Catching z's in Illinoiz [WAS: Folk Awareness oif Dialect]

callary ed tb0exc1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Thu Dec 7 15:14:18 UTC 2000

Allen Walker Read is the authority on the pronunciation of 'Illinois.' His
collected evidence - and a formidable lot it is - was first presented at
the 1981 meeting of the North Central Name Society; it has appeared in
part in Illinois magazine and in full in PLACE NAMES IN THE MIDWESTERN
UNITED STATES, to be published by Mellen Press in about 30 days. Read
finds the alternation with or without final z (or s if devoicing is
involved) to be, in his words 'clearly a case of divided usage' and his
evidence is conflicting but there is a long term tendency for oi to drive
out oiz. Read cites French documents from 1698 with 'Illinese' and
concludes that 'the pronunciation /with ois/ continues a tradition from
the 18th century and is not merely a reflection of the French ending

Some of Read's evidence:

poetic transcription of the speech of an Ottawa chief in 1779:

>From these lank loins have sprung two boys,
Shall trail it through the Islenois.

However, an order of Robert Rogers, 1776:

you are to return by the Ilun way River.

John S. Robb, 1846:
You see, thar wur a small town called Equality, Illinise ((author has -ise
in italics)).

1853, Illinois rhyming with showy
There came Mrs. Dodge, from Illinois,
   UPon her husband leaning;
Dress'd oddly, but most showy-
   a dozen more for screening.

John Hay's Pike County ballads, 1871:
And furder than that I give notice,
   Ef one of you tetches the boy,
He kin check his trunks to a warmer clime
   Than he'll find in Illanoy.

Read's evidence shows that by the middle of the 19th century, -oi was
becoming standard among the more educated. British travelers were
remarking on the pronunciation and rendering in popular phonetics as
Illinoy and Illonoy. However, there was alternation well into the 20th
century. In 1919, G P Krapp wrote: 'In Illinois when the final consonant
is pronounced it is voiced.' and in 1936, in the house publication of the
Merriam Company, Daniel Gage of Westminster College, Fulton, Mo. wrote
'the common pronunciation of Illinois is with a z sound at the end.'
Kenyon and Knott's Pronouncing Dictionary in 1944 notes that the form with
final z is 'not infrequent generally.'

Divided though the usage may have been, pronunciation with final z is
rare in much of the state today. I suspect that speakers with final z are

Edward Callary, Editor                 Phone: 815-753-6627
NAMES: A Journal of Onomastics         Fax:   815-753-0606
English Department                     email: ecallary at
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, Il 60115-2863

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