"-ham" at the end of place names

Contrafibularity

Senior Member
Japanese - Osaka
The general rule about the pronunciation of "-ham" at the end of place names is you don't pronounce the "h".
So the "h"s in Buckingham, Nottingham, Birmingham are not pronounced. This is how I understand and in line with what is said in the following website.
How to Pronounce Place Names with 'ham' in them.

However, I'm a little bit confused now. I was listening to a BBC podcast called The English We Speak and a radio presenter distinctly pronounced Nottingham as "Notting Ham", though I don't remember which episode it was. There are foreign staff in the program so that radio presenter may be a foreigner. But there's another thing. There is a Youtube channel called Emma Saying, which is an English pronunciation dictionary project, and it pronounces Buckingham as "Bucking Ham" while it pronounces Nottingham with a silent h.

I believe that the general rule still applies, but I'm beginning to wonder if there are some variations (regional, for instance) in those pronunciations.

Any comments would be appreciated. Thank you in advance.
 
  • Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    There is no such thing as standard pronunciation in English. There are a large number of different regional accents which each have their own pronunciation schemes. The guide you quote is describing the accent of South-east England, which, although spoken by a large number of people, is far from being the only accent in England, never mind the rest of the English-speaking world. In particular, place names which lie outside of this region may well be pronounced differently by those who actually live there. Personally, in my accent the h is sounded in some of these names, notably Nottingham and Birmingham.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Traditionally, all of these in Britain are pronounced with the ending -um.

    However, since the BBC abolished its pronunciation advisory department, some younger announcers have followed the American habit of pronouncing according to spelling, -ham and have not been corrected. That's what you're hearing.

    The only exception I can think of at this moment is West Ham.

    American pronunciation is quite different, and the 'H' in Birmingham Alabama is sounded, for example.

    (There is worse: everybody who comes from Wolverhampton like me knows that it's pronounced Wool-vramton. Radio announcers who have never been there will insist on Wulver-hamton. Birmingham is pronounced Brummajem by the locals.)
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The only exception I can think of at this moment is West Ham.
    And East Ham.:) West Ham and East Ham were Essex county boroughs which were put together to form the London Borough of Newham.

    I hail from Eltham (The Royal London Borough of Greenwich) : we pronounce it Elt-um. Eltham in Victoria, Australia (where I lived as a child) is pronounced Elth-um.

    In any case I agree with the above. Local pronounciation is what counts.
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    ...
    (There is worse: everybody who comes from Wolverhampton like me knows that it's pronounced Wool-vramton. Radio announcers who have never been there will insist on Wulver-hamton. Birmingham is pronounced Brummajem by the locals.)
    But in general isn't it true that h's are generally dropped in that area - not just with regard to town names?
    Certainly, as a kid, I would hear "Am yo 'appy?" in place of "Are you happy?" for example.

    Having been brought up a few miles south of Wolverhampton (Amblecote/Kingswinford/Wallheath) and having parents who were not from that area, we knew where to put the emphasis but sounded the 'h'.
    So: Wolver-HAMpton.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Birmingham is pronounced Brummajem by the locals.
    That is, like all generalisations, untrue. I spent the first 20 years of my life living there. It's one of the ways it may be pronounced by some of the locals.
    I believe that's the nickname for Birmingham
    :thumbsup:
    I'd describe the people as Brummies, and they speak with a Brummie accent.

    The pronunciation of the "h" varies considerably between individuals, as Glasguensis pointed out
    Personally, in my accent the h is sounded in some of these names, notably Nottingham and Birmingham.
    My "hams" are usually "'ams", although there is a faint "h" in some of them (which goes with my pronunciation of "hotel" and "historic" - but there's a very long thread about that)
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    As an AE speaker, I pronounce the 'h' in "Buckingham Palace", "Nottingham", and some other UK names. I also pronounce the 'h' in US city names (which I know I pronounce correctly) like "Waltham", "Framingham", "Birmingham".

    But 'h' directly after another consonant (other than unstressed -ng) is often weak and difficult to hear. When I say other US towns like "Dedham, Stoneham, Needham, Hingham" the way locals say them, I don't hear an 'h' sound.

