Strange British place names

The English pronunciation is full of traps and in general the spelling gives you only a vague idea of how exactly the given word sounds. While the foreign learner of English learns quite early that “Wednesday” sounds like “whens-day”, it’s much harder for them to come to terms with “colonel” pronounced as if it were spelt “kernel”. And yet as long as one doesn’t deal with Britain, it’s all too easy to overlook what crazy place names it has.

The most common mistake foreigners make is mispronouncing the name of Scotland’s capital as “edin-burg”. Here the correct pronunciation is actually in line with a simple rule saying that place names’ endings “–burgh” (mostly in Scotland) and “–borough” (mostly in England) are always pronounced as “-bra”. Thus “Edinburgh” sounds like “edin-bra”, “Peterborough” like “peter-bra” etc. Please note that for some the city of Pittsburgh in the USA has that final “H” but nevertheless rhymes with “Hamburg” and “St Petersburg”.

Another confusing ending in English is “–cester”. It’s absolutely not “-chester” or “-sester” (and not even “-kester”!) but just “-sta” (or “-ster” if you pronounce these final Rs). Thus “Gloucester” sounds really like “glossta”, Leicester like “lessta”, and Worcester like “woosta”. If you didn’t know it and still like Worcestershire Sauce, there’s one more surprise for you: “-shire” as an ending is reduced to “-sha” (“-sher”). So no “wor-chester-sha-yer” sauce as some foreigners think but rather “woostasha”. Same applies to Yorkshire (“yorksha”).

All right, so now that we’ve learnt a handful of rules (though not all of them), we can skip to totally crazy names whose pronunciation doesn’t seem to be controlled by any logic (or if we revert the argument: whose spelling is not exactly user-friendly).

You already know how to pronounce “-burgh” so what could be easier than “Happisburgh”? Stop! This village’s apparently optimistic name should sound like “hays-bra”. If you come to Lympne Castle in Kent, you’ll no doubt wonder why the “-pne” ending when its name sounds just like “lym”. “Derby” (pronounce: “darby”) may be familiar to you because of the sports usage. Ever heard of Puncknowle in Dorset? It sounds just like “pun-el”.

Now those were in England so relatively easy. Scotland has more difficult examples: Kilncadzow in South Lanarkshire is pronounced like “kill-kayg-ay” and Milngavie (Dunbartonshire) like “mel-guy” – and this is to name just two fancy examples. And I don’t even want to start here on how they pronounce “ch”.

Is there any pronunciation in English which fascinates you somehow? Share your thoughts.


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