1. Nucleos Member

    French - france
    On Wikipedia it is said there is a difference of pronunciation for 'oregano' in American English and UK English.
    i looked up the difference of pronunciation of these two words. American English put the tense of the second syllable (RE), and the UK English put it on the third (GA).

    History: English language used to say the French/Latin word "origan(um)" from the 13th century. In the latin word, the tense is on RI: oRIgan. So I guess the English would say "oRIgan", but it seems some people now say "Origan". (Why is that?)

    Alas, according to etymonline, around 1771 (why?), the English decided to use the Spanish word orégano, and please note the Spanish word has got a tense of the RE: oRÉgano.

    You may hear oregano in multiples languages (including American/British/Irish accents) on Forvo.

    When I try to understand why the shift of tense happened, I come with those weak explanations:
    * sometimes the American English kept older ways of pronouncing words. (Shakespeare pronounced every "r" letter, for instance.)
    * sometimes the British try to mimic the French, and they put the tense at the end
    * sometimes the American English use a foreign pronunciation (here Italian/Spanish) because there are many actual Italian and Spanish people in the US.

    ... but i don't even know whether the shift happend in British English or in American English. (Though, the evidence i gathered points at a shift from oREgano to oreGAno.)

    Can someone help me with these crucial questions?
    * Who changed his mind? The English speaking crowd from the UK or from the US?
    * Why the change from origan to oregano?
    * Who will win?
    * How come some people say Origan now?
    Last edited: May 20, 2013
  2. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Moderator note: thread moved to the etymology and history of language forum.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 24, 2013
  3. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    First of all, your description is not quite accurate. In BE the stress is on the 3rd (Oregano) and in AE on the 2nd syllable (Oregano).

    I would assume the shift happened in 20th century British English. I looked up a few 19th century pronouncing dictionaries but but neither had the word.

    The most probable cause is mistaken adaptation to the Italian pronunciation. Italian has mostly penultimate stress but Origano is also in Italian stressed on the 2nd syllable. This is the summary of a discussion in a different forum I unfortunately can't link to here.
    Last edited: May 24, 2013
  4. Nucleos Member

    French - france
    Hello berndf,

    Thanks for your input. I'd be very interested in the discussion in the mysterious forum you mention. Perhaps by PM?.

    PS : I don't really see a difference between your description and mine: I said «American English put the tense on the second syllable (RE), and the UK English put it on the third (GA).»
  5. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Sorry, my mistake. When I saw this:
    I didn't realize you meant yet another possibility. Origan (with i rather than e and no o at the end) is according the the source you cited an earlier import of the same root before the Spanish form with e became popular.
  6. Nucleos Member

    French - france
    The spelling "origan[um]" is the first import indeed. I wonder how this precise dictionnary (Collins English dictionary) came to pronounce this word (which is of no use, except in botanic circles) with a tense on the first O. This is perhaps a minor question, since the word is seldom used.

    I hope I'll get the chance to find evidence on the shift from oREgano to oreGAno in BE (as you suggested, berndf)... Is there anything beside dictionaries i should check? I've skimmed my usual source and i could not find anything valuable.
  7. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Why don't you use the English word stress?
    Do you want to say "accent tonique?
  8. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    It is a different word, though it has the same ultimate source. It isn't to infrequent that different imports of the same word end up with a different stress, e.g. warranty vs. guarantee.
  9. Nucleos Member

    French - france
    Ben Jamin > Thank you for your message, i was definitely using weird terms: you are right. Stress is the correct word, and a tense vowel is not what I thought it is. (French, my mother tongue, has got no lexical stress system.)

    berndf > Yes. Thank you for the warranty/guarantee example. I suggest there are even 3 different words: the first word, "origan[um]" (oRIgan), then "oregano" (oreGAno), then origan (Origan). You suggested also that there might be a link between hypercorrection (= i want to pronounce the real Italian way) and this shift of accent. I wonder if the "third word" (origan) is also due to hypercorrection.
  10. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    A correct stress may be crucial for understanding. Oregano is a popular condiment in salads in Greece, especially in the country salad (khoriatiki). Once eating out I found out there was no oregano in my salad, and I asked the waiter to fetch me some (doste mou rigani, parakalo). I pronounced the word rigAni, instead of rIgani, and he didn't understand. It took some time before I guessed there was something wrong with my pronunciation.
  11. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I think that BE Oregano is but a hyper-correct pronunciation of Oregano and that the older Origan is a genuinely different word.
  12. sotos Senior Member

  13. Nucleos Member

    French - france
    Ben Jamin > You will find on the Web lots of smart English/American people telling you the other country can't pronounce "oregano" well, and having a theory about it. Check out this article in the Guardian.

    berndf > Is this a rebuttal of my "3 words with 3 different stresses" 'theory'? How could we know which 'theory' is right?
  14. swintok Senior Member

    English - Canada
    My own theory has no objective basis to it, but is simply based on having grown up in a very white-bread part of Canada. Even though the word oregano theoretically existed in English before the 20th century, you can still find parts of Canada and the US where people have no idea what oregano is. I believe that the word oregano was popularised in American and Canadian English by Southern European immigrants who actually used the herb. Hence the closeness in pronounciation to Spanish and Greek and the difference with British English, in which the word has a different history.
  15. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    That is the conclusion I draw from the sources discussed. Origan is a loan from Old French and exists in English since the 13th century. Oregano is a loan from Spanish into American English. In British English it (practically) didn't exist until the mid 20th century and the American stress agrees with the stress in Spanish. Oregano doesn't occur in the original edition and the first supplement of the OED but only in the second supplement where it is marked as American with the stress either on the 2nd or the 3rd syllable.

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