Monday 8 October 2012

an archiepiscopal mnemonic

Many of you will be aware that the Church of England is currently in the throes of choosing a new Archbishop of Canterbury. One of the candidates is the present Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

The religious correspondent on the Sky News morning programme yesterday referred to him as Bishop senˈtɑːmuː. But, as those who consult LPD or the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation will know, his own preferred pronunciation is ˈsentəmuː. (Those who consult Wikipedia, on the other hand, will find there the implausible ˈsɛntɑːmuː. Perhaps one of you will now correct it.)

The Archbishop has given us an easy way to remember the correct pronunciation of his name. He asks us to imagine three cows standing in a row. Each cow moos. On the left we have a left moo, on the right we have a right moo, and in the centre we have a centre moo. And he’s like the centre moo, ˈsentəmuː.

(Sorry this doesn’t work for AmE or even for the Scots.)


  1. The original Luganda pronunciation would be sːeːntamu with a high tone on the first two syllables and a falling tone on the final syllable. (And that's a long s at the start - I'm assuming his name is actually Ssentamu and he's done what lots of Baganda do when they move the UK and drop the double initial consonant in their clan name.)

    piː mæk ənɛnə

  2. Looks like it was corrected on Wikipedia within 15 minutes of your post, assuming that the timestamps here are UK local time and that those on Wikipedia are UTC. However, Wikipedia claims to use ɛ for the DRESS vowel, so it may need correcting again.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I've looked through the editing history. For most its history there was no pronunciation supplied or it was SEN-ta-moo. The first IPA correction was ˈsentəmuː. Somebody made a conscious decision to change it to ˈsɛntɑ:muː — which is closer to what most people seem to call him.

    Do we know how the bishop pronounces centre ?

    1. Most people from Kampala would say seːnta for centre. The long e is caused by Luganda phonotactics, which insist on long vowels before nt (or indeed before any prenasalised consonant).

      However the bishop has lived here for a long time, probably went to a very good school and university, and so may not haev a broad Kampala accent.

    2. There's a fair bit of Sentamu on YouTube. He definitely has an A-sound for the final vowel of cholera. To my ear he pronounces the word letter slightly differently in two consecutive sentences. In the first, I think I hear ˈlɛta, but in the following, more rapid, repetition I think I hear ˈlɛtə.

      I suspect he would not recognise a difference between ˈsɛntəmu: and ˈsɛntamu:.

    3. I've just looked at the Wikipedia editing history, and it seems that the first version was ˈsɛntəmuː (not ˈsentəmuː) on 25th June. This was evidently added by someone who knows what he's talking about, as it's the same person who said here recently that he had added the Wiktionary pronunciation for variadic (though I won't post the username in case he doesn't want this connection to be googlable). Whoever later changed it to ˈsɛntɑ:muː clearly got it wrong and should have left it alone – even if it is closer to sɛnˈtɑ:muː, which is also wrong. As regards the first vowel, the fact that the mnemonic supplied by the Bishop uses the DRESS vowel and that Wikipedia transcribes this with /ɛ/ should be enough, whether or not he pronounces his name with [ɛ]. Anyway, I see someone's sorted it out again now.

    4. Alan

      Yes the e was a typo on my part. I spotted a second e and deleted the entire post so as to correct it. I just missed the first error.

      I wasn't defending the guy who changed it to ˈsɛntɑ:muː, merely suggesting the motivation.

  5. I changed the DRESS vowel to ɛ, and added a ref to a BBC page also mentioning the "left/right/center moo".

  6. "Oh, I think he's feeling pretty bad, missing his cattle and all."

    "No problem. I sent a moo to him by email."

    1. It would solve the problem for rhotic speakers, but the intonation isn't reliably correct — unless you went for something like "Did you receive a cow? No, I sent a moo."

  7. The Wikipedia article currently reads:

    John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu (English pronunciation: /ˈsɛntəmuː/[3]; born 10 June 1949) is the 97th Archbishop of York, Metropolitan of the province of York, Primate of England and a columnist for The Sun.[4]

    Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous!

  8. The Luganda pronunciation has now been added to the Wikipedia article as well. It matches Pete's description of the pronunciation given above.

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