Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pronunciation of final -e

My wife and I were last night discussing the varying pronunciations of Nietzsche: nitʃi versus nitʃə. As far as I'm aware, the latter is the preferred pronunciation, based on the fact that every philosopher I know pronounces it this way (and they're the ones with most cause to use it), and that Nietzsche was German, in which a final e such as this one should, according to my scant knowledge of German, be pronounced as a schwa. So why do people say nitʃi? That's what I said until I started taking philosophy classes. My hypothesis is that it stems from final -e in the numerous Greek words and names we've borrowed into English. To give some examples from linguistic and English terminology, "apocope", "syncope", "synecdoche", or from Greek mythology, "Persephone", "Ariadne", etc. etc. When people look at a word they don't say "Hmm, what language is that from?" They have vague unconscious knowledge of how they've heard other similar words pronounced, and in this case that results in a translation of the German -e in Nietzsche to the final -e in Greek which is pronounced i. Another reason we should have linguistics classes in school.


Cassandra Jacobs said...

I think it might be assimilation, on top of the fact that word final schwa is pretty rare compared to other vowels, with i being the most common word final vowel, as far as I'm aware.

parlance said...

We have an art gallery here that's called "Heide". It's in Heidelberg, so no problem guessing how the original name was meant to be said.

Everyone calls it "Heidi", like the heroine of the children's novels. I always wonder why the owners of the gallery don't try for the old pronunciation.