Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Isaac

I’ve heard one or two news presenters referring to the tropical storm/hurricane now threatening parts of the US as ˈaɪzæk. But Isaac is of course usually pronounced ˈaɪzək, with the vowel in the second syllable reduced. (Some may reduce it to ɪ instead of ə, as also happens adjacent to the velars in accept and stomach).

Another biblical name in which orthographic aa corresponds to a spoken weak vowel is Canaan ˈkeɪnən. For variants of this latter name, see my blog, 6 March 2009. Although we may sometimes have ˈkeɪniən I don’t think we ever get *ˈaɪziək, although you might logically expect that we would.

Another, non-biblical, name currently in the news is that of the Russian-American author Ayn Rand. I first came across her Atlas Shrugged when I was an undergraduate. Appalled at her advocacy of selfishness and contempt for altruism, I was not a fan. In those days we gave her first name a spelling pronunciation, eɪn. I note that nowadays people are pronouncing her aɪn, like the German indefinite article or the letter of the Arabic alphabet. Indeed, this is what is given in the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation and in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, not to mention Wikipedia. Since her given name was Alisa (Алиса), it is not clear where Ayn comes from, or whether it is English or Russian. Presumably it is a Russian hypocoristic.

64 comments:

  1. In Russian, she is Айн Рэнд, which would make her ˌaɪn ˈrend, given that the backwards e stands for either [e] or [ɛ].

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    1. ... or æ as in Thatcher — Тэчер

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    2. That would be more likely [ɛ], like in the Dutch and German pronunciations of that name.

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    3. Yes, Kilian, but if I understood you correctly, then my answer can only be that by the convention of the LPD, and many other dictionaries, the symbol most widely used is e even though the vowel is more open than [e] (in BrE mid central, in AmE lower mid).

      If Ayn Rand had an American accent, then that gives further 'credence' to the choice with e because æ in America is usually a tenser vowel.

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    4. Better than 'more likely'.

      Although е was used in nineteenth century transliterations such as Теккерей for Thackeray, modern practice is consistent: э for short a in English names. Cyrillic а is used for the Roman a in the city of Bath and Sylvia Plath.

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    5. Duchesse

      Russian transliteration can be quite loosely based on phonetic facts. The use of г for h persisted long into the twentieth century — long after any fricative nature had been lost by the /g/ phoneme in Standard Russian.

      You can predict from the English spelling what the Russian spelling will be, but not vice versa.

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    6. Ayn Rand did not have an American accent. To my ears, she sounded Russian even after she'd lived in the USA for some years. However, most of her disciples have US accents, and they pronounce her surname with the TRAP vowel.

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    7. They most certainly would. The question is, though, how do you transcribe that one, and the English one pronounced by educated speakers during the latter half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century? Is it ɛ in both cases?

      David, I see.

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    8. Jonesian RP did not use [ɛ]. On page 129 of this famous article, it states that [ɛ] in TRAP was used in "refained" speech, which is an old-fashioned term for someone who is trying to speak "properly" but doesn't know how to do so. Of course, [ɛ] is also the TRAP vowel in Cockney and there were doubtless many educated Londoners who used [ɛ], just as educated Northerners used [a].

      To answer your question though, the TRAP vowel used by the likes of Tony Benn is [æ]. I don't think that I know enough about US English to be precise on their TRAP vowels (they definitely vary). I would say that they are often long, that they are often diphthongal and that no American would ever say [a] in TRAP.

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    9. And the non-U Mr. Starky uses it too?

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    10. Yes, the non-U Mr. Starky uses [ɛ]. In this article, non-U meant anyone who was not upper-class - regardless of whether they were a professor of physics or an illiterate mill worker.

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    11. I'd like to point out that this refers to a system where ɛ stands for the closer variety, the pre-war RP DRESS vowel, not for a closer variety inside the TRAP range, while the DRESS vowel would be written as e. So, Mr. Starky pronounced mad the way his contemporaries, including U speakers, would pronounce *med. (Still, in my impression, actual U speakers of the time may have some overlap of the DRESS and TRAP ranges.)

