Monday 3 October 2011


The British government has announced the creation of three new enterprise zones to help the workers who are losing their jobs at Brough, Warton, and Samlesbury, we read yesterday.

The Brough in question is not Brough under Stainmore in Cumbria but Brough-on-Humber near Hull. Like other English places with this name, both are pronounced brʌf (locally, of course, equating to brʊf). In Scotland things are different.

Warton is of course ˈwɔː(r)tn̩. This village is in Fylde faɪld in Lancashire. Samlesbury, too, is in Lancashire, just outside Preston, not too far from where I grew up. (My picture shows the village church.)

There is some uncertainty about the first vowel sound in this latter place name. I know it as ˈsɑːmzbri, -bəri, though I see that in LPD I deferred to the BBC Pron Dict of British Names and prioritized ˈsæmz-. Either way, its pronunciation does not correspond particularly closely to its spelling. In fact it is pronounced more as if spelt Salmesbury — compare psalm sɑːm and salmon ˈsæmən.

This YouTube video, too, calls it ˈsɑːmz- (or is she saying ˈsɒmz-?).

Wikipedia baldly asserts that the etymology of the first part of this name is the Old English sceamol ‘ledge’. Ekwall’s Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names is more cautious, saying only “Etymology obscure. If the name originally began in Sh-, the first element may be OE sceamol ‘bench’ &c. in some topographical sense such as ‘ledge’”. The earliest spelling recorded (1179) is Samerisberia, with Samelesbure in 1188 and Schamelesbiry in 1246. The English distinction between ɑː and æ is much more recent than that.


  1. "Wikipedia baldly asserts" - In this case, Wikipedia nicely links to the origin of this assertion, being the "University of Nottingham's Institute for Name-Studies". So although the University of Nottingham may be wrong, don't blame Wikipedia this time.

  2. Victor Watts in his Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names suggests a combination of Anglo-Norman influence and 'a native tendency to assimilation in the sequence sc - s' for the pronunciation with s instead of ʃ.

  3. It sounds pretty unambiguously like ˈsɒmzbri to me at this point:

    You can even see the lip-rounding. We're lucky to get this token so early. I doubt if anyone will want to slog through the rest of the video.

  4. If you do slog through some of the rest (of this TV programme for the credulous) you'll find several unambiguous cases of ˈsɑːmz-.

  5. Thanks. I'll take your word for it. I wasn't suggesting for a moment that she was any more competent than one can expect even in presenters of presentable programmes. I guess the other cases are as likely to be of her as other speakers.


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