Sunday, 20 November 2011

Southey (Robert) and other surprising pronunciations

A few days ago I was watching a documentary. I heard an English academic pronounce the Laker poet Robert Southey's surname with the vowel sound of "cow" and not "dust", as I've always pronounced it.

What? I thought. He should know better than that, but I had better check. Indeed, I was wrong, and the best evidence of the correct pronunciation is that Byron rhymed his name with "mouthy" in Don Juan. Apparently, Southey himself pronounced his name with the "ow" sound, and was annoyed that southerners would pronounce it with the short "u".

"Southern" and "southerly" are pronounced as "suthern" and "sutherly", not retaining the sound of "south", so southerners must have assumed that Southey would pronounce his name in the same way.

The question is, should I now pronounce it correctly and be thought incorrect? I have never been quite game enough to pronounce "forte" and "schism as they should be pronounced, i.e., as "fort" rather than "fortay", and "sism" rather than "skism".

However, the spelling and pronunciation of the word "pronunciation" itself is not open to dispute. "Pronounce" loses its "u", and the "ow" sound, when it becomes the noun "pronunciation".

Similarly, "denounce" becomes "denunciation" and "renounce" becomes "renunciation". Interestingly, we don't make an "annunciation" over the loud speaker system -- that special announcement was reserved for the angel Gabriel.

On a technical note, if you are still with me, I have changed the URL of my blogs by dropping the hyphens previously in "carolusgrammaticus" and "carolusperegrinator". I wanted the spelling to be consistent with that of the address of a website I have set up. If you are interested, you can visit You can get to my blogs from there as well.

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