LINGUIST List 8.956

Sun Jun 29 1997

Sum: Anglicization of names

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Larry Rosenwald, summary on anglicization of names

Message 1: summary on anglicization of names

Date: Wed, 25 Jun 1997 16:38:05 -0500 (EST)
Subject: summary on anglicization of names

	Hi - I posted a query a while ago about how non-English names
get anglicized. What I got in response was quite interesting, though
most of it was anecdotal, as the responders themselves noted. Most of
the research cited was not in sociolinguistics but in speech
 I still think this would be an interesting topic to work on. In any
case, I'm including the responses I got, with thanks to all and
apologies for the typographical irregularities -
	best, Larry Rosenwald, Wellesley College
>From Margaret Luebs <>

I saw your message on the Linguist List and wanted to share a story
with you (probably not scholarly enough for your summary, though). My
last name is German and is spelled "luebs". People always assume it is
pronounced "lubes" which is pretty close to the expected German
pronunciation (though that may not have been how my great-grandparents
said it; see below). Instead, irritatingly enough, we say "lebbs".

The story I've been told (which may be partly apocryphal) is that when
my grandfather (the first of 12 siblings to make it off the farm that
their parents settled on in the 1880's) arrived at the University of
Nebraska in 1910, he went to a professor in the German department and
asked "what is the American pronunciation of my name?" (because up
till then his family had just pronounced it the old way -- they spoke
German at home and lived among lots of other Germans). The professor,
for some reason, said "lebbs" so that's what we got stuck with. Then a
few years later another brother made it to the university, and *he*
went to a *different* professor in the German department and asked the
same question. The answer he got was "leebs" so that's how his
descendants pronounce the name. Other cousins seem to have just used
their own common sense, because there are some out there who pronounce
it "lubes". However we have an old letter from Germany addressed to my
great-grandfather, and it refers to him as "H. Libs", (a misspelling
perhaps inspired by the actual pronunciation) so the original
pronunciation may have been closer to "leebs". It still doesn't
explain "lebbs", but oh well.

I know this isn't what you asked for -- it's not phonetic factors or
even normal sociolinguistic ones, but rather the dreaded influence of
university professors!

>From (Lex Olorenshaw)


The anglicization topic interests me, too, but more from a speech
technology point of view. For example, what ways can we anticipate
the anglicized pronunciation of names in order to produce better
synthesized speech, or to automatically recognize speech better?

Some research has been done in this area for Text-to-Speech
synthesizers. But I haven't looked into it too much. There are a
couple of references to "Name Pronunciation" on this web site that
might serve as a starting point -

Since I've been wondering about this, I also did a quick search for
"name pronunciation" in Linguistics Abstract Online (currently on a
free trial basis!), and came up with the following items -

- --------- Title: Variant grapheme-phoneme correspondences in 
unfamiliar polysyllabic words
 Author: Robert L. Trammell
 Journal: Language and Speech
 Vol: 33(4), 1990, 293-323
 Subdiscipline: Phonology


 Ten college students and ten PhDs read aloud 30 unfamiliar
English words, two to five syllables in length, of Greek , Latin , and
Germanic origin. The average number of different subject
pronunciations per word was five (range one to ten). Each response was
compared to the rule-predicted, dictionary-prescribed, and most
frequent pronunciation for that word. The subjects agreed more with
each other than with the dictionary, and with the latter more than
with the rules. However, the rules predicted half of the prescribed
pronunciations, which was better than the average number of individual
subject`s responses agreeing with the dictionary. The most frequent
response to each word demonstrated considerably more agreement with
both the dictionary and the rules than did the average number of
responses for the subjects individually. The etymological source of
the test words had no effect. While the PhDs as a group did
significantly better than the students on most measures, the
differences were small. In view of previous research, the frequent
vowel laxing in open third and fourth syllables from the end was
unexpected. Several models of reading are examined in the light of
these results. - --------
 Title: Novel-word pronunciation: a cross-language study
 Author: K.P.H Sullivan & R.I. Damper
 Journal: Speech Communication
 Vol: 13(3-4), 1993, 441-452
 Subdiscipline: Computational Linguistics


	In the case of a 'novel word ' absent from a text-to-speech
system`s pronouncing dictionary, traditional systems invoke
context-dependent letter-to-phoneme rules to produce a
pronunciation. A proposal in the psychological literature, however, is
that human readers pronounce novel words not by using explicit rules,
but by ANALOGY with letter-to-phoneme patterns for WORDS they already
know. In this paper, a synthesis-by-analogy system is presented which
is, accordingly, also a model of novel-word pronunciation by
humans. It employs analogy in both orthographic and phonological
domains and is applied here to the pronunciation of novel words in
British (Received Pronunciation) English and German . In implementing
the system, certain detailed questions were confronted which analogy
theory is at present inadequately developed to answer. Thus, a major
part of this work concerns the impact of implementational choices on
performance, where this is defined as the ability of the system to
produce pronunciations in line with those given by humans. The size
and content of the lexical database on which any analogy system must
be based are also considered. The better performing implementations
produced useful results for both British English and German . However,
best results for each of the two languages were obtained from rather
different implementations.

 Authors of abstract: authors -----------

From: (Nancy Antrim)

I would be interested in the responses you receive concerning the
anglicizing of names. I have been engaged in a small study of name
choice by second-language speakers of English, in particular Spanish
native speakers since I am situated on the border. Thank you.


From:	IN%"" "Tamara Al-Kasey"

Here is an anecdote for you. Our department secretary creates
tremendous confusion on how to spell her (husband's) surname "Pesci"
because in his family, they pronounce it "PAY-si". Must have evolved
before Joe came along.

From: (Corey Miller)

I found your query very interesting. I am working on a text-to-speech
synthesizer, one of whose requirements is to pronounce names such as
the ones you heard at graduation. While many synthesizers come
equipped with rather large pronunciation dictionaries, it is unlikely
that such dictionaries will be able to pronounce many=20 unusual

Two papers that discuss the name problem in speech synthesis are:

Tony Vitale, 1991, An algorithm for high accuracy name pronunciation
by parametric synthesizer, Computational Linguistics 17.257-276

Coker, C.H., K.W. Church, and M.Y. Liberman, 1990, Morphology and=20
Rhyming: Two powerful alternatives to letter-to-sound rules for speech
synthesis. Proceedings of European Speech Communications Association.

Onomastica is a European consortium that has worked on building a
multilanguage pronunciation dictionary of proper names. You can
read about it at:

I will be curious to read your summary of responses!

From:	IN%"" "Steven Schaufele"

	Your story forceably reminded me of a conversation i had with
some friends over lunch sometime during our senior year at Kenyon
College. At least at that time, Kenyon was still issuing its degrees
in Latin, and some of us were having a bit of fun imagining how our
names would appear on our diplomas, given this circumstance. One of
us was a Japanese-American whose surname was `Mimura', and we all
laughed at the thought that his name would come out sounding like
something from a funeral elegy.

Of course, the college actually avoided the whole problem by casting
the relevant sentence in the passive voice so that the name of the
degree-recipient would be expected to appear in the nominative case,
and just `assumed' that the uninflected, normal form of the name
corresponded to the nominative-case form.
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