    There is worse: everybody who comes from Wolverhampton like me knows that it's pronounced Wool-vramton.
    To me "the way locals pronounce it" is always the correct pronunciation. The US city "Worcester" (west of Boston) is pronounced "Woo-ster" (2 syllables). I say "Dedham" the way locals say it, not the way it is spelled.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    To me "the way locals pronounce it" is always the correct pronunciation.
    I know many natives of Topsham, in Devon. I know many incomers who have lived there 30 years or more. Some natives (ie, born there of Devon families) pronounce it "Tops'm". Others, equally native, pronounce it "Topsham" (ie with the -sh- dipththong) Many of the incomers, particularly the affluent middle classes who are involved in running the local museum, pronounce it as an exaggerated variant of "Topsum" - some of them deprecate anybody who dares to pronounce it "Topsham".

    Funny old world, isn't it?
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    You know, I honestly think I use both pronunciations at different times. :D
    I’d still advise using ‘um in general, though.
     

    Contrafibularity

    Senior Member
    Japanese - Osaka
    Thank you all. I have read all the responses with a bit of surprise and pleasure. I sincerely apologize if any of you took offense at my wording.

    So what I believed to be "the general rule" is no more than a part of the South-east England pronunciation scheme, though it still works for me as an English learner who needs some pronunciation model. You all seem to basically agree that local pronunciation is what counts, but some of you also said there are many options even among locals and that the same person may use different pronunciations at different times. This seems to be a funny, chaotic world indeed, and I'm a bit confused again. Suppose that you are living in one of the above-mentioned places and a visitor asks you how to pronounce it. In such a situation, what is going to be your primary source of reference? Do you follow your regional scheme or is it entirely up to each individual's choice?
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    To me "the way locals pronounce it" is always the correct pronunciation.
    In principle, yes, but ... which way, and which locals? I think that 'Glesga' or 'Embra' would sound odd/false from the mouth of a non-Scot. And if the locals use phonology that I don't (e.g. rhoticity) I'm not going to be able to pronounce the toponym as the locals do.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    You all seem to basically agree that local pronunciation is what counts,
    The problem is that, by definition, there are always more people who are not from a town than there are people who are from that town. If you are a local, you may well have a local pronunciation, but for the rest of us - it can be a bit of a guess as to how much emphasis is placed on "-ham-" As the first syllable, or first of a collocated pair (ham[p]ton) it is often fully "ham".

    As the final syllable, it varies from a little less than full pronunciation Nottinghem to the complete loss of the vowel sound (Durham -> Duh'rm)

    Central syllables are usually give the full value Northampton -> North-hampton.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    South-East English speaker here :). I'd never say Bucking-ham, and I wouldn't expect most Brits to pronounce it that way either. It simply sounds American to me.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    ... This seems to be a funny, chaotic world indeed...
    Welcome to Britain!
    Suppose that you are living in one of the above-mentioned places and a visitor asks you how to pronounce it. In such a situation, what is going to be your primary source of reference? Do you follow your regional scheme or is it entirely up to each individual's choice?
    It depends on who the visitor is. If it's some poncey Londoner, you'll probably give the most eccentric, difficult-to-pronounce version possible. If it's a polite Japanese, you'll probably give a standard pronunciation, which is the first line of your first post!
     

    Contrafibularity

    Senior Member
    Japanese - Osaka
    It depends on who the visitor is. If it's some poncey Londoner, you'll probably give the most eccentric, difficult-to-pronounce version possible. If it's a polite Japanese, you'll probably give a standard pronunciation, which is the first line of your first post!
    Thank you Keith, though I may much prefer the most eccentric, difficult-to-pronounce version possible.:D
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I may much prefer the most eccentric, difficult-to-pronounce version possible.:D
    Although this is funny, there is a serious cultural point here: As a stranger to, for example, "Birmingh'm" neither you nor I would/should say "Brummig'm" - that word is "owned" by the locals. Only when you are accepted into that community, may you use the "local" version. You cannot "force" yourself into the community, nor can you assume membership of that community, and thus legitimise the use.

    This is true for a number of words that are legitimately used only by a group.

    In basic terms, if you are clearly not a local, don't try too hard to be a local.
     
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    Contrafibularity

    Senior Member
    Japanese - Osaka
    You cannot "force" yourself into the community, nor can you assume membership of that community, and thus legitimise the use.
    Thank you, PaulQ. Although I'm aware this is a culturally sensitive matter and I wouldn't dare to claim a community membership by imitating the way the locals speak, I should have said I would like to know both pronunciations (because I'm interested in how the place is called by a local).
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thank you, PaulQ. Although I'm aware this is a culturally sensitive matter and I wouldn't dare to claim a community membership by imitating the way the locals speak, I should have said I would like to know both pronunciations (because I'm interested in how the place is called by a local).
    The real answer is that nobody knows until they hear it. It's best to ask at the nearest tourist office!

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