LINGUIST List 13.108

Thu Jan 17 2002

Sum: Pronunciation of "Cent" in European Langs

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Heinrich Pfandl, Pronunciation of "cent" in European languages

Message 1: Pronunciation of "cent" in European languages

Date: Wed, 16 Jan 2002 23:38:47 +0100
From: Heinrich Pfandl <>
Subject: Pronunciation of "cent" in European languages

Dear colleagues,

First of all - once again many thanks to all of you who have
responded to my question - I am very happy about each reply.
I received more than 40 answers, concerning the following

It's a pity that I have no information about most of the
Slavic languages, nor about Norwegian, Danish, Romanian,
Albanian, Turkish. As for the Slavic languages, my own
competence will allow some remarks (see below). I am still
hoping for answers about the languages mentioned. The fact
that in Norway and the Slavic speaking countries the Euro is
not used is not an argument: we have no sea and no elephants
in Austria, but we have words for these things ?

As my English is far from being perfect and the time is very
limited, I cannot here discuss all the answers, nor reply to
everybody personally. Let me therefore point out some

GENERAL: Currency is, of course, part of our (national,
individual, European etc.) identity. As Muriel Norde
( explains, the NETHERLANDS are in
the most favoured position in this regard:
""Cent" is not taken from the "American model", as you
suggest, but it is one of those very rare successes of Dutch
diplomacy in Europe. A cent was the smallest unit in Dutch
currency (100 cents was 1 "gulden"). One of the arguments
used by the Dutch government to make people enthusiastic
about the Euro was that "we will get our 1 cent back" (the
Dutch 1 cent coin was withdrawn from circulation some time
in the late 70s or early 80s, I don't quite recall). Since
January 1 people mostly say "eurocent" when referring to the
new unit, but I expect this will become "cent" again once
Dutch currency can no longer be used and there will be no
confusion whether one means Dutch cents or eurocents. So as
far as cents are concerned nothing much will change here, no
identity problems for us ;-)".
Job M. van Zuijlen ( makes a similar
"The DUTCH used to have a "cent" all along, pronounced
/sent/, so I have to disagree with your observation that the
European money has been modeled after or need to distinguish
itself from its American counterpart (historically, the
American cent was probably modeled after Europe, but I have
no proof of that)."

No identity problems either for the GREEKs, who have written
on their cent coins the traditional "lepto"/"lepta". "The
previous unit of currency, the drachma, was divided into 100
lepta, though the last denomination of less than a drachma
became obsolete in about 1982." (cited from Andrew Wilcox).
There are also a lot of other languages, who in different
ways integrate the word for the new coin:
In FRENCH there is still a fluctuation/variation between
"cent" (pronounced [sent] or even [sents] to avoid homonymy
with the word for "hundred"), "eurocents", "centimes",
"eurocentimes", "centimes Euro". "Actually, directives in
France ask the public to use (in cheques, for example) the
old term "centimes" to avoid confusion with "hundred""
(cited from Rami Gideon, Some of the
mentioned forms are also registered in Belgium by V�ronique
Delvaux ([sent], [sents], eurocentimes, centimes d'euro),
who besides mentions a zero-strategy of avoidance: "Ceci
co�te 14,93 euros" [katorzvirgylnona~ttrwazOro] (end of
citation) and the like (

There were also some contirbutions about CANADIAN FRENCH,
where the American cent is rendered by "cenne" (info: Chris
Miller: millercMs.UManitoba.CA). Marc Picard
( writes about this question with a
lot of humour: Since Canada and the US have dollars and
cents, speakers of North American French had to francisize
cent(s) a long time ago. Colloquially, the word is
pronounced /sEn/ though purists will try to change this to
/sEnt/, which is absurd since it violates the phonotactics
of the language. Other misguided souls, having come to
believe that /sEn/ is an 'anglicisme', will substitute sou.

