Sophia, Maria (was: What do pros do ...?)

Damien Hall halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Apr 19 13:20:34 UTC 2008

Charlie asked (possibly some time ago;  sorry, I didn't spot it immediately):

> Do the Brits still say [m@ rai @]?

No, we don't as far as I (white, 30s, Londoner) am aware, except in the stock
phrase 'black Maria' for a police vehicle used to transport people from prison
to court etc, which always has [m@ rai @].  And I'm not sure how many people
would use _that_ any more, since it's losing what little transparency it still
had:  'black Marias' are usually coloured white, and the 'Maria' part was never
transparent (recently) anyway.  The girl's name is always [m@ ri: @], and it's
always [a: vej m@ ri: @] for the Latin prayer, etc.

My eldest niece (6, a Londoner born of a Londoner mother and an Ecuadorian
father) is Rosa María /rOs@ m at ri:@/.  To mark her Hispanic heritage she has a
Hispanic name complete with an acute accent over the <í>, and so of course the
pronunciation of the second element of her name is the Hispanic one.  Brits may
omit the acute accent in her name, and they may be confused about how to
pronounce the first part of it ([rowz@] is frequent), and they may think that
it is optional to use the second part because very few Brits have
double-barrelled first names;  but I have never heard anyone say [m at rai@] for
the second part of the name.

I don't know too many British Sophias, but my impression is that the
pronunciation of that name is variable between [s at fi:@] and [s at fai@], depending
on the individual case.

Damien Hall
University of Pennsylvania

The American Dialect Society -

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