Tuesday 1 February 2011

obsolete exonyms

In Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense, first published in 1845, there are two limericks that give interesting indications of how two familiar European placenames were pronounced in English at the time.
One concerns a seaport in Spain:
There was an Old Person of Cadiz,
Who was always polite to all ladies;
But in handing his daughter,
he fell into the water,
Which drowned that Old Person of Cadiz.
In Spanish this place is spelt Cádiz and correspondingly pronounced ˈkaðiθ, or locally ˈkaðis. As shown by his rhyme, Lear must have called it ˈkeɪdɪz. In contemporary English, though, it is usually called kəˈdɪz, which is scarcely closer to the Spanish than Lear’s version. Why have we modernized the pronunciation by switching the stress to the wrong syllable?

Places of this name in the USA may retain the earlier pronunciation.

The other relates to the city that is now the capital of the Czech Republic.
There was an Old Person of Prague,
Who was suddenly seized with the plague;
But they gave him some butter,
which caused him to mutter,
And cured that Old Person of Prague.
The Czech name is Praha, pronounced ˈpɾaɦa. Lear evidently said preɪɡ. This variant is mentioned by Daniel Jones in EPD as late as 1963: although giving only the pronunciation prɑːɡ, he adds the note “There existed until recently a pronunciation preiɡ which is now probably obsolete”.

In the case of Copenhagen, interestingly enough, the innovating form with -ˈhɑːɡ-, despite being popularized by Danny Kaye, has not succeeded in displacing traditional -ˈheɪɡ-. And we still call Den Haag / ’s-Gravenhage by the name The Hague heɪɡ.

I expect that Lear, like other early Victorians, would also have rhymed Rome with loom and tomb, Milan with Dillon, and Calais with Alice. Again, the latter persists right up to the 1963 EPD, where it is characterized as no more than “old-fashioned”.


  1. And Vienna [ˈvɪənə]? (Which sounds close to how a Viennese would say Viennese in Viennese.)

  2. I understand that 'Milan' in 'A.C. Milan' (the Italian football club) is pronounced [ˈmiːlan] in Italian.

  3. I've mentioned preiɡ in another forum, and received this fascinating reply concerning the pronunciation in Ireland of the Infant Jesus of Prague.

  4. As a child in Catholic school in the US in the 1950s, we called the city prɑːɡ, but the object of veneration was called the Holy Infant of preiɡ.

  5. From W.H. Auden's "Letter to Lord Byron" (1936):

    I see his face in every magazine.
    "Don Juan at lunch with one of Cochran's ladies."
    "Don Juan with his red setter May MacQueen."
    "Don Juan, who's just been wintering in Cadiz,
    Caught at the wheel of his maroon Mercedes."
    "Don Juan at Croydon Aerodrome." "Don Juan
    Snapped in the paddock with the Aga Khan."

  6. @stormboy:

    I've heard a lot of English-speaking football (soccer) commentators start to pronounce the name of the club A.C. Milan as /ˈmiːlæn/ rather than /mɪˈlæn/. This seems to be a pretty recent phenomenon.

    See, e.g. http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/audio/2011/jan/24/football-weekly-andy-gray-richard-keys at 23:00

  7. Byron, of course, rhymed "Don Juan" with "new one" and "true one".

    As for Calais, it was an English city for centuries (it returned MPs 1372-? and 1536-58) in addition to being a port, so it's hardly surprising that it has an English name. In addition, the city was mostly Dutch-speaking until the late 17th or early 18th century, and its Dutch name is Kales.

    The Town of Calais in Vermont maintains the traditional pronunciation, though it was not settled until around 1780.

  8. Where I'm from in the United States (Illinois), cities and towns with foreign names get very interesting pronunciations. Vienna is /vaɪˈænə/, Lima is /ˈlaɪmə/ and Cairo is /ˈkeɪroʊ/ (Wikipedia says /ˈkɛəroʊ/). There are similar examples from neighboring states, like /ˈmaɪlən/ Indiana (Milan in case you couldn't figure it out). I believe the Illinois one has the same pronunciation as well.

    I've never understood the heɪɡ pronunciation in Copenhagen and the Hague. I always thought hɑːɡ would be closer to the pronunciation in those languages; closer, not exactly the same. I used to pronounce both of them with hɑːɡ, but I was corrected in both cases and told to say heɪɡ. With the Hague it was a native Dutch speaker of all people who told me to pronounce it heɪɡ.