Other Romance languages seem to have the following
In Spain the word 'cent' is not used at all. In CATALAN, it
is "c�ntim" (pron. ['sEntim] E = open /e/), In SPANISH, the
word used for the word 'cent' is "c�ntimo" (pron.
['THentimo], TH = interdental voiceless fricative]. It is
the name of an old fraction of the former currency, the
peseta) (information given by . Juan C. Ruiz: "In Valencia, the first consonant is
pronounced as an [s], whereas in Castillian it is pronounced
as a voiceless dental fricative." (Laura Wright: "This was the word for the 100th part of a
peseta, when the peseta still had them, back to the 60�s and
before. (...) There is another word in Spanish for "cent",
i.e. "centavo", which is used in Latin America and the USA.
(...) This term could hardly be used for the euro cents
because of its (Latin) American connotations and because of
the 2 century tradition of "c�ntimos" in Spain" (Cesar

Joaquim Brand�o de Carvalho (
us, that in PORTUGUESE "middle class speakers of Portuguese
often said "cent" and "cents" as [sents], instead of the
normal native pronunciation, which would be [sentS], /-s/
being palatalized in coda position. However, since the
introduction of the euro, the same people tend to replace
the clearly American "cent" with "c�ntimo". (...) It will be
interesting to see if any purist (and nationalist) attitude
will be strong enough to reintroduce the traditional words
"centavo" and "tost�o" for the 100th and the 10th part of
the euro respectively."

It is not surprising, that there was not a single answer
from Italy about ITALIAN; the only Daniel Buncic
( was the only one to communicate that
Italians, as he heard from a friend, say "sents" and not
"centesimi", as we expected. A student of mine from South
Tirol (Italy), however, told me today, that Italians mostly
use "centesimo/centesimi".

In BRITISH and IRISH ENGLISH, the currency is pronounced as
[sent] and [youro]. Amounts, where there are no euro should
be spoken as "10 euro cent" (info and transcription: John
Dunnion: As for the plural, it seems
to be "cent", rather than the expected "cents" (info: Steven
Chin: Steven Chin also refers to the
homepage of the European Union
( On this site you can find the table of
spellings for "euro" and "cent" in the official Community

In ISLANDIC the word for "cent" has not been integrated: In
the South, the nasal consonant is voiceless, an the t not
aspirated, whereas in the North the nasal consonant is
voiced and the t is aspirated (Info: Gunnar Hrafn:

CELTIC LANGUAGES: GAELIC speakers in Ireland pronounce the
word according to the English pronunciation (John Dunnion).
Speakers of WELSH will also probably borrow the English
pronunciation first, though the spelling "cent" would
suggest a pronunciation like "kent" (info: Bob Morris Jones:

In IRISH GAELIC the situation seems to be rather
complicated, as is shown by the article "Euro or eora? Cent
or ceint? The new currency and Ireland" at by
Michael Everson.

In BASQUE, the currency is pronounced "zentimo" (with a
voiced s at the beginning).
(Info: Juan C. Ruiz:

In LITHUANIAN, there are "centas" as a 1/100 part of "litas"
with normal Lithuanian inflexion (centas, cento, centui
etc.). It is not clear, if this word will also be used for
the new Euro-cents. (Aleksas Girdenis:

In FINNISH, everybody uses the form "sentti" (Info: Raija
Solatie":, Ekaterina Protasova:, notwithstanding the fact,
that "the word "sentti" has been used for a long time in
Finnish not only with the meaning of a 100th part of a
dollar, but also as a short form for "senttimetri"
(centimetre)" (Info: Aino Piehl:

In all SLAVIC LANGUAGES (there is evidence for SLOVENIAN,
CROATIAN, POLISH - thanks to Andrzej Zychla: -, RUSSIAN), the pronunciation for the
new euro-cents seems to coincide with the form used for the
American money: [tsent], [tsenty]. In ambiguous cases,
Slavic languages use forms like [evrotsent(y)].

