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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: June ::
Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1194  Monday, 16 June 2003

[1]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jun 2003 12:48:14 GMT0BST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

[2]     From:   Stanley Wells <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jun 2003 13:28:18 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

[3]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jun 2003 06:57:59 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jun 2003 12:37:29 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

[5]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jun 2003 18:16:02 -0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

[6]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jun 2003 14:08:43 -0500
        Subj:   Pronunciation

[7]     From:   William Davis <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jun 2003 21:53:41 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

[8]     From:   Carol Morley <
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        Date:   Saturday, 14 Jun 2003 11:36:54 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1176 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

[9]     From:   Ira Zinman <
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        Date:   Saturday, 14 Jun 2003 12:42:08 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jun 2003 12:48:14 GMT0BST
Subject: 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

>Excuse an ignorant Yank-- is Cirencester really pronounced "cister"?

Not by its current inhabitants, who actually tend to call it 'Ziren'.  I
remember having to learn this pronunciation as a child, but when and if
it was used - and by what social class - I don't know.

(Class can be important, at least in personal names - the football
manager pronounces his name 'Strackan', where a posh lawyer of my
acquaintance pronounces it 'Strawn' - both spell it 'Strachan' and both
are Scots; The Earl of Harewood pronounces it 'Harwood', whereas those
who inhabit the village in which Harewood House is situated speak of
'Hairwood'.)

and

> does Towcester rhyme with Gloucester or Worcester?

Neither.  Towcester is 'Toaster'

Gloucester is, as the Shakespearean spelling implies, 'Gloster'
Worcester is, as you suggest 'Wuster'.

'Shire' in county names is never 'shire', always 'sher' - except in
Scotland.

>I know an Englishwoman who retains a trace of the D in her pronunciation
>of Wednesday. Instead of just saying Wensday she says something more
>like Wedinsday although that d is =almost= swallowed. I don't know if
>this is typically English or not.

Probably not typical now, though I have hear it - but I come from a
place called 'Wednesfield', not far from 'Wednesbury', and listening to
myself as hard as I can, if there is any 'd' sound it comes after, not
before, the 'n' - 'Wendsfield', and I think, in the Wolverhampton accent
of my youth, 'Wednesday' would similarly be almost 'Wendsdy'.

David Lindley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stanley Wells <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jun 2003 13:28:18 +0100
Subject: 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

If you're really being posh, Cirencester is Sissester, but that
pronunciation would nowadays be regarded in most circles as an
affectation. I occasionally use it just to annoy. Towcester rhymes with
neither Gloucester (gloss-ter) nor Worcester (wuss-ter) but roaster (or
toaster, if a word can rhyme with itself.).

Presumably Gloucester taking over from Gloster is an eighteenth-century
etymological spelling.

Stanley Wells
The Shakespeare Centre

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jun 2003 06:57:59 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

Carol Barton writes, "Why is 'Arkansas' AR-can-saw, and 'Kansas'
KANZ-is, or 'Arab,' Alabama AY-rab (A hard as in hate) or 'Fayetteville'
Fett-vull?  Why do Southerners put the AC-cent on the wrong sylLABLE (as
in UM-brella, and IN-surance)?"

Careful Carol, or Queen Shah-NYY-YAH of Suh-THUN Country Music, the
CAP-Goddess, is "gonna GET-cha, GUUD!" :)

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jun 2003 12:37:29 -0400
Subject: 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

Carol Barton asks

>how do the maitres d'/hostesses answer the 'phone at the Vietnamese
>restaurant (there really is one!) called "Phat Phuc"?

Dunno, but if it were a Thai restaurant it would be Pat Puck.  In Thai,
the "h" following "T" or "P" signifies a less plosive pronunciation than
the initial letter usually denotes.  The distinction is lost on most
Western ears.  This is why Thailand is pronounced "Tieland" and Phuket
is "Pookett" rather than something less likely to attract tourists.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jun 2003 18:16:02 -0300
Subject: 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

Tom Rutter notes that

>The Q1 title page of King Lear refers to 'the vnfortunate life of Edgar,
>sonne and heire to the Earle of Gloster', indicating the Jacobean
>pronunciation of 'Gloucester'. This might suggest that 'Leicester' was
>similarly contracted.

Actually, I think that it was sometimes spelled with an "R", in
recognition of Holinshed's claim that King Lear founded it.

Yours,
Sean.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jun 2003 14:08:43 -0500
Subject:        Pronunciation

Two quips about British pronunciation, both of them originating in U.S.

1.  An Englishwoman took a holiday to upstate New York and was
understood completely when she got home and told her friends that she
had been to "N'iffles".  No use telling her that "Niagara Falls" is two
words and five syllables.

2.  An American visiting in England was doing pretty well but having a
tough time with words like "Leicester".  He about gave up, however, when
he saw a headline in the entertainment section of the paper reading
"'Edward My Son' Pronounced 'Success'".

You can date this second quip by noting the play in question and its
stage run.

Yours for syncopation,
John

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Davis <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jun 2003 21:53:41 EDT
Subject: 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

You say po-tay-toe, I say po-tah-toe, but is it nee-ther or nigh-ther?
What's up with this English language, and why the variations?  A few
questions will always remain mysteries, but here are a few ideas to toss
in the soup.

