Wednesday 16 December 2009

carols in the cathedral

photo: James O. Jenkins
I was in Southwark (ˈsʌðək) Cathedral yesterday evening with a hundred other members of the LGMC and a large congregation for the Mayor of London’s Christmas carol service.
Like most English people these days I would not claim to be a committed Christian believer, and the same is true of our Chorus. But unlike most English people, and unlike most of the Chorus members, I was brought up as a regular Anglican churchgoer, and am therefore very familiar with how church services are ordered and with what church choirs do. One of the things we had to do last night was to process (prəˈses), while singing, from our seats in the chancel and choir onto the chancel steps to perform our special numbers. Our custom is to sing “off-book”, i.e. without holding a music score to read from. We had the printed service sheets to use while still sitting in our choirstalls, but once on the move we had to leave them behind. It was a revelation to me that most of my fellow choristers did not know the words of the Christmas hymns off by heart, still less their tenor or bass parts. Before the service they were grumbling about the hard work they’d had to do to memorize them — stuff that I have been singing every Christmastide since I was a boy, stuff I could sing in my sleep.
It means that in future when the other Chorus members know the words and music of songs from the shows, and I don’t, I shan’t feel so bad about it.
Last December I discussed with you the pronunciation of deity, which features in the hymn Hark the herald-angels sing (blog, 3 Dec 2008).
…Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity…
I can now confirm that again in Southwark last night the choir and congregation were (as far as I could tell) unanimous in singing ˈdeɪəti. I wonder if this pronunciation will eventually catch on in America too.
The lessons were read by various local dignitaries and representatives of London public services (police, fire fighters, transport workers, ambulance staff). I am not sure whether it was with delight or with dismay that I heard once again the classic tonality error, the multioccupied manger:
And they came with haste, | and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe | lying in a manger.
— which I was trained to avoid when I was about eleven.
Although I say so myself, the marvellous cathedral acoustics with the high vaulted ceiling and wide nave meant that our performance last night sounded truly magical, particularly I think in Hope for Resolution (blog, 8 Sep 2009).
Photo: hedgiecc


  1. "the choir and congregation were (as far as I could tell) unanimous in singing ˈdeɪəti. I wonder if this pronunciation will eventually catch on in America too."

    Based on my entirely unscientific observations, It has begun to catch on here.

    Personally, I have always said (and sung) ˈdiːəti, and unless confronted with the need to conform in a chorus (haven't sung in one in years; I envy you), I don't expect that ˈdeɪəti will ever pass my lips.

    It's a question of habit, of course; as long as listeners understand what is meant, there's nothing "wrong" with deɪəti - it's a logical choice based on Latin deus, dei - regardless of my personal reaction to it, which is to shudder in horror. Language is going to change whether I like it or not. Mostly I like it, but we all have our weaknesses.

  2. The resilience of the human organism never ceases to amaze me, even though my own resilience is minimal in most respects. I have had a hard time overcoming my horror of many things, but ˈdeɪɪtɪ wasn’t one of them, and I think it's because I too have been in choirs all my life. I do remember trying to hold out for ˈdiɪtɪ, but it's not so good for belting out. Now I can't remember how long I have had ˈdeɪɪtɪ in whatever form of phonation.

    So you may find you get over your horror of it, Amy.

    On the other hand I am still shuddering at your dresser draws on Graham Pointon's blog. You may find some entertainment value in my answer there:

  3. It seems to me that the i grapheme in deity is doing double duty in two segments: d ei i t y. Cf. the first o of zoology z oo o l o g y -- another innovative pronunciation that has largely superseded the earlier one.

  4. Mallamb (or may I use your first name?), I loved your comments on the dresser draws!

    As for getting over horror, I've nearly resigned myself to ɛɚɘ for era, but it hasn't been easy. I've had to accept that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool snob about the pronunciations I learned as a child. I like them better because I like them better! I just try to leave my aesthetic preferences at the door when I go to work.

  5. I'm with you, I can sing these hymns in my sleep too, and yet my father was a lapsed Irish-American Catholic and my mother a German Protestant from a kirchlose[*] family tradition. They were just Around at Christmastime in the early 60s. (Nowadays, not so much; most of what we hear is pop junk, from which I except two modern carols that deserve to live, "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Do You Hear What I Hear?")

    You probably know more verses than I do, and since I've never sung in a choir, I know only the soprano parts (an octave lower, naturally), and probably in the wrong keys.

    * How do you refer to Christians outside the churches in English? Churchless sounds stupid.

  6. "Dayety" sometimes just sounds lecturing to me, and often enough by people who didn't learn Latin from the age of ten on, but that's only the origin of this newer pronunciation, of course, and nearly everybody who uses it does so without any ulterior motives.

  7. John, the word you're looking for is "unchurched".

  8. Please see this link, or you might not believe the verification word for my last comment.

  9. The acoustics were marvelous, and the choir was in great form. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening - my first carol service in London for 20 years! I'm glad you could use my quickly snatched photo! :-)

  10. Hedgie - thanks! if I'd known how to do so, I would have asked your permission first. (As you can see, I cropped it a bit.)

  11. Andy B, unchurched - isn't that a woman who hasn't yet been absolved of original sin having recently given birth?

    Unorthodox won't do, of course.

    Isn't it the unmarked case, that doesn't need a word? The opposite is church-going.

  12. Yes, the word is non-churchgoing or nonchurchgoing.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. @mollymooly I say [ˈdeɪ̩ˌti] (is that the right way to show that 2 IPA symbols represent successive vowels rather than a diphthong? in case it isn't clear, there's a syllabicity mark under the ɪ) but I don't think of the i as doing double duty; rather, I think of just the e as representing [e] (which would be [ei] were it not for the following vowel).

