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The pronunciation of last names ending with -stein

Discussion in 'English Only' started by slowik, Jun 6, 2010.

  1. slowik Senior Member

    Polish
    It's Franken-styn, Ein-styn but Wein-steen. Why and what decides?
     
  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    The individual/the family.

    You have to check.
     
  3. duoyu Senior Member

    English- US, Spanish- Puerto Rico
    These names are of German origin, and in German "stein" is always pronounced with the same vowel found in "fine" (/aɪ/). Occasionally, some of these names are pronounced with the same vowel found in "see" but I don't think there is a rule to this; ultimately, it depends on how the person says his or her name.
     
  4. mplsray Senior Member

    The Mel Brooks movie Young Frankenstein presents a fictional version of this. The character played by Gene Wilder, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, insists that his name be pronounced ending in /stin/, in an effort to distance himself from his mad-scientist grandfather, Victor Frankenstein, whose name has the traditional German pronunciation, ending in /staɪn/.

    Playing with the principle that the correct pronunciation is how the person says his or her name, Brooks has the character named Igor, a name traditionally pronounced /'igɔr/, insist that the correct pronunciation of his name is /'aɪgɔr/.
     
  5. Saratoga Senior Member

    Saratoga Springs, NY
    usa english
    Unfortunately, there is no rule for this. When Germans immigrated to English-speaking countries, some families kept the German pronunciation, and others shifted the pronunciation.
     
  6. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    I know a family with a Germanic last name. The two branches of the family pronounce their last name quite differently after a falling out of some kind a generation or two ago. So my friend and his cousin have the same last name and pronouce it differently.

    People are always mispronouncing my last name for reasons that I've never understood. The spelling is quite ordinary and similar to several common English words that they wouldn't mispronounce. But with names, a lot of the time you can't be sure how they are pronounced and you just have to ask.
     
  7. ><FISH'> Senior Member

    United Kingdom
    British English
    In the case of "Weinstein", there is already an "aj" sound before "stein", thus English-speakers find it very awkward and silly to say "Wajnstayn".
     
  8. brian

    brian Senior Member

    Montréal
    AmE (New Orleans)
    I agree that it ultimately comes down to how the person/family pronounces it, but I wonder if it has anything to do with Yiddish. It seems to me, albeit rather naively, that the [stin] pronunciations are more common in families of Jewish origin, or maybe those families who spoke Yiddish. Any thoughts to this? Does anyone know how German "ei" ([aɪ]) is pronounced in Yiddish?

    I don't think this argument holds since we pronounce "Einstein" as "ajnstajn", i.e. ['aɪnstaɪn].
     
  9. duoyu Senior Member

    English- US, Spanish- Puerto Rico
    I was thinking the same thing, but I couldn't find anything to prove it. Maybe someone who knows Yiddish can tell us....
     
  10. Saratoga Senior Member

    Saratoga Springs, NY
    usa english
    In Yiddish, it is pronounced shteyn, rhyming with pain. There may be some families that retain a Yiddish pronunciation, but I think this is unusual.
     
  11. Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    That might just be a reflection of your residence in North America where many Jewish refugees went in the 1930s. There is nothing particularly Yiddish about "Stein", which means stone or rock and which appears in many German place names. Nobody should be surprised at the "ei" having varying pronunciation in anglicized forms of these names because the Germanic pronunciation is abnormal to English-speakers - it must be incredibly rare to find anybody in English-speaking societies pronouncing the "st" correctly as "sht".
     
  12. brian

    brian Senior Member

    Montréal
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Are you sure about that? We have a lot of [aɪ] words of Germanic origin, such as wine, nine, blind, brine, twine, etc. as well as words borrowed directly from German that retain [aɪ], such as the Rhine.

