Stress patterns on words spelled with final <el> (long posting)

Fri Aug 25 18:21:21 UTC 2000

A strange thing is happening to American English stress on words
ending orthographically in <el>.  Surnames and one or to other
words are showing up with final stress.  It's pretty universal
with Nobel, but I'm hearing Wiesel frequently pronounced [wi'zEl].
 I've regularly heard the conductor Julius Rudel pronounced
[ru'dEl], on a variety of programs on NPR.  And a number of years
ago Ball State had a head football coach named Schudel.  His wife
is a shirt-tail cousin of my wife, the family's from NW Ohio, near
Toledo, and there the name has always been pronounced ['Sud at l].
When he was an assistant coach at Michigan, before he came to Ball
State, he found his name so commonly being pronounced [Su'dEl] by
people in football, that he adopted the form and made it clear
when he came here that that was the pronunciation he preferred.
Names that have been around longer seem to have initial stress,
like Joel, although Noel goes both ways, more often [no'El] when
referring to Christmas, but the composer/lyricist is always
['no at l] Coward.  Even Joel, when pronounced as a borrowing from
Modern Hebrew, becomes [yo'El], as in the name of the former
conductor of the Atlanta Symphony.

Other proper nouns have initial stress, like Bethel, Daniel, and
Hazel, although I have heard the occasional [daen'yEl] for the
spelling Daniel.  A number of verbs have final stress, but they're
Romance borrowings so that's not surprising:  compel, expel,
repel.  Nouns and adjectives tend to have initial stress:  bagel,
chancel, chisel, counsel, cruel, diesel, dowel, fuel, hazel,
jewel, towel, vowel, but there are exceptions to both patterns,
like cancel (never [kaen'sEl], hotel, motel, and pastel.

Why is a subset of these words, particularly surnames, undergoing
this stress shift?  Is it a spelling pronunciation, that is, final
<el> in names is rare enough that it seems odd and so it gets
stressed, counter to more usual English stress patterns?  Why the
football connection?  Two or three years ago, there was an
African-American college player on a southern school team with a
four-syllable Scots or Irish name (I don't remember the full name
or whether it was Mac or Mc) that ended in <ell>.  Network TV
announcers regularly pronounced his name with final stress, a good
trick for an American English four-syllable noun.  Is there a
southern pattern coming into this through football?

Herb Stahlke
Ball State University

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