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    12. Which is what I was getting at. Simply, Mr. Starky used an even closer vowel that U-people.

      someone who is trying to speak "properly" but doesn't know how to do so

      Is the Queen one such person?

      (Still, in my impression, actual U speakers of the time may have some overlap of the DRESS and TRAP ranges.)

      I've had such an impression.

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    13. Ayn Rand was not her real name and the name Ayn is Finnish, not Russian. Her name is often mispronounced but she always said that it rhymed with "mine".

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    14. I presume that I didn't convey the meaning of "refained speech" to Duchesse de Guermantes. Geoff Lindsey has written on it here. It's also covered in Accents of English, page 302.

      Unfortunately, I don't follow Lipman's point. Mr. Starkey had TRAP equivalent to the DRESS of U speakers. That's quite clear from the article. I don't understand the part "while the DRESS vowel would be written as e". Are you saying that the DRESS vowel had changed in the period just before the article was written (1954) and that this should affect our interpretation? I'm very confused :(

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    15. Yes, sorry about that, I realised how clumsy that was right after it was too late.

      I meant it was inside system A, where DRESS is rendered as ɛ (and so, Mr Starky is characterised as using the DRESS vowel for TRAP words). It was not system B, where DRESS is written e, and where ɛ is just a closer TRAP, but still not as close as the DRESS vowel.

      The point was that having "ɛ" for the TRAP set in 1954 didn't make you refained and beyond U if you mean the vowel in German Bett or French bette by it, only if you mean the vowel of 1954 U-RP DRESS.

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    16. Thank you for the clarification. That makes sense now. Some of the symbols used in the article are different from those used today, so it takes a while to get my head around them.

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    17. "I would say that they are often long, that they are often diphthongal and that no American would ever say [a] in TRAP."

      The Californian shift in California (obviously!) and the Canadian shift lowers the TRAP vowel to a low-central vowel /ä/ (maybe slightly longer than in England or Scotland). So, [a] in TRAP is definitely a possibility in North America.

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    18. My! That is a surprise. Would you be able to provide a sound clip for this please? I'm not familiar with Californian accents at all.

      On the subject of Canada, is this for one specific part of the country?

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    19. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    20. You can find links to many examples of Californian and Canadian speech here:
      www.aschmann.net/AmEng.
      (note that all TRAP vowels are not /ä/ or /a/ in Californian English; like many other varieties of North American English, Californian too undergoes allophonic raising of /æ/ before nasals - so rat, trap and pass will have a different vowel than man, lamb and rang.)

      On the Canada issue, I have to say that geography does play a part in determining the extent of lowering and retracting of the TRAP vowel, but I lack the details; bottomline is: this vowel is more retracted and lowered in Canada than the rest of anglophone North America. One thing I can say, though, is that (based on my own amateurish research; want to get verified or corrected by a professional on Canadian accents) women are less prone to retracing this lowered variety of /æ/ than men, though lowering is, perhaps more common ang women.

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    21. What an excellent website! Thank you very much! I shall have hours of fun with this.

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  2. And as for ˈkeɪniən and *ˈaɪziək, I've always wondered why and how the Jonesian convention of, say, ˈkeɪnjən, with a j, disappeared. I guess that the linking (absence of a break) symbol, 203F UNDERTIE, stands for that in LPD.

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    1. Why 'guess'? it's quite explicit. In such cases you can either have a nonsyllabic [i] or else a semivowel [j]. In words like "failure", on the other hand, you can only have [j], not nonsyllabic [i]. It follows that "Australia" may or may not rhyme with "failure". Jones distinguished these two possibilities, too, as any phonetician of English must. Nothing has "disappeared".

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    2. Oh... Of course.

      But I thought the possibilities were:

      ˈkeɪn i ən (trisyllabic, the usual pronunciation, where i stands for the PIT vowel for older speakers, and a closer vowel, i for younger ones; if I understood you correctly, that one is not possible)
      ˈkeɪn ɪən (with a diphthong, a pronunciation I thought was almost non-existent or very rare, but I think you say this one is the most common)
      ˈkeɪn jən (again, a kind of older type of pronunciation).

