Phonetic alphabets

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Dec 6 17:33:00 UTC 2004

On Dec 6, 2004, at 7:57 AM, FRITZ JUENGLING asked me:

> This is really cool, but how do you pronounce your name?  Over the
> years , I have in my mind always given the first two letters their
> German pronunciations=[tsv].  Don't know why, but I'm sure that's
> wrong.

i usually tell people it depends on what language they're speaking.
[zw] if english, [tsv] (or [tsf]) if german.  the [zw], however, is a
non-native, "difficult" cluster, so i tend to get pronunciations (and
spellings) eliminating the difficulty: [z at w], [sw], [s at w], [z], or [w].
  the first and third of these are possible *polish* names (variously
spelled Zawicky, Zewicky, Zowicky, Sawicky, Sowicky, etc.), so they are
very tempting; the polish diaspora is a hell of a lot bigger than the
swiss diaspora.  and then the end of the name looks/sounds sort of
slavic to lots of people, so it gets transformed into [IC], [ICi],
[ICki], [Isk], [Iski], whatever.  ([zIkwIC] is the current prize-winner
in this deformation process.)  finally, even though the spelling <ck>
should clearly indicate that the preceding vowel is lax [I], a
surprising number of people disregard this and produce tense [ay]

so every part of my family name is subject to mispronunciation.
spellings tend to follow the pronunciations (<Swicky>, <Wicky>,
<Zwiky>, <Zawiski>, etc.), sometimes inventively (<Zwizky> for
[zwIski], for example, with the exotic <z> repeated).  the spelling of
the final [i] presents a genuine choice: <y>, <ey>, and <i> are all
possible spellings in english, and the first and third of these are
possible spellings in german (and, in fact, in the five centuries of
zwicky genealogical records, there are occasional <Zwicki> variants).

my first name is also not unproblematic.  Arnold is a pretty rare
personal name, so people tend to want to replace it by something more
common, preserving some piece of the original: Ronald, Donald, Harold,
Albert.  the first three of these are further encouraged by the fact
that vowel-initial words in english come with an automatic glottal
stop, and this glottal onset is especially prominent in emphatic
pronunciations of my name -- as in giving the name to strangers! -- so
that people perceive some sort of consonant at the beginning of the
name.  this perception is especially strong for speakers of languages
that generally have consonantal onsets for syllables.  (i have a friend
whose husband Ernie is regularly taken to be named Bernie, by a similar

as for my middle initial, i usually just say "M as in Michael", though
in fact my middle name is Melchior.  now *there's* a rare name in
english, though it's an excellent swiss name, or at least was.  i am
Arnold Melchior Zwicky, son of Arnold Melchior Zwicky, son of Melchior
Arnold Zwicky.  my swiss family has been parsimonious with names for

yes, my grandfather had brothers named Caspar and Balthasar.  with 14
children to name, my great-grandparents Anna Schindler Zwicky and
Johann Kaspar Zwicky were inclined to take the easy route.  when
children died in infancy, they tended to re-use the names, with the
result that my grandfather had two brothers named Fridolin (an
*incredibly* common name in Zwicky history; the famous Caltech
astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky's father and grandfather were both
Fridolins), two brothers named Johann Caspar (a minor variant of their
father's name), and two sisters named Eva.  and there was, in fact, a
brother named Michael, so "M as in Michael" has at least a resonance in
my family history.

but this is probably more than you wanted to hear.

arnold, a.k.a. alex

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