  9. Why have we modernized the pronunciation by switching the stress to the wrong syllable?

    Probably the same reason people use /Z/ rather than /dZ/ in "Beijing", "Taj Mahal", etc. Last-syllable stress has become a quasi-sophisticated marker of foreignness.

  10. @ vp: Plus many people don't know what the accent mark means in Spanish words/names.

  11. " I used to pronounce both of them with hɑːɡ, but I was corrected in both cases and told to say heɪɡ."

    /hɑːɡn/ sounds German, and if there's one thing Danes hate, it's German(s).

  12. I am apparently more old-fashioned than I had hitherto realised, as preiɡ sounds perfectly unremarkable to me, though I would find prɑːɡ to be normal too. And I'm only thirty-one!

  13. I remember seeing 19th-century pronouncing gazetteers which give initial stress for Berlin in Germany, presumably as /ˈbɜːlɪn | ˈbɝː-/. I see that the LPD gives only ultimate stress for Berlin, noting that the town in New Hampshire (which I believe has a different etymology) gets initial stress.

  14. My trusty Collier's Encyclopedia gives:

    - for Cádiz: ke´dɪz, kədɪ´z; Sp. kɑ´ᵺith (i.e. ˈkeɪdɪz, kəˈdɪz; Sp. ˈːðiːθ)

    - for Calais 'a city and port of entry in Washington Co., in northeastern Maine': kæ′lɪs (i.e. ˈkælɪs) .

    As for AC Milan, the name and its pronunciation presumably stem from the fact that it was founded by English ex-pats as the 'Milan Cricket and Football Club', using the English pronunciation of the city's name at that time (1899 - I'm assuming Wikipedia is accurate).

  15. ˈlaɪənz for Lyons is another that springs to mind. I expect Wikipedia will have a "list of archaic place-name pronunciations" or similar. However, WP is wrong to imply (at the entry for Lyon) that Lyon is pronounced (in English) /liːˈɒn/ (that might be an American pronunciation, give or take ɒ~ɑ) but ˈlaɪəns when spelt Lyons. I bet plenty of English speakers would still spell it with an s, while pronouncing it more or less as in French, but I'd be very surprised to hear the old "lions" pronunciation, which has surely gone to the great phonetic atlas in the sky along with the others Prof W mentions.

  16. @ Jonqseonq:
    Billy Joel uses initial stress for Berlin in the song "We Didn't Start The Fire". But that's a song so I don't know if it counts.

  17. From "Love-lighted eyes" by Lewis Carroll:

    In scenes as wonderful as if
    She'd flitted in a magic skiff
    Across the sea to Calais:
    Be sure this night, in Fancy's feast,
    Even till Morning gilds the east,
    Laura will dream of Alice!

    (The poem, by the way, is an acrostic on Laura Isabel Plomer.)

  18. The authors of 1066 and All That were presumably aware of the old Calais pronunciation, and confidant that at least some of their readers shared the knowledge when they wrote as recently as 1930 of Broody Mary having 'callous' written on her heart.

  19. Are we sure that Lear and Carroll weren't just playing around with rhymes in the way Ogden Nash did?

  20. I don't have much occasion to talk about the Child of Prague, but my Irish dad b.1927 says it with PALM, as does Christy Moore b.1945 in "Delerium Tremens", rec.1985.

  21. I'd be interested to hear how other native English speakers pronounce the second syllable of 'Copenhagen'. I have the impression in my own speech that the -p- is actually realised as [b] (or does it just feel like this because it's unaspirated?) and the -en is a syllabic [n̩].

  22. The pronuntiation ˈkaðis (Cádiz) is indeed the Andalucian one, but the locals would usually say something closer to ˈkai, as they tend to relax even more than usual the intervocalic d and the final s, which almost always disappear there.

  23. @ Tonyo: As a non-native speaker of Spanish, I really like the Andalucian accent. I don't know how much locals like it though :)

  24. @Steve In fact, there are several variations of the Andalucian accent. In general, locals are proud of it. Castilians (I am one myself) nowadays tend to accept and like it more than it was usual before, but it's still considered by many as vulgar or uneducated, specially when spoken by, let's say, low-class people. And it is most liked to tell jokes: say something funny with a good accent from Cádiz, and your success is almost always guaranteed.

  25. Many place names in the Bible are given have traditional Anglicised pronunciations, only now I'm beginning to hear pronunciations that avoid the more English values given to the vowels.

    For example, I continue to pronounce Ai (in Joshua 8) /'eɪaɪ/, but the dominant pronunciation that I hear today is /aɪ/. Similarly, I say Thessalonica /θesələ'naɪkə/ but now begin to hear /θesə'lɒnɪkə/.


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