Thursday, July 10, 2008

How is it pronounced?

I remember that at a certain point in school, I became self-conscious about reading aloud. Until that time, I'd always enjoyed it, because I knew I was good at it. (Let's just be honest, shall we? ;o))

I don't remember the details, but a teacher corrected my pronunciation, and I didn't want to further embarrass myself by mispronouncing even more words. I guess it didn't occur to me that the only way I'd learn correct pronunciation was to hear it. Instead, I felt that it would make me look stupid, and that annoyed me-- particularly when I knew what the word meant. (I'm still not really fond of corrections or so-called "constructive criticism", but I suppose few of us are.)

Anyway, I've long been sensitive to issues of pronunciation. (Maybe this has hindered my progress in learning Swedish. Yeah, that must be it. It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that I never practice. . .)

I'm also interested in linguistic curiosities in general, so naturally I was amused to come across this list somewhere out on the vast WWW. Someone made an impromptu list of names whose bizarre pronunciations bear little resemblance to their spellings.

I'll just copy and paste the relevant bit so you don't have to wade through that forum I linked to above (unless you want to, of course):

Cockburn I mentioned above [pronounced "Coburn"], Other food related ones might be Worcester (sauce) pronounced Wooster; Leicester (cheese) pronounced lester
Other examples (not a complete list by any means)
Wymondham (pronounced Wind-am),
Waldergrave (=Wawgrayve),
Mainwaring (=Mannering),
Magdalene (=Maudlin),
Caius (=Keeys),
Auchinlech (=Aflek)
Althorp – pronounced 'Awltrup'
Belvoir – pronounced 'Beever'
Cholmondely – 'Chumli'
Featherstonehaugh – 'Fanshaw'
Leominster – 'Lemster'
Leveson-Gower – 'Loosen-Gaw'
Marjoribanks – 'Marchbanks'
Ralph – 'Rafe'
Ranulph – 'Ralph'
St. John – 'Sin Jin'
Towcester – 'Toaster'
Woolfardisworthy – 'Woolseri'
Wriothesley – 'Roxli'
Menzies - 'Minges'

Some of you will recognize that the pronunciation of one of those names is very similar to my own maiden name. Interesting! Maybe I have some incredibly distant cousins sipping tea in England under that name. Or maybe not. (g)

In the forum, the topic of St. John/Sin Jin's appearance in Jane Eyre came up. Some seemed to think that if you'd read the book, you'd know that "St. John" is pronounced "Sin Jin".

Part of me is (jokingly) offended because I myself read and loved the book, but never had a clue it wasn't pronounced "Saint John" until I saw a film based on the novel. (True, I thought "Saint John" was an awfully weird name-- yes, I do still form opinions on the weirdness of names, even though I have what is arguably an odd name, myself (g)-- but "Sin Jin" doesn't really seem more normal to me. In fact, it reminds me of "Sinbad the Sailor"!)

Another part of me just wants to laugh and say, "You've got to be kidding, right?!" It's a book! How am I supposed to magically "hear" the way a name is pronounced just by reading it? Especially if it's an odd pronunciation, running counter to everything I've ever been taught about phonetics! Unless I'm forgetting a part of the book where his name is rhymed with something else. And I'm pretty sure I'm not. St. John Rivers isn't exactly the type of character who has rhymes written about him by his fellow characters.

Anyway. . . Be careful around those British people. With mismatched spellings and pronunciations like those, they've gotta be crazy. (Or at least mildly cruel, laying traps of this sort.) ;o)