Wednesday 11 September 2013

On OP place-names

A correspondent writes to ask about place-name pronunciation in OP. In the late 16th century, would the letters, silent today, have been articulated in such names as Norfolk, Warwick, Gloucester? The issue is important for Shakespearean OP, as these names are common in the plays.

The problem with place-names is that they tend to be highly conservative in their spelling, unlike common nouns, so that it's never clear exactly when a sound may have dropped out. Just occasionally there is orthographic evidence, and a good example is Gloucester. Was the modern pronunciation there in Shakespeare's time? The answer is definitely yes.

In the First Folio, Gloucester is spelled in three ways: as Gloucester (33 times), but much more often as Glouster (38), and Gloster (109). Sometimes you get the variant spellings within a few lines of each other. Similarly, Gloucestershire is spelled thus (3) alongside Gloustershire (2). And the fact that it was a disyllabic pronunciation is evidenced by the metre, as in Richard II (2.1.128), where we read: 'My brother Gloucester, plaine well meaning soule'.

No such evidence in the First Folio for Warwick, Norfolk, and Suffolk, unfortunately. Here one needs to look at other sources to see if there are spellings without the w or l. Certainly folk (as a common noun) was being spelled without the l from as early as 1400. Old place-name derived surnames, such as Worrick and Worricker, date from the Middle Ages. Informal texts, such as transcriptions of statements in court, are likely to show everyday pronunciations in the spelling. For instance, in Text 57 of Bridget Cusack's Everyday English 1500-1700 - a splendid resource - we find a 1628 presentment made by churchwardens from Stratford-upon-Avon where Warwick is spelled warrick.

Any other examples welcome.


Cneifiwr said...

There are also quite a few examples of place names where pronunciation seems to be reverting to the standard written forms.

The other day I came across a recording of John Betjeman in which Hunstanton was 'Hunston'.

Theobalds Road in London was 'Tibbalds' Road, but that sounds affected now.

Similarly, I think 'Sissister' for Cirencester now sounds rather odd.

Sarah said...

My Dad, a Worcestershire boy b 1918, always pronounced the first syllable of Shrewsbury to rhyme with 'toe', and so that's how I learnt it, but a visit to the town in 2009 taught me that everyone now seems to say it as if it were a kind of mouse. Except, that is, for the name of the public school, which is still called 'Shrohsbury'.

flexitim said...

What is OP?

DC said...

Original Pronunciation - see various other posts in this blog, or the website

Anonymous said...

Here in Melbourne Australia, two places sre named for leftwing firebrand and historical figure Peter Lalor. Originally pronounced LAW-la. The two places are a suburb and a federal electorate. The suburb is now pronounced phonetically: LAY-law. But the electorate, which regular folk neednt say much, and which left-wing politicians have represented in perpetuity, retains the same pronunciation as the late great Mr Lalor. (The suburb and electorate do not overlap geographically.)

DC said...

Very interesting example. Can't think of another place like this one.