      What did his ĭ then stand for? What is the equivalent more modern type of transcription for that?

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    4. The opening words of the Russian Wikipedia entry of South African Rand are:

      "Ранд или рэнд —"

      A box between the title and the text announces that it is proposed to change the title from Южноафриканский ранд to Южноафриканский рэнд.

      The difference between this rand and Ayn Rand is that it comes from an element of the Afrikaans place name Witwatersrand.

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  3. When I grew up, people were generally unapologetic about anglicising names in the Bible. So Baal would be /ˈbeɪəl/ - English-style long vowel, English-style reduced vowel. I hear more people going for a more 'foreign' style pronunciation: /ˈbɑ:l/. Sinai was /ˈsaɪnɪaɪ/. Today, it's mainly /ˈsaɪnaɪ/ and very occasionally /ˈsi:naɪ/.

    Not using a reduced vowel in Isaac seems to conform to the pattern of change.

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  4. I've also heard ˈaɪzəək, I think. Or maybe ˈaɪzəæk?

    (As an aside, Aizik ˈaɪzɪk is a common form in Eastern Yiddish, so it can sound funny if people reduce the vowel to ɪ in an English context that has nothing to do with modern Jews or even biblical figures. Aizik Newton could as well be Itzik Newton.)

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  5. Like ˈkeɪniən, the US pronunciation of Israel reduces its a before another vowel, producing ˈɪzriəl. This has always struck me as the best solution for 'The First Nowell', much better than 'born is the king of ˈɪzreɪɛl', which sounds nauseous. Likewise, in its frequent appearance in Handel's oratorios.

    BTW, Canaan was for Handel a three-syllable word, in 'Israel (ˈɪzriəl) in Egypt', but all choirs I have heard have sung it as ˈkeɪneɪən (or even ˈkeɪneɪæn) rather than ˈkeɪniən, which I've always thought sounded right--I didn't realise that it was recorded by Jones as an alternative pronunciation. Perhaps it is, like ˈɪzriəl, a remnant 18th-century English pronunciation.

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    1. I've always sung it ɪzraɪɛl in that song (PRICE in the 2nd syllable), and have never noticed it sung differently from that. Either of the two pronunciations you give seem wrong to me. Though I would not pronounce it the same way in speaking. I'd say basically what you have, though it seems to me a syllabic L rather than a schwa before the L. Singing it as I say it wouldn't work because the third syllable really doesn't have a proper vowel.

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    2. In the US, I've usually heard "Israel" sung as /ɪzraɪɛl/, but spoken as /ˈɪzriəl/

      In Engand, in English, both sung and spoken forms are usually /ˈɪzreɪəl/ (with a possibility of /ˈɪzreɪɛl/ in singing).

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  6. I've always had /ˈaɪzæk/ and /ˈkʰeɪnæn/, despite most others I've heard favoring the usual pronunciations. I suspect, it is because I am quite reluctant to reduce the 'aa'. As for Canaan (don't know 'bout Isaac), the corresponding names in Hebrew and Arabic (كنعان) have a longer vowel in the second syllable, so my pronunciation seems etymologically valid.

    As for Isaac: I have heard my-style (and hurricane style) /ˈaɪzæk/ from others (native speakers of English, chiefly North Americans) as well, though /ˈaɪzək/, definitely, is more common.

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    1. Hm. Why do you go back to (Tiberian) Hebrew and (Koranic) Arabic and not, say to the natural devlopment of Latin words in English? Why not proto-Semitic?

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  7. Lipman

    Of Rand, Wikipeidia writes

    she adopted the first name Ayn, either from a Finnish name or from the Hebrew word עין (ayin, meaning "eye").

    We're not told what the Finnish name is, but can you confirm the Hebrew pronunciation?

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    1. As I understand it, this Hebrew origin is a plain conjecture by Anne Heller - "ayin" does mean "eye", but it's not used as a name or even a term of endearment. Anyway, there are some varieties in pronunciation, but typically the word would keep the two syllables, and certainly wouldn't have .

