Link of the Week: A Pronouncing Vocabulary

Time now for another resource on pronunciation, the news announcer’s abiding obsession.

For this one, you have to set your wayback machine to 1857, the publication date of Elias Longley’s Pronouncing Vocabulary of Geographical and Personal Names, available (in the public domain) through Google Books. As the name suggests, this 205 page work contains extensive lists of pronunciations for place names, then personal names, then a shorter catalog of scriptural names. Because of its long-ago publication date, the book–especially the personal names part–is useful mainly for names of note at or prior to the mid-nineteenth century. It also uses an obsolete typographic phonography system (lots of funny Greek-looking characters) that is a little hard to decipher at first, but that is well-explained in the introduction and in a summary table immediately following.

For all its limitations, I find Longley’s Pronouncing Vocabulary a handy resource for names and places that often appear without pronunciations in dictionaries and encyclopedias, or without authority in many of the online sources I’ll be mentioning in future entries.

Link of the Week: VOA Pronunciation Guide

The Voice of America maintains a fairly extensive pronunciation guide for foreign names, places and terms. It’s far from totally comprehensive, but it’s an excellent place to start… not least because it includes audio files demonstrating the correct pronunciation, and not just written approximations.

Pronunciation: Always worth checking

Pronunciation is the news announcer’s lurking nemesis.

It’s not always the foreign words or names that trip you up. Those, at least you know to try hunt down the pronunciation for. It’s the familiar-seeming ones that will get you, especially American place names. For example, Quincy in Massachusetts is pronounced KWIN-zee, not KWIN-see. And Cairo, Illinois, is pronounced KARE-oh, not KIE-roh, as in the capital of Egypt.

The lesson here: when in doubt, check. And when not in doubt, think twice.

Tips and links on how to find pronunciations coming in future posts.

Get ‘thee’ gone!

For the last installment of my trilogy on delivery, I want to weigh in here against a bush-league mistake (in my opinion) that you still hear all over the place — sometimes even from experienced professionals.

How many times have I cringed when I hear a supposed newsreader pronounce the indefinite article (“A thing”) as “Ae” (like the letter of the alphabet) and the definite article (“The thing”) as “Thee”? Nothing is more of a dead giveaway that you are reading (except of course for a “read-y” monotone). Native English speakers almost never pronounce the articles that way, which is to say, it ain’t conversational at all. So always pronounce “A” as “uh” and “the” as “thuh.” Always.

Well, having said that as emphatically as I can, let me admit for ‘thuh’ one exception that I can think of. Regular people sometimes do pronounce the articles as “thee” or “ae” to emphasize them. For example, you often hear it spoken that way in a context like “thee one and only.” So put this rule in that rather large class of “nevers” that have an exception for “to achieve a specific, desired effect.”