[Ads-l] The pronunciation of "Elizabethan"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 10 05:25:39 UTC 2015

For all of my literate life, I've hewed to the pronunciation,
"Eliza.BETHan," despite hearing the pronunciation, "Eliza.BEEthan," used by
the rest of the world. The reason for this is that I grew up with the BE/SE
pronunciation of "Elizabeth" as "a-LIZ a-BETH." So, as any fool can plainly
see, if you add the suffix, "-an" to this proper name, then the
pronunciation is just naturally going to be "a-LIZ a-BETH at n."

Thanks to Jim Crow and the fact that that term only rarely enters into
casual conversation, on those rare occasions when I've heard -BEEthan, I've
paid no attention. Furthermore, -BETHan was only reinforced by a popular
R&B song of yoredays, "Elizabeth" - pronounced quite clearly as "a-LIZ
a-BETH" - by The Thrillers, now available on iTunes. And, finally, that
pronunciation was cemented into my grammar by the theory of underlying
representations presented in the Sound Pattern of English, even though, by
the time that I read that work, I had "corrected" my pronunciation of
"Elizabeth" to "aLIZabith" to conform to expectations. But, given the
authority of SPE, I saw no reason to change -BETHan to -BEEthan.

Eventually, I came to wonder what it was that could possibly be the
motivation for -BEEthan. I've decided that it's merely a kind of bizarre
spelling-pronunciation. If you ignore everything about the string
_elizabeth_ except -ethan, then, given the name, "Ethan," clearly, the
pronunciation of Elizab + ethan must be ElizaBEEthan, modulo the existence
of "Beth" and even "Bethan[y]."

Is I'm right, fellas?
All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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