Friday 22 October 2010

oft internèd (?) with their bones

Confession: OK, the man whose funeral I went to (yesterday’s blog) was black and of West Indian (namely Montserratian) origin. Like most Montserrat families since the volcano disaster of 1997, his descendants are scattered among the Montserratian diaspora around the world, but particularly in the UK and the US. So some at least of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren on whose names I commented may be American and following the naming fashions of African-Americans rather than of English people.

Believe me, though, that the register of children at any London primary school will indeed contain a fair number of names that are missing from LPD and other pronunciation dictionaries. Even from the white working class (think of names like Kayleigh).

One of my social duties from time to time is to create funeral service sheets for Montserratians who have died in London. Most are buried rather than cremated, and that means that whereas the funeral service is held in church near the deceased’s residence the actual burial takes place in one of the cemeteries located several miles away. So the service sheet has to tell you where this will be.

Rather than ‘burial’, people prefer to use the posh word interment. The trouble is that many Montserratians think it is spelt ‘internment’ and pronounced correspondingly. In the service sheets I make myself I spell the word correctly, of course. But others don’t. Here’s what Wednesday’s service sheet said.
As we know, internment ɪnˈtɜːnmənt is imprisonment without trial. You can see how readily it might be confused with interment ɪnˈtɜːmənt. Think of the common pronunciation of government with a single nasal, ˈɡʌvəmənt. (Actually, it gets worse: there are newsreaders who seem to pronounce government virtually identically with gunmen. I’m sure JWL has examples.)

And finally... as an EFL mistake I have even heard interment pronounced as ˈɪntəmənt. It does look confusingly like words with the prefix inter-.


  1. So as far as names are concerned, non-whites in the Anglosaxon world look to a "remote origin" or just invent, whilst non-coloniser descendants in (Spanish speaking) Latin America seem to prefer English (or anglicized) words (I know a beautiful Colombian girl called "Darling").

  2. Not just Montserratians: everyone's at it. Just google "cemetery" and "internment" and count the hits. I particularly like There is a separate area of the cemetery for the internment of children, which at least might make for a bit of peace and quiet during the service.

    When the last RC Archbishop of Birmingham died, the press release put out by the Church also contained the offending i-word, and it was dutifully reproduced in virtually every press report.

  3. Well, John, as to “there are newsreaders who seem to pronounce government virtually identically with gunmen”, the nearest to that I can vouch for has been /`gᴧbmənt/. Even by 1969, when I was working on my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary, I’d establisht to my satisfaction that a second /n/ in it was so unusual that I decided to omit it entirely from that set of recommendations to EFL users on how to say the word. Readers who might like more on this cd look at eg item 12.2¶10 and blog 237 at my website. It can offen be quite difficult to decide whether one’s he’rd interment or internment especially if the latter has its first n assimilated to the following m when something exactly intermediate between /m/ and /m̩/ is perfectly possible.

  4. Did you know that some countries publish lists of approved names and banned names?

    Here's a BBC news story on it:

  5. In the United States, the stereotypical rural southern pronunciation of government is "gubmint" or "gummint".

  6. Deceased's....duh duh:-)


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