    Of course, regarding that first list of words, it's not that case that we borrowed them from German and retained [aɪ], but rather they were originally [i:] and then became [aɪ] after the Great Vowel Shift. Nonetheless, my point is that there is nothing abnormal about [aɪ] in English phonology - it's just as common and easy to pronounce as any other diphthong, and we also have a ton of words of Romance origin with [aɪ], such as fine and dine. In other words, there is no phonological/phonetic reason, e.g. due to some pronunciation difficulty, that it should change, hence why I thought the reason my be historical/dialectal.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2010
  13. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    This brings up, again, the question of how to "correctly" pronounce the name of a thoroughly Anglicized person with a surname of non-Anglo origin.

    I, for one, would not tell George Steinbrenner, the ultra-colorful owner of the New York Yankees baseball team, how to pronounce his name, despite my years of studying German.

    Around here, names are (usually) pronounced the way the owners thereof prefer as mentioned above.

    (I was going to mention the lines from the comedy classic, Young Frankenstein, but mplsray beat me to it.)
     
  14. Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    Yes, I'm absolutely sure, since the point of discussion is "ei" and, in order to pronounce them properly we anglicized the spelling of Rhein and wein to Rhine and wine. We also changed the pronunciation of neun as well as its spelling, but that came through "nigon" so isn't hugely relevant. My point is that an English speaker seeing a name that includes "stein" is unlikely to pronounce it with the original German pronunciation unless told how to pronounce it.
     
  15. brian

    brian Senior Member

    Montréal
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Then in that case you're talking about orthography and not phonology, which I didn't realize at first. And you might be right: maybe Mr. Weinstein of family A comes to America pronouncing his name with [aɪ] but spelling it "ei," just like in German, until generations later, after the family stops speaking German (or Yiddish or whatever), his American descendants, having grown up spelling their name with "ei," eventually start saying [i:]; whereas Mr. Weinstein of family B comes to America, but his descendants preserve the original [aɪ] for whatever reason.

    That could be the case, especially if the women and families of the women who marry the Weinsteins decide to pronounce it with [i:] and teach that to their children, then eventually that part of the family will have [i:].
     
  16. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Your hypothesis might still be right, brian - maybe the vowel of Yiddish shteyn-to-rhyme-with-pain is more likely to turn into /i:/.

    Now all you need is the funding for the research project:cool:.
     
  17. Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    Yes, sorry, I should have made that clear. No doubt the officials at Staten Island struggled with names like Weinstein (do I write that as vineshtine or do I say weensteen?), and many a migrant opted for the easy route of accepting a new way of pronouncing his name.
     
  18. brian

    brian Senior Member

    Montréal
    AmE (New Orleans)
    The reason I didn't consider orthography is that I thought you were speaking in terms of the constraints English phonology, because this often does force last names to be pronounced differently. One example is stress assignment. A friend of mine has the Italian last name Rottoli,* which he pronounces as ruh-TO-li (just like many English speakers would guess), but which any Italian in Italy would automatically pronounce as ROT-to-li, similar to BROC-co-li.

    The reason is that Italian and English stresses are assigned differently. (I won't go into it.) So an Italian-American family who has lost the Italian language will eventually anglicize the pronunciation automatically, no matter the spelling.

    In the case of Weinstein as [waɪnstaɪn] vs. [waɪnstin], there's no phonological change going on here. In fact, I doubt officials at Staten Island would have had any difficulty at all saying the name (even with "esh" in place of ). Instead, I imagine they wrote it down with the German spelling, and for some reason orthographic "ei" came to be pronounced as [i:] in English.

    Now, why that happened, I have no idea. Maybe because of words like receive? But why not become [eɪ] by analogy with words like neighbor and weigh?

    So the orthography issue is an interesting one, but it's quite complicated and lacking in data to come to a real conclusion, I think. It's sort of like a chicken-and-the-egg situation: do we pronounce "ei" as [i:] because that's how we see it written in a word of German origin, or do we write "ei" because it's a vowel of German origin pronounced as [i:]? In either case, I have no answer as to why that should be.

    *I made that up for the sake of anonymity, but the story is true, and a Google search shows that Rottoli is a common last name actually.
     

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