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Pronunciation (Anti-Antimoon) – The English-American War

I always feel a bit odd about the subject of mispronouncing place names. One does like to be accurate, but knowing all idiosyncratic pronunciations anywhere is nearly impossible. Everyone feels a bit offended/contemptuously amused when people mispronounce place names they know, but they never really extend the courtesy they expect to others. Because really it isn’t an issue of being stupid or even particularly ignorant, those pronunciations are something someone has to tell you. I don’t know how to pronounce Gloucester or Worcester or Leominster because of my great study of English culture, I know them because I grew up in Massachusetts, where every other town has an English equivalent.

I suppose we’ll have to compromise and just get the big ones in line. We’ll learn how to say Edinburgh and Brits can learn how to say Maryland. ;p

There is one minor one that I have a question about though, and that’s Haverhill.

Haverhill, MA is pronounced Havril, while Haverhill, Suffolk has a slightly more literal interpretation. I heard a rumor on the internets that the Haverhill pronunciation is rather recent and it used to be pronounced more like its namesake across the pond. Can anyone confirm or deny that for me?

You have basically just said “Britons are hypocritical (though they aren’t) and I want all Americans to have a rant; I’ll just ask a question that no-one’s going to answer so it looks like a legitimate post.”

Guess what, no-one ever taught me how to say Leicester, Worcester or Leominster (or that they existed, really) I. Just. Know. Because I’m British. I remember one event very specifically.

A younger me is on holiday in a pirate-ship shaped sand room thing in a water park, playing with a new friend and throwing sand about, when we decide to play a game. The friend says “Guess where I’m from, it begins with an ‘L’.” So, knowing of many places in England beginning with ‘L’ and for some reason assuming this person is neither from the North OR London (Okay, I think it came after ‘Leeds’ but I know I didn’t suggest ‘London’ and when I said ‘Leicester’ I was very sure it was right), I come up with ‘Leicester’. My memory serves that it suddenly just pops into my head, this word; I had not been taught of it or of it’s pronunciation and yet here it is – the spelling (I saw it, not heard it, in this instance) – and in an unnoticeable amount of time (for spectators, it may have seemed a bit longer for me) I just come up with it and, not assured if it is correct because no-one has ever taught me this place, it’s name, or that pronunciation before I ask “Leicester (‘Lehs-stuhr’)?” and she nods vigorously and smiles emphatically.

This ‘Edinburgh’ thing, it’s pronounced how it’s spelt, no? ‘Eh-dihn-buhr-ah’ (or of some similar sort). My surname is Mickleburgh (which I learnt to spell before my middle name of ‘Louise’, always thinking that the hardest) so I should know that even the (Southern) English sometimes trip up. ‘Burgh’ not being English, the English equivalent is ‘Borough‘, still pronounced ‘Buhr-ruhr’ as in Littleborough or a Metropolitan Borough – Littleborough is within the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale.

Now, Maryland. We all know that, like Arkansas (‘Ahr-kahn-zohr’,’Ahr-kahn-sahw’), you say it funny. It’s as if the second ‘a’ were an ‘i’, simply. We’re not stupid. ‘Maer-ee-lindt’. Or, you could say ‘Maer-ee-lahnd’ in an American accent. They sound the same because the ‘a’ in ‘land’ in English is pronounced like the ‘i’ in ‘link’ for you Yanks. Der.

Haverhill, I don’t know about Massachusetts but in England you (officially instead of colloquially!) drop the second ‘h’, pronouncing it ‘Hah-verr-ill’ – though some (most) like to drop the other ‘h’, too, making it sound like a drawn-out ‘Avril‘ (as in Avril Lavigne – which no one told me how to pronounce either but I, again, knew anyway (like Leicester, Worcester etc.) – or the French for this month).


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