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    2. The same way as a bog cleaner would.
      Her parents were Russian speakers, presumably of a bourgeois St. Petersburgh variety, and would in theory have said something like ˈɑˑjin.

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    3. Probably.

      However, the bog cleaner would be very upset for calling him that.

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  8. Has anyone here payed attention to the other two tropical disturbances, Bolaven and Tembin? Bolaven was named after a plateau in laʊs (or laʊz), I wonder what's the ˈlaʊʃən pronunciation. I've heard ˈbɒləvən, bəˈlɑːvən and boʊˈleɪvən from a CNN International weather presenter.

    Tembin, from a Japanese word meaning "scales", I've heard pronounced ˈtembɪn and ˌtemˈbɪn.

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  9. Were these announcers also saying "hurricane" with /eɪn/ at the end? If so, "Isaac" may be part of the move away from schwas at the end of certain words. These people probably pronounce "Harrogate", "Margate", etc. with /eɪt/ as well.

    Some working-class people have the idea that a schwa [in certain places] is lazy and that "posh people" don't use them [but they do, in fact]. Believe it or not, I've come across people who think that you're supposed to say Garforth with final /fɔ:θ/ and Castleford with final /fɔ:d/. I wonder if some announcers have grown up with this idea of correct speech and that it's coming into BBC English now.

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  10. I'd be surprised if 'Ayn' were a Russian hypocoristic. Any one knowledgeable here about Russian hypocoristics?

    Also, 'ayn', or 'ʕyn' if you prefer, (transliterating just the real letters, i.e. consonant letter) is as Arabic as it is Hebrew as the name of the letter (of the respective alphabet or 'abjad') expressing the characteristically Semitic sound.

    Perhaps it was just what the German calls a 'Phantasiename'?

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    1. What would be a Russian hypocoristic of the name Alisa? əˈlʲiʂʊjkə?

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    2. Wojciech

      Any one knowledgeable here about Russian hypocoristics?

      No, but i'm married to somebody who's familiar with them. The only one for Алиса that Elena is familiar with is Аля. However, there's nothing to stop individual families to create unique names — based, for example on the infant's early attempt to say the name.

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  11. əˈlʲiʂʊjkə?

    Elena says no. Not normally, that is. It isn't an established name ready for use. But then there's nothing to stop a family using this or any other creation as a one-off.

    There are three sorts of these names

    • 'ready made' versions for particular names such as Лена (which is what I call me wife) or Леночка (which is what many of her friends and family call her).

    • established names used for more than one forename — for example Ляля

    • invented names

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  12. I find it hard to believe that A. Rand took on as her official name (or perhaps her _nom de guerre_) a hupocoristic one-off name invented by her family in her tender years. I find it psychologically unlikely. Interestingly, in the post on family names John gave the example of his dog Doggus, or words like ickerkreeam for 'icecream', but no name he himself was called. Such things most of us don't give away, too intimate.

    As for names, I'd suggest a fourth category: names picked up from somebody else. A missing link between 'established' and 'invented'. I know some cases.

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  13. Curiously, she called herself Ann O'Connor (she was married to a Frank O'Connor) late in life, when she claimed Social Security and Medicare benefits.

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    1. why 'curiously'? I'd suppose in most countries it is normal to be called, say, 'Mark Twain' to one's audience and 'Samuel L. Clemens' to various authorities, bureaucracies, the State and such... have you any evidence that in the US this be not so?

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    2. Nothing curious about O'Connor, but Ann is a far from obvious choice. Presumably her naturalisation papers would read Alisa or Alice.

      If, however, it turns out that Ann was a name allotted to her by immigration authorities, that too would be curious.

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    3. No, I was saying it was not curious for her to 'call herself' something or other which she had, in fact, been called officially, when she claimed something from the government. In fact she probably did not call 'herself' so. Some authorities did. Or maybe this is the way things work in the US: you call yourself Hoinky Doinky or Gregory Z. Amburknage and file for Old Age Pension or such...?

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  14. According to Wikipedia: "she adopted the first name Ayn, either from a Finnish name or from the Hebrew word עין (ayin, meaning "eye").

