Chung Hyeon, or Hyeon Chung

The Australian Open tennis tournament is currently being played in Melbourne. I’m not particularly a tennis fan, but the tournament, players, matches, results, future matches and extreme weather conditions are in the news.

Last night my wife came home with the news that a South Korean player Chung Hyeon, or Hyeon Chung had beaten former champion and world number one Novak Djokovich.

Korean names are given family-name first. Chung’s family name is Chung. Korean given names are usually two syllables, but one or three are not unknown. In fact, Wikipedia reports that there is a law requiring given names to be no longer than five syllables. I have never encountered a Korean with a five-syllable given name, or even a three syllable one. In one class at a Korean high school, I had one student with a three syllable given name and another with a one syllable name. (There are also a handful of two-syllable surnames.) Continue reading


What rhymes with axolotl?

Not a lotl, I would have thought.

A few days ago someone posted on Facebook The Axolotl Song (earworm warning), by a music/video/comedy group called Rathergood, which consists of Joel Veitch and unnamed others. They quickly rhyme axolotl with bottle and lotl, and also with mottled, which doesn’t quite rhyme.

There is a surprising number of English words ending with -tle. lists 104, but there are several derived forms; for example, bluebottle is listed alongside bottle. Eleven of these have a silent t in the cluster –stle, for example, castle. There are also a few with –ntle, for example, gentle, in which the n is part of the previous syllable, and one with –btle (subtle), in which the b is silent. The one which goes closest to rhyming with axolotl is apostle, but I can’t imagine anyone fitting both of those into the same song. Otherwise, there are bottle (and bluebottle), throttle, wattle and mottle among relatively common words and pottle (a former liquid measure equal to two quarts) (why not just say ‘two quarts’ or ‘half a gallon’?) and dottle (the plug of half-smoked tobacco in the bottom of a pipe after smoking) (does anyone really need a word for this?). Continue reading

Samsung, Chilsung, Subaru

Samsung is a South Korean company best known for mobile phones and other consumer electronics. Its name in Korean 삼성 (sam-seong), means “three stars”, but doesn’t refer to any three stars in particular. The Korean pronunciation is closer to /samsɒŋ/ (psalm song), but almost everyone in English-speaking countries pronounces it /sæmsʌŋ/ (Sam sung). In fact, I was prompted to write this by a video on photography in which the presenter pronounced it /sæmsʊŋ/ (closest to Sam should). Korean doesn’t have a close equivalent to English /ʊ/.

Chilsung is a very popular brand of lemonade (cider) made by the Lotte Corporation. Its name in Korean 칠성 (chil-seong) means “seven stars”, and refers to the Big Dipper. I haven’t heard enough foreigners pronounce to know how they pronounce it. Spelling both words with a u messes up foreigners’ conception of the vowel. Revised Romanisation transliterates it eo and McCune–Reischauer ŏ. u transliterates ㅜ (/u/) in both systems. Continue reading

Grammarbites part 7 – Pronunciation

Part 1 – introduction

Part 6 – sentence types

Part 5 – nouns

Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs

Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs

this part goes in here

Part 4 – consonant clusters

1 – The basic sounds of English

Standard English uses 44 basic sounds (phonemes). They all occur in the following sentence:

Catching weary waterfowl on thin ice gives surly polar bears huge pleasure and ensures they enjoy good meat unharmed.

(This sentence was written by Richard Gunton and posted to the blog Literal Minded.)

meat; unharmed — on; thin; and; ensures; enjoy; unharmed — catching

polar — bears — waterfowl; meat — and; good; unharmedcatching — gives; good

catching — huge; enjoy

thin — they — waterfowl — gives — ice; surly — gives; bears; ensures — ensures — pleasure — huge; unharmed

weary; waterfowl — waterfowl; surly; polar; pleasure — weary — h(y)uge

catching; thin; gives — pleasure; ensures; enjoy — catching; and — unharmed — on — good — polar; pleasure

weary; surly; meat — surly — unharmed — waterfowl — huge

theyice — enjoy — weary — bears — ensures — waterfowl — polar

Continue reading


Yesterday I went to Yarramundi Reserve, a small and frankly not very interesting area at the junction of the Nepean, Grose and Hawkesbury Rivers, north-west of the Sydney metropolitan area. Yarramundi (or Yel-lo-mun-dy, or Yal-lah-mien-di, or Yèl-lo-mun-dee, or Yellomundee, or Yello_mundy, or Yellah_munde) was a leader and healer of the Buruberongal (or Boo-roo-bir-rong-gal, or Bu-ru-be-ron-gal, or Bu-ru-be-rong-al, or Boorooberongal, or Buribırȧŋál), a ‘wood tribe’ whose country extended inland from somewhere north-west of Parramatta towards and including the Nepean/Hawkesbury River.

A party of British explorers led by Governor Arthur Phillip met him and several others in April 1791, on an expedition to discover if and how the Hawkesbury (which they had previously explored upstream from its mouth) and the Nepean (which they had encountered after walking overland westward from Parramatta) met. As it turns out, the Nepean/Hawkesbury is essentially one river, but the two names have stuck, and this junction is the arbitrary point at which the names officially change. (The Grose River was named later; Major Francis Grose (later acting governor) did not arrive in the colony until 1792.)

Continue reading

“I ate Madonna for breakfast”

My college is around the corner from a branch of a well-known fast-food restaurant chain (no name, no free publicity, even though it’s perfectly obvious who I’m writing about). Several years ago, a student arrived in class and told us “I ate Madonna for breakfast”.

The pronunciation issue is consonant clusters. All languages have rules about what consonants and consonant clusters can occur at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word. Some languages allow none, some a very limited number and some many. English allows a moderately high number of consonant clusters, so most of my students speak languages which allow fewer.

Continue reading


Enough students to be noticeable pronounce island as ‘ice-land’, ‘eyes-land’ or ‘is-land’. Yes, an island is land, but that’s not relevant. There never was an /s/ in the pronunciation of island – the Middle English was iland and the Old English was igland. In fact, īeg meant ‘island’, so an island is really an island-land. Then someone added the s by analogy with the unrelated isle, from Latin insula via Old French.

Iceland is an island, and what prompted this post was finding out that the Icelandic word for Iceland is Ísland, which I did not know from a childhood hobby of stamp collecting. (I can’t remember that I actually had any stamps from Iceland.) In a post on the Lingua Franca blog, William Germano mentioned that Háskóli Íslands is not ‘the Haskoli Islands’, but ‘the University of Iceland‘. Thinking about it, I guessed that Háskóli is ha (high) + skoli (school), which Wiktionary confirms, and which actually makes more sense than the Latinate university, which means approximately ‘one community (of scholars)’. According to Wikipedia, the Icelandic word for ‘high school’ is framhaldsskóli (‘continued school’). (He also ponders adopting the Icelandic name Bjór Garðurinn, which means ‘beer garden’. The Germanic-ness of that is clear.)

Ireland is also an island, and in my non-rhotic pronunciation those two are pronounced identically. I sometimes find myself introducing a small /r/ to emphasise the difference.

The spelling island took off in the 1750s, for reasons I can’t discover – it was too late for the ‘Age of Discovery’ and too early for James Cook. The spelling iland was used as late as the 1788 – one online source of the diary of a First Fleet officer gave ‘Lord Howe Hand’. When I checked with the scan of the original, I found that it was actually Iland with a curlicue on the I, which the OCR had read as Hand.