Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pronunciations Heck with Hermione and Homage

As my occupation (technical writing) is more involved with the written rather than spoken word, I often trip over pronunciations of words that I read rather than speak, particularly non-English names. But even with a name common in England consciousness, one gives me problems in particular—Hermione—for the following reasons.

  • The name starts with an "h", a letter that seems to have no logical rules for it getting pronounced or not.
  • Syllable accentuation is not obvious.
  • The "i" is not obvious for whether it's long or short.
  • The second "e" because of the word-end placement seems like it should be silent.
  • Possible pronunciations seem to include "HER-mee-own", "HER-mee-one", "her-MY-own-ee" (Bingo!), etc.

Unless I've seen a Harry Potter movie recently—maybe a year since, I forget how Hermione is supposed to be pronounced. Reasonable video resources, besides Harry Potter movies, now include YouTube videos where Emma Watson talks about her character.

Another "h" word (term) that gives me pause is "homage".'s pronunciation guide shows "\ ä-mij, hä-\ ". There are two speaker icons. When clicked, they sound like "hawm ij" and "awm ij", respectively, to me.'s pronunciation guide shows "[hom-ij, om-]", although there's only one speaker icon. When clicked, I hear what sounds like "hawm ij". I can't help but also consider pronouncing "homage" as "home age" or "ohm age" or "home ij" or "ohm ij".

My feeling is that "h" words come with the unusual pronunciation difficulties particularly for non-native English speakers. Does the "h" get pronounced or not? Seems only experience helps in knowing. Honor? Hour? Hope? History? My efforts to find online pronunciation help regarding "Hermione" and "homage"—my "h" pet words for this article—has yielded a few reasonable resources.

Online Dictionaries

Other Resources

Per inogolo's "About" page, is "website devoted to the English pronunciation of the names of people, places, and various things". The result for Hermione provides a link for speech ("Audio Pronunciation"), displays pronunciation ("Phonetic Pronunciation") as "hur-MY-o-nee", and shows the name/word origin.

A topic at Language Forums yielded a commenter's link to AT&T for pronunciations. At the AT&T site, you can select different voices from a drop-down list box, then type or paste text into the text box. You then click SPEAK to hear the text. The American English speakers pronounce Hermione as "her MY oh nee", whereas the British speakers pronounce "HER me on". Other language-speakers have yet other pronunciations. Incidentally, the WordReference forum page shows a paid-ad link for free text-to-speech reader.

Even if I mastered and could continue to remember pronunciations for "Hermione" and "homage", I could never be an news announcer for foreign news. I would have an awful time correctly pronouncing names of heads of states for former Eastern-bloc countries and several Mediterranean-area countries. I'm fine with most British-based and Spanish names, except for Hermione (British by Potter <g>).


Dimi said...

OK, nothing irks me more than someone saying or writing "an historic xxx." The rule is about the sound that follows a or an, and historic starts with "hu" not "ih" in my book. If they don't pronounce the h in England, fine, but I've never had a style or grammar book tell me not to pronounce the h.

I believe the British pronunciation of Hermoine is "hur MINE e," but I say that only because of Harry Potter.

Do not get me started on Houston. The man said his name as "hyou ston" not "you ston" as some folks say (WHY???) or "how ston" as in New York for some freaky reason.


Richard and Mary said...

"Homage" gets even more complicated as people in artsy contexts often give it the French pronunciation "ohm AZH" to refer to someone's work that is a tribute to someone else.

As for "history" my favorite history professor, All-American former CIA officer that he was, insisted that it was "an historian." The H is kinda weak in "historian" and "historic" so I often (which is my pronunciation pet peeve) go with Dr. Miller's guidance, but I always use "a" with "history" (A History of the Black Hills).

Anonymous said...

"To love what you do --- and feel that it matters, could anything be more fun ...."
Kathyrn Graham

Thank you for your shared thoughts.

whilldtkwriter said...

I had meant to put a certain link into this article about pronunciation, but hadn't found it the time I wanted to publish. I've run across it recently. Now I figure putting it into a comment as a postscript is an appropriate place. The article is "Ever get embarrassed because you mispronounce a word you've only seen written? Don't" (

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