Thursday 3 March 2011


There was another idiosyncratic pronunciation from David Attenborough last night, repeated several times in his programme Attenborough and the Giant Egg (iPlayer here). For Malagasy, which most of us call ˌmæləˈɡæsi, he says ˌmæləˈɡeɪzi. I suppose it can be considered a spelling pronunciation, though there aren’t actually any other words in -asy that might have acted as a model for it.

No dictionaries, as far as I know, give anything other than ˌmæləˈɡæsi (or their idiosyncratic transcriptions of the same pronunciation, as in the new edition of the OED, with Upton’s a for æ).
Etymologically, the alternation between the d of Madagascar and the l of Malagasy is due to an alternation in the Malagasy language itself. The OED says
There is a division in Malagasy between dialects with /d/ and dialects with /l/, which accounts for the coexistence of forms in Mal- and forms in Mad-.

Wikipedia adds that Malagasy l becomes d “in reduplication, compounding, possessive and verbal constructions, and after nasals”. Malagasy belongs to the Bornean branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language family.

The other English adjective/ethnonym from Madagascar, namely Madagascan ˌmædəˈɡæskən, is interesting in that it is morphologically irregular. It “ought” to be Madagascarian, like Gibraltarian from Gibraltar. For non-rhotic speakers the irregularity is only in the spelling: as far as pronunciation goes, ˌmædəˈɡæskə — ˌmædəˈɡæskən is just like ˈæfrɪkə — ˈæfrɪkən.

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I feel quite chuffed that my lexical sets PALM and LOT have made it to lolPhonology.
As you can see, internal evidence (wif) suggests that this lolcat is American.


  1. Actually, I thought the native pronunciation of this word was "malagash" (sorry not lack of phonetic transcription, but i'm sure you get the gist of it.

  2. @Anon: No. Under Malegache the OED says "The origin of the /ʃ/ of the second syllable is uncertain; it might be dialectal (the sound does not exist in standard Malagasy) or an innovation in French. French malgache is considered by many Malagasies to be an offensive mispronunciation, intended to link the word with French mal bad and gâcher ruin".

  3. John, in Italian "Malagasy" is translated as "malgascio", pronounced /malˈɡaʃʃo/. So I suppose that's a word that has come into Italian from French.

  4. The social interpretation of the link to the French words is very interesting, thanks for that.

    In fact the version i mentioned was a version a friend of mine told me. He spent a number of weeks on the island attempting to cross the island from north to south on foot. He only picked up a few words, so perhaps it is 'dialectal', as OED says.

  5. For the adjective derived from Madagascar, TLFi records obsolete variants madagascarinois and madagascarois.

  6. Post-tonic non-mid vowels in Merina dialect are reduced, the /i/ to [ʲ] (written ‹y›). The French /ʃ/ might be an approximation of [sʲ].


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