In view of one commenter’s indignation this week about the Ohio placename Lima, pronounced differently from the identically spelt capital of Peru (see screenshot above of the LPD entry), I thought it was time for another repeat. Here’s a blog entry from 2007.
_ _ _
Driving to Gatwick Airport a few days ago to meet an arriving passenger, I passed through the village of Burgh Heath. As on previous occasions when I have travelled that route, I wondered idly how it’s pronounced. Is the first word bɜː or ˈbʌrə?
When I got back home I looked it up in the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names (G. Pointon, 1990), which says it can be either. Just not bɜːɡ.
I further learnt that Burgh in Norfolk is ˈbʌrə, but Burgh in adjoining Suffolk is bɜːɡ. Things are different in the north of England: Burgh-by-Sands in Cumbria is metathesized to brʌf, which must mean that for many locals it’s more like [brʊf].
It’s worse than -ough.
Tomorrow I have to go to Birmingham. To reach my destination the map says I have to look for the road leading to Alcester. Er... what was that? I checked with my brother, who lives not too far away, and he says it’s ˈɔːlstə. Then I looked in LPD and found that I agree.
And there’s no call for Americans to feel superior to the wacky British. In the States you never know what will happen with Spanish names. I remember passing through Salida, Colorado. That’s the Spanish for ‘exit’, and it was at the mouth of a canyon, so I thought that in English it would be səˈliːdə. But the local radio station announcers, who should know, pronounced it səˈlaɪdə.
Even English-derived names can be surprising. I remember driving through Placerville, California, and discovering to my surprise that it was not ˈpleɪsɚvɪl but ˈplæsɚvɪl.