The only language that indiscriminately uses the
American/English pronunciation, seems to be GERMAN. All
given answers confirm my own observation, that the majority
of Germans and Austrians use the pronunciation [sent], the
plural seems to be either [sent], or [sents]. On the other
hand, most German speaking people continue to use the
pronunciation [tsent], when they speak about American,
Canadian or Australian currency. My colleague Daniel Buncic
( refers to a discussion
"on using the
interesting argument that if you say [oiro], you have to say
[tsent] as well (and if you say [sent] you have to be
consistent and use the english pronunciation [juro). Anyway,
my impression is that the majority of Germans does not care
at all about this dispute (and therefore did not take part
in the opinion poll mentioned above), and they say [sent]
because English is cool."
Furthermore, Daniel Buncic writes:
"In Germany both the Gesellschaft f�r deutsche Sprache and
the Verein Deutsche Sprache have pointed out that the
correct pronunciation ought to be [tsent] (just as we
pronounce Zentner ['tsentner] 'hundredweight' < Lat.
centum). A call-in poll run by the TV station ZDF resulted
in an overwhelming 70% majority for this pronunciation, too.
For more information see (the relevant
information is currently located at their homepage)."
I also appreciate Daniel Buncic's following lines:
"Just the same, the Germans could go on calling 1/100 of
their currency "Pfennig", and in situations where the new
"Pfennig" could be confused with DM 0.01, "Europfennig".
(The 10-Pfennig coin has always been called "Groschen",
although this name has not been official since 1871) (....)
Consequently, "Groschen" ought to be the name for the cent
in Austria, "penni�" in Finland, "centimos" in Spain, and -
yes, "cents" in the Netherlands, because they have had this
name already for the hundredth part of a florin/gulden. In
international communication there would not be any problem
anyway, since you write Euro 0.01 or EUR 0.01 for a cent." (end
of citation)
On the other hand, I was just told by Walter Gr�nzweig
(Dortmund; communication by telephone) that the
pronunciation [tsent] is getting more an more popular in
Germany, which is, maybe, explained by the difficulty for
German speakers from Northern and Middle Germany to use a
voiceless [s] at the beginning of a word (see below). In
Austria I heard the joke "host zwoanzk [tsent]?" (upper
Styrian dialect for "Hast du zwanzig Zaehne/Cent?"), which
could also mean 'Do you have twenty teeth?'.
Michael Riessler ( asks
himself, whether such words as Groschen (used in Northern
Germany for 10 pfennigs) and sechser (used in Berlin
paradoxically for a coin of 5 pfennigs) will survive - I
think, that there is no reason for them to survive.

As is shown by this material, the German (not Austrian)
linguistic reality reflects an anglicizm in at least two
regards: first of all, a voiceless s is not common in German
(except for English loans, like Sex - not always - , Single,
Shopping-Center, City). In Austria, the loan is facilitated
by the fact that there are no lenis consonants at the
beginning of the word. Secondly, plurals on -s contradict
the morphology of German, where plurals in most examples
have a trochaic structure (T�ren, Kinder, Busse, B�ume vs.
T�r, Kind, Bus, Baum). See also Neue Z�rcher Zeitung
FEUILLETON Samstag, 05.01.2002 Nr.3 58, article by Joachim

The discussion has shown the necessity of systematically
investigating at least three further questions:

1. What is the plural of the word for "cent" in the European
languages? (How do you say: "I
have only 15 cent/s" and "I have a lot of cent/s in my
2. How is the word "euro" pronounced in different European
3. What is the plural of "euro" in these languages? ("15
euro/s"; "I have a lot of euro/s in my

 (I will submit this questions to the list in an other

Questions 2 and 3 have already beendescribed by the Austrian
linguists H.C.Lusch�tzky and Liliana Madelska in an article
(which I have not received yet) in:
Naturally!: linguistic studies in honour of Wolfgang Ulrich
Dressler, presented on the occasion of his 60th birthday /
ed. by Chris Schaner-Wolles ; John Rennison ; Friedrich
Neubarth . - 1. ed. ital. . - Torino : Rosenberg & Sellier
, 2001 . - XXXIV, 514 S. . - (Linguistica ; 19 ), pp ??
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