10 November 2010

Brontë - Is It "tee" or "tay"?

A couple months ago, I started to work as an audio proofer at Blackstone Audio. As a writer, this gives me an unparallel opportunity to do the one thing that all writers should do aplenty: Read, read, read.

When I proof a book, it's my job to not only ensure that words are pronounced correctly, but to back up the narrator's pronunciation if an alternative exists.

I've already missed some mispronounced words because of imperfections in my own pronunciation lexicon. So if a word, especially a name, causes me to pause, I look it up. Even if I'm pretty certain it's right.

Currently I'm proofing a book on writers who were hypochondriacs. Among the writer's is Charlotte Brontë, author of Jane Eyre.

Today, I hit a snag. I couldn't find a source to back up the narrator's pronunciation of "Brontë" as "bron - tay." I knew it had to be an acceptable way to say her name. I'd heard it said that way many, many times and mostly from literature professors. Still, I couldn't find any online sources that cited that pronunciation.

They all pronounced it as "bron - tee."

Luckily, the head of the sound studio, the one to make these sorts of calls said it was definitely "bron - tay" and a fellow proofer backed him up.

Score! I could move on.

Still, I couldn't shake it. I needed to know why I could not find "tay" as a proper pronunciation. Was this a case of misinformation being propagated on the internet? I dug deeper.

As it turns out, "Brontë" may be pronounced as either "tee" or "tay," but "tay" is given as the secondary or alternative. Either is acceptable.

Here is the link to one of the reputable sources:

Some other social-based sources, like Answer.com, brought up a good reason as to why "tee" is the proper pronunciation. To paraphrase one post, think of the appearance of "ë" in names such as Chloë and Zoë. It's always "ee," never "ay."

Now, here's the interesting thing I observed. I checked the books we have in the audio proofing room and those that were published before 1984 cite the pronunciation as "tay," not "tee." However, those that were published after 1995 provided the "tee" first, "tay" second.

This has me wondering if the name was mispronounced for so many years until a reputable scholar came along and pointed out the fallacy (if indeed there ever was one), and now the big guys like Merriam-Websters have both rectified the error and compromised by allowing "tay" as an alternative.

There has to be an intriguing story behind this change. Does anyone know it?

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