First, language always changes, despite our attempts to standardize it.
Ever wondered why "sword" has a "w" in it, and why "thought" has that
silent "gh" combo hanging around, and how come "knife" sounds like
"nife"?  Well, to put it simply, they all used to be pronounced that way
by at least one major regional dialect, and that dialect eventually
influenced the standardized forms of spelling (even when the
pronunciation changed away from the original sounds that inspired it).
For example, the "gh" in "thought" didn't used to be silent, but was
pronounced with a Germanic, throaty sound (alas, the computer doesn't
allow sound effects in texts, but think of the "ch" sound in Welsh, or
the "ch" sound in German, as in the number eight, "acht").  Better yet,
the "k" sound in "knife" went through an extra step before going
silent.  It was not pronounced as a modern "k" in this particular
instance, but also sounded similar to the "ch" in German, which later
transformed into an "h," before finally going silent.  In the early
1700s in England, for example, words like "knuckle, knot, knife" had an
unvoiced "h" at the beginning and were pronounced, "hnuckle, hnot,
hnife."  (see the vocabulary lists at the end of "The Art of Reading and
Writing English" by Isaac Watts, 1722, first edition).

So, what about Leicester?  Others on the list have been correct to point
out that it is a contraction.  But why did it happen?  We can only
surmise, but one of the characteristics of language change is that
common words which are complex and frequently used (trisyllabic, in this
case, with seven distinct sounds, or eight if the diphthong is separated
- counting sounds, not letters) often transform into variant
pronunciations that require fewer points of articulation (i.e., not just
the ease of speaking only two syllables, but a pronunciation that
requires fewer oral acrobatics to complete, or just five sounds that
have closely related articulation points in the mouth).  Basically, to
view Leicester from the viewpoint of language change, "Lester" possibly
started as an abbreviated version of "Lei-ces-ter," and was likely used
simultaneously with "Lei-ces-ter."  In time, however, "Lester," would
have gained popularity (not a conscious, deliberate choice, but rather
one that simply made elocution easier) and would have become common - so
common, in fact, that the original pronunciation would eventually drop
out.  It happens all the time with languages, and it's also a
predictable pattern that would be expected in multiple areas (similar
contractions would be expected in different areas with the same
linguistic situation; so, even if the folks from Leicester and
Worchester never got together to share their new abbreviations with each
other, the identical contractions wouldn't be a surprise.  In fact,
they'd be expected).

How about "Wednesday"?  The most common variations today are "Wenzday,"
"Wenz-dee" and "Wednezday" (with the "d" pronounced).  Pronouncing the
"d" is less common today, but still in use in certain areas.  The "d"
has an interesting history in English.  Sometimes it remains, and other
times it is silent.  It was considered proper at one time to pronounce
"London" as "Lunnun" (see reference above), and the sound keeps falling
in and out of use.  "Wednesday" also had an earlier variation:
"Wednesday" where the "z" sound was actually an "s" sound, and sounded
like "Whence-day."  The "s" sound, however, evolved into the "z" sound,
which is another characteristic of language change (t, d, k, and glottal
stops are often interchangeable over the centuries, along with s to z
shifts, h to glottals, vice-versa, and numerous other changes, too many
to mention here).  The new variation "Wenz-dee," in my personal opinion,
however, is a deliberate change.  Language change often happens
spontaneously, as a result of natural language use and variation, but
sometimes certain sounds and dialects are imposed on the natural process
(received pronunciation, or RP, for example).  "Wenz-dee" is the
pronunciation that is currently taught by many voice and speech teachers
both in the US and England (the Central School might have to fess up
their influence here), and they often prescribe a specific pronunciation
for the students (penalizing the students with judgments of speaking
with an inferior, unacceptable form if they fail to follow the "nouveau"
diction-I know my teacher did).  At the same time, however, I have to
admit that "Wenz-dee" is used in some rural dialects, far from voice and
speech classes, so it does form a legitimate variation.  However, even
though it is the same pronunciation that some announcers are using on tv
and radio, my bet is that the announcers still got it from a textbook
and a teacher, not their grandparents on the family farm.

Actors may not make the best scholars, but sometimes we still pretend to
have a little h-nowledge about a thing or two, h-now what I mean?

Wm Davis
(ap Gwylim ap Gwylim ap yet another Gwylim ap yes, another Gwylim ap
Dafydd ap a whole slew of Welsh coal miners)  Cheers!

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Morley <
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Date:           Saturday, 14 Jun 2003 11:36:54 +0000
Subject: 14.1176 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1176 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

Isn't it fortunate that Shakespeare omits any part played in the Wars of
the Roses by the good burghers of Knaresborough? And fortuitously
neglects directions to the site of the Glendower/Percy/Mortimer
headquarters, most probably Machynlleth? But Richard III always has a
pitfall for the unwary, with the strawberries of Holborn.

Best,
Carol

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ira Zinman <
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Date:           Saturday, 14 Jun 2003 12:42:08 EDT
Subject: 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1185 Re: Pronouncing Leicester Correctly

Yesterday I visited the Folger to see the Elizabeth I exhibition.  There
was a letter dated January 155/76 from Lady Wingfield in which reference
is made to "L. of Lester" meaning the Lord of Leicester, Robert Dudley,
so the usage as Lester was apparently common at the time.  Incidentally,
the exhibit is worth seeing if one is in the DC area.

Ira

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