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    1. The footnote there and some googling indicate this is a free conjecture by Anne Heller, who published a biography some years ago.

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  15. Interestingly, the double 'a's in both words discussed here: 'Isaac' and 'Canaan', have two different sources: the former: the (erstwhile) long Hebrew vowel [a:]: יִצְחָק yis.h.a:q, note the 'qamats'-pointing under the last-but-one (counting form r to l) letter, this is the [a:]. The latter, the 'ʕayin' letter with a short [a], כְּנָעַן k-schwa-na:-ʕayin-a-n.

    In 'Baal' it's too a ʕayin, I think. Baʕal. In 'Israel', by contrast, it was if I remember well a glottal stop (letter 'aleph') that separated the [a] from the [e], was it not?

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  16. I must ask again about Daniel Jones's ĭə. He calls it, together with ŭə, a rising diphtong and lists the word happier as an example. There is also the classic ɪə for the word clear, which is a falling diphthong, one where "beginnings have greater prominence than their endings".

    I've never seen a phonetician transcribe happpier as ˈhæpɪ̯ə, which I guess is the modern translation of Jones's symbols.

    I don't have his 1956 Outline of English Phonetics, in which he apparently talks about it.

    It turns out that there are four sounds of the type:

    (1) the falling dipthong ɪə̯ (present in LPD)
    (2) the disyllabic sequence i-ə, with stress on the i (present in LPD)
    (3) the disyllabic sequence i-ə, without stress on the i (is it there?)
    (4) the rising diphtong ɪ̯ə (?)

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    1. If both the 1956 Outline of English Phonetics and Falling and Rising Diphthongs in Southern English exist as non-copyrighted PDFs, I would like to read them.

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  17. Although this is not the book in question, it is from the same year and by Daniel Jones. See pages 67 and 68 here! He uses sets (1) and (4).

    I have not seen a modern phonetician transcribe "happier" as ˈhæpɪ̯ə either. Whether this represents a change in pronunciation or merely a change in how sounds are represented by symbols is another matter. This 1956 book by Jones still talks of the NORTH-FORCE distinction, which shows that the speech of England has changed much since it is written. There must be very, very few people left in England who distinguish NORTH and FORCE.

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    1. You seem to have put the wrong URL in your link. It links back to this post.

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    2. Correct, I have made an error. Thank you for pointing this out! This is what I meant to link to: pages 67 and 68. However, I have a feeling that Duchesse de Guermantes might've written her post above after reading this book and thus it might not be of much use.

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    3. There must be very, very few people left in England who distinguish NORTH and FORCE.

      I don't know about that. I was born in the 1970s, and I have the distinction fairly consistently I believe (though not quite the exact traditional distribution). My impression is that quite a lot of people in South Yorkshire of my age and older have at least a hint of a higher and more diphthongal vowel in FORCE, if not the full blown traditional dialect vowel which sounds almost like GOOSE plus schwa (and can definitely still be heard).

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    4. Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I didn't word my initial comment well (which has been a common sin of mine lately). What I meant was that very few people have the three-way distinction of NORTH, FORCE and CURE. I believe that the vowel that you're referring to is used in CURE as well as in [parts of] FORCE. I might occasionally pronounce "door" with this vowel, but I would not use it in "course" or "court" as my grandmother does.

      However, I don't think that this is quite the same as a NORTH-FORCE split. For example, "sort" takes the diphthong in traditional Yorkshire dialect and that is a NORTH word.

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  18. Aaron is another biblical name that has changed in the last, say, 30 years, isn't it?
    On another point is the pron of "moot" as "mute" an example of Norfolk hypercorrection or is it becoming more general?

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  19. On Biblical names, when did the pron of Isaiah change from 'Ise eye yer'? to 'Ise eh yer? (I haven't worked out typing IPA yet.) And Naomi too? Now more like 'Nye O meh'?

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    1. Has it changed? My impression is that the pronunciation with PRICE is British; that with FACE American. Has the FACE pronunciation been recently making headway in Britain?

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