  15. Non-churchgoing seems to miss the mark. It wasn't merely that my great-grandfather didn't attend divine services (though he was deeply religious), it was that he was not a member of any particular church (which in Germany mostly means Lutheran or Catholic, both of which are creedal denominations) because he disagreed with their doctrines.

    The OED has a relevant quotation under unchurched, though: "1889 J. H. WARD Church in Modern Society 224 There is more activity to-day in the churches, but there are also more unchurched people than ever before." This may be meant to include unbelievers, however.

  16. Richard, I don’t think that's the whole story.

    If we consider [ˈde.ɪti] (using JW's syllable marker to obviate the illegibility of the vertical lines) as parallel to the ['vɪ.ɪkl] we were discussing under 'triphthongs, anyone?' I would go along with that, as I think I would normally pronounce deity parallel to ['vɪ.ɪkl] in ordinary speech, and I think a lot of us would go along with you and me in dropping the yod in both cases a lot of the time.

    But whether it is the unreduced form ˈdeɪɪti or the ˈdeɪəti JW has here, the yod comes right back if you're singing. Unless of course you have some sort of Italianate ˈdeːiti!

    I have checked the 3Dec 2008 blog entry that JW links to, which is an account of the way the ĕ of dĕitās was lengthened to eː because English can't tolerate a stressed short vowel in an open syllable, and then changed to iː by the Great Vowel Shift, giving ˈdiːɪti.

    John says there that he doesn’t think the schoolroom pronunciation of Latin is the explanation for the change from this ˈdiːɪti to ˈdeɪəti or for the parallel trend towards the same change in spontaneity, homogeneity, nucleic, as it has not led anyone to revise the pronunciation of Latin-derived ē in any other positions.

    "Latin-derived ē" doesn’t seem right. I think he meant either English orthographic e or /iː/. If he did, I could mention the pronunciation of academia (with original ē in Latin) to rhyme with macadamia, and provoke a few more shudders, and no doubt there are other such horrors. And In spite of my espousal of ˈdeɪəti/ˈdeɪɪti I still consider [ˈveɪɪkl] for 'vehicle' one such horror, but I don’t cite it as a counterexample, as apart from the spelling it seems to conform to his pattern of examples like spontaneity, homogeneity, nucleic, of which he says it must be something to do with being in the stressed position and followed by a vowel. He gives diarrhoea as a counterexample, but I have found one dictionary which even acknowledges onomatopoeia with eɪ. But I do think the schoolroom pronunciation of Latin is part of the explanation even for those, and is what has inspired the eɪ in academia and onomatopoeia, where it may be a backformation from the more common onomatopoeic with eɪ, of course.

    And another possible explanation for that would be the strong tendency for –ic to cause allomorphs with a short vowel: epos-epic, phone-phonic, etc.

    Whichever of these happens, history repeats itself, and English again can't tolerate a stressed short vowel in an open syllable, but this time round it has a new strategy: stick in a yod. Even after an a, as in the penult-stressed Naomi [naɪˈəʊmɪ] discussed on this blog at one point. That's what has happened in the form with schwa that JW gives here [ˈdeɪəti]. And even in the full form of ˈdeɪɪti with ɪ, but in the full form of that there is no need to use any syllable marker or think of the i as doing double duty.

    BTW, does anyone find as I do that their pronunciations of ˈdiːɪst, ˈdiːɪzm have remained totally unscathed by this trend towards eɪ? And I don't think I've even heard theist, theism with eɪ!

  17. Theist, theism are probably too much in use for such a change, and deist, deism might be too technical again.

  18. John Cowan, there is another word, non-confessional, but perhaps not applied to people. Non-denominational, but it's top heavy. Perhaps it's better to describe your great-grandfather as you just did.

  19. @John Cowan: Freelance Christian?

    @mallamb: I don't know whether I've ever said "deism" or "theist" aloud, but they have /eɪ/ when I sound them in my head. I did likewise when I read "onomatopoeia" until I heard it spoken. The immunity of "vehicle" and "diarrhoea" from the /iː/>/eɪ/ shift is further evidence for my theory that it's the influence of ei in the spelling.

    Unless someone has a non-ei example of the change?

  20. Well I did give academia, the pronunciation of which to rhyme with macadamia has already gone further than one would have believed possible. And I did give [ˈveɪɪkl] for your own example 'vehicle', which is much more entrenched than [ækəˈdeɪmɪə]. The intervening h makes that too a counterexample for the influence of ei in the spelling, and no less so for your speech and mine being immune to what looks like a well-established trend.

  21. For what little it's worth, I haven't ever come across [ˈveɪɪkl] in the US. But "acadamia" nuts abound.

  22. Millions of Americans say /ˈdeɪəti/. I'm American and I've pronounced it both /ˈdeɪəti/ and /ˈdiəti/. I'm sure many other Americans are the same way. I will admit, though, that I probably prefer /ˈdiəti/ slightly over /ˈdeɪəti/.

  23. mallamb: when I studied philosophy at school, the teacher and the pupils (and me) all spoke of /deIIz@m/ and /deIIsts/. The pronunciations with /i:/ were unknown. I expect your not encountering these variants is because of the limited use of these words, not because they are immune to the development.

  24. I have heard deism deist theism theist and all their kin an awful lot all my life. It was only of the the- varieties that I said I had not heard them with eɪ! And I expect my not encountering these variants is indeed because of the (?marginally more) limited use of these words.

  25. Sorry, wrong thread! I've reposted my last contribution in the correct thread.


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