Wednesday 28 December 2011


Yesterday’s brief mention of Brno triggered interest in its pronunciation. In Czech it is ˈbr̩no, two syllables, the first having a stressed syllabic trill. Mendel, though, being a native speaker of German, would have known it as Brünn brʏn.

Inspired by this thought, Stephen Bryant sent me a picture of the Nový Most (‘new bridge’) in Bratislava, which I show in reduced size alongside. He adds the comment
What I really like about this photo is the green panel on the sign, pointing to Brno, Žilina, Győr and Vienna, four cities in four countries, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria respectively.

Perhaps the pronunciation of Győr — which I for one struggle with — could be the subject of a future blog entry.

Győr is pronounced ɟ(ʝ)øːr. You can tell the name is Hungarian, since the letter ő, with its double acute accent, is used in the spelling of no other language (or at least, no other European language). The logic behind this unusual diacritic is that Hungarian uses a diaeresis, as in German, to show front rounded vowels (ö, ü), and an acute accent, as in Czech, to show vowel length (á, é, í, ó, ú): so for long front rounded vowels you have an acute diaeresis (ő, ű).

There is some debate as to how the initial consonant, orthographic gy, is best classified. All agree that it is a voiced palatal obstruent. The question is whether it is a plosive, ɟ, or an affricate, ɟʝ. The 1999 IPA Handbook treats it as an affricate, but adds this note.
In formal style /cç, ɟʝ/ are realized mostly as palatal stops, i.e. [c] and [ɟ].

Its predecessor, the 1949 Principles booklet, says simply
c, ɟ cardinal palatals.

Anyhow, the result is similar to the English gj in regular. The vowel is as in German schön; the final consonant is an apical tap, or in my experience may alternatively sometimes be fricative. Listen here.

Győr has a number of names in other languages: as well as nativized forms such as Дьёр in Russian and Đur or Jura in Croatian, it has the apparently unrelated name Raab in German. But as far as I am aware there is no traditional anglicized form of the name.


  1. In Serbian it's Ђер/Đer dʑɛ̂ːr. According to Wikipedia, there's also an older version, Ђур/Đur dʑûːr .

  2. Brno is one syllable for Poles, of course, no matter how long you hold the trill for.

  3. As a Hungarian native, I can tell that these palatal consonants are basically affricates: voiceless [cç] spelt as ty, and voiced [ɟʝ] spelt as gy. They can, however, become (even unexploded) stops [c, ɟ] before other consonants, but between vowels we don't pronounce them as such, not even in formal style.

    These sounds are unitary sounds, not a sequence of [t+j] or [d+j], respectively, and certainly not that of [g+j], so the example of regular above is incorrect. The orthograhy is misleading, gy has nothing to do with [g], but much more with [d]. So a better example could be modular, with [dj] or [dʒ]. An English approximation for Győr could be 'jur' /dʒɜː/.

  4. If you click on the "names in other languages" link after the pronunciation of Győr on the Wikipedia page, then you can scroll down and see the list of other languages with the German "Raab," assumably from the Latin "Arrabona/Arabona."

  5. The thing I have never understood about the palatal stops [c, ɟ] is how the tongue contacts the palate when articulating them. The comments above seem to leave it ambiguous whether it is apical (like a retroflex stop) or laminal. Can someone clarify this?

  6. John Cowan: a "cardinal" palatal is articulated with the front of the tongue, i.e. the same as for the vowel [i] and for other palatals, [ç ʝ ɲ j]. The tip and blade of the tongue are not involved: palatals are neither apical (tip) nor laminal (blade). Where [i] is a stricture of open approximation, [ʝ] has close approximation and [ɟ] complete closure, all at the same place of articulation.

  7. as far as I am aware there is no traditional anglicized form of the name.

    The 1822 Edinburgh Gazetteer and the 1823 Geographical dictionary or universal gazetteer, ancient and modern have their entry under Raab, giving Gyor, Nagy-Gyor and, in the latter book, Javarin as alternatives.

    In general, my impression is that earlier, if there wasn't a traditional English name, you looked whether there was at least a German or French name and only if there wasn't one, you resorted to whatever those savages themselves used.

  8. Thanks, that's very helpful. Based on my articulation of [i] and the other palatals you mention, I find that the contact point is approximately in the middle of my tongue, with the tip of my tongue winding up behind my bottom teeth, the same as for alveolo-palatal fricatives.

  9. What is the difference between Serbian and Croatian /dʑ/ and Italian /dʒ/?

  10. No, Hungarian gy is not even similar to the cluster in English regular...

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  12. Sorry, but since you are talking about my city, I peep in.
    Raab/Ráb/... comes from Arrabona, the Roman name of the city, which comes from the Celtic name of the Rába (Raab, Arrabo,...) river. It is supposed to have something to do with the Indo-european "orobo" dark red / brown - most probably meaning the color of the river. This name was taken over by almost everyone around here, except the Hungarian and the Turkish. Since we, the Hungarian, are not Indo-european folks and don't like to follow the rules of our current neighbours (just joking), when we arrived there and saw a small fortification, started to call the place "gyűrűvár" which is a type of primitive hill fort (in Ireland you can still find the remains of some of them - the one in Győr is no more visible, but we know it's place). Then this name was shortened and modified to Győr (there are some other "győr"-s in Hungary - designing the place of other primitive hill forts). The Turkish called the city "Burned city" (Yanıkkale according to Wikipedia) after they burned it down.
    The Russian or Croatian name are simply transcriptions of the Hungarian name of the city.
    As for the pronunciation of "Győr", if you know how to pronounce God in French, "Dieu", and be able to make it longer and put an "R" on the end, you've almost (but only ALMOST) got it. At least we will most probably know what you are talking about.

  13. The German bus driver who picked us up from Bratislava prounced it more like 'geer' or 'jeer' which surprised me as I thought it more like 'Gyoor' with a dg sound like the word wedge. The character ő (which I also noticed in Budapest when the metro stopped at Fővam tér)seems to travel a little, starting with an eee ending with an 'aw' producing a similar vowel sound when you say 'fjord'


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