ, for instance Sinai ˈsaɪniaɪ, Capernaum kəˈpɜːniəm.

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  30. Doesn't Church Latin pronounce "ae" as Italianate [eɪ]? This is the normal pronunciation for most such words in Irish English, where the magisterium has had more influence than English grammar schools. I well remember the assonance of "Aesop's Fables".

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  31. @ Mollymooly: Yes, I always remember pronouncing (and hearing) Aesop as /ˈeɪsɒp/ in the Midwest. It wasn't until much later that I discovered that /ˈiːsɒp/ was the "right" pronunciation. But "Aesop's Fables" sounds really strange to me without assonance, much like saying the expression "me neither" with PRICE in the first syllable of neither (I use FLEECE). I'm sure others have different views though.

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  32. @Steve Doerr: Indeed... why the hell does karaoke have HAPPY in the second syllable?

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  33. @ army1987: I know the question wasn't directed towards me (and indeed it may have even been rhetorical), but I find it easier to say /oʊ/ after /i/ than after /ə/. I think that's probably because the starting point of /oʊ/ is pretty close to /ə/ in my accent and in some other accents, so it's like saying two /ə/'s in a row.

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  34. To continue...If I'm saying it (karaoke) with an /ə/ I kind of feel like I have to add a glottal stop in between the /ə/ and the /oʊ/ which doesn't sound nice.

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  35. Is schwa ever followed by a vowel (in hiatus) in English?

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  36. @Steve Doerr

    Kafkaesque

    (the no-intrusive-R version)

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  37. David Crosbie said...

    > Bettany was on TV tonight, a repeat of her Helen of Troy programme. Mycenae was ˌmai'si:ni:. Cranae, where Helen and Paris consumed their affair was 'kræˌnai.

    and followed up with:

    > John actually raised the question as to how Bettany might pronounce Mycenae. This is a well known place, often spoken of by non-clacissists, so it's no great test. But Cranae is about as obscure as Potidaea. John (and I) would say 'kræˌni:

    Actually, I was thinking ˈkreɪniː! But yes, that's how I would analyse the dichotomy: a familiar name with a traditional 'fossilized' pronunciation versus an unfamiliar one pronounced as it would be in Latin class.

    I remember studying Cicero's Pro Caelio at Oxford and reading out an essay on the work to my Latin tutor. After calling Caelius ˈsiːliəs a few times, I was interrupted by my tutor who asked me to call him ˈkaɪliəs 'or at least ˈkiːliəs'. I couldn't stomach this last hybrid, so ˈkaɪliəs he was thereafter! Of course my tutor, like me, called Caesar ˈsiːzə and Cicero ˈsɪsərəʊ.

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  38. Steve

    Actually, I was thinking ˈkreɪniː!

    Yes, judging by John's remarks on Lacoön, he would say the same.

    My problem seems to be that if I know there was a 'short a' in Latin or Greek, and if there isn't a familiar established pronunciation like chaos or even Laomedon, then I can't re-run the historic prevocalic lengthening and Great Vowel Shift in my head the way you and John effortlessly do.

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