Tuesday, 5 February 2013

acres

I’ve been reading David Abulafia’s The Great Sea: a Human History of the Mediterranean. Now that I’ve got to the part dealing with the second millennium AD, one of the seaports I find frequently mentioned is the Levantine port known in English as Acre, in the north of what is now Israel.

I have always assumed that in English we pronounce it identically with the common noun referring to the unit of measurement equivalent to about two-fifths of a hectare, i.e. ˈeɪkə. Wikipedia, however, asserts that it is ˈɑːkə(r). I see that Merriam-Webster gives both of these possibilities as well as a third one, ˈɑːkrə.

There are various English placenames that include the element acre, or rather its OE form æcer ‘cultivated land’: for example, Sandiacre ˈsændieɪkə in Derbyshire, and also Castle Acre, South Acre and West Acre in Norfolk, all with ˈeɪkə.

On Merseyside, however, Gateacre, etymologically ‘goat-acre’, is ˈɡætəkə, with a weakened penultimate vowel.

The village of Talacre, not too far away but in north Wales, is properly tælˈækreɪ, being a Welsh compound of tâl ‘end’ plus the plural of acer from English acre. The standard Welsh plural form is, I believe, aceri; this acre must be a local variant acrau, with -au pronounced in the usual local way as e.

For the same reason Acrefair near Wrexham is properly ˌækrɪˈvaɪə (Welsh akreˈvair). Etymologically, the fair element in this name is the soft-mutated form of Mair ‘Mary’, so the name means ‘Mary’s acres’.

7 comments:

  1. I always wanted to look up where the r came from anyway.

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  2. According to Britannica (11th ed.), 'The Greek historians name it Ake (Josephus calls it also Akre)'.

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  3. I worked there for a year (outside the walls) in the eighties. I see that the Arabic begins in a pharyngeal (ʻAkka ), so [ɑ] is appropriate for the first vowel, but in Canadian English, it's [ˈækəɹ ~ ˈeɪkəɹ] Acre, [ˈækə] Akka, [ˈæko] Akko.

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  4. The first "r" in Acrefair is never pronounced and the second syllable is a schwa.

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  5. Sorry; should have put my name.

    Tudor Hughes

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