131: The word "new" in place names

Syllable stress patterns in open compound nouns.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 131st episode.

I don't talk about how to pronounce place names very often. People take the pronunciation of places very personally, and place names often vary quite a bit between the people who live there and people who don't live there. Generally, individuals who don't live there use a more phonetic pronunciation. By the term phonetic I mean that it is pronounced as we would expect due to the spelling.

However, there is one interesting, and kind of surprising fact about place name pronunciation when the word new is included in a two-word place name, such as the names New York or New Mexico.

These place names can be considered open compound nouns. Compound nouns are words that combine two or more words, this includes words like footprint, newspaper, credit card, and bus pass. In that list credit card, and bus pass are called open compounds because there is a space between the words. This makes them more difficult to classify as compound nouns and tends to cause more trouble for non-native speakers to stress correctly.

Most compound nouns, whether they are open or closed, are stressed on the first word. This means that the stressed syllable of the first word is said with the most emphasis of all of the syllables the compound contains.

Even though names that include the word new can be considered open compound nouns, they aren't stressed like normal compound nouns. Instead, open compound nouns that include the word new tend to be stressed on the second word.

There are quite a few place names beginning with the word new: New York, New Hampshire, New England, New Orleans, New Mexico, New Dehli, New Guinea, New Brunswick and New Zealand are just some of the more well-known places that include the word New.

The strange aspect of this pattern is that it is only common when the compound name is an open compound. Once the words are joined, the word becomes a closed compound noun, and no space remains. In closed compound nouns containing the word new, the word new takes the stress. Some examples of this include: Newark, Newport, Newfoundland, Newhaven, and Newcastle.

To help you solidify the main pattern of compound nouns, there is a new lesson on Pronuncian regarding open and closed compound nouns. I'll link to it from the transcripts for this show, which you can find at www.pronuncian.com/transcripts. If you are a Pronuncian subscriber, there is also a new exercise highlighting the most frequently used closed compound nouns of American English. You can find that exercise at the bottom of the free lesson.

As always, we certainly appreciate all of you who have subscribed to Pronuncian, since that allows us to keep producing lots of free material to share openly with anyone who would like to learn.

Listening to a wide variety of English speakers is a great way to gain an intuitive understanding of the stress patterns of English, and a way that I encourage all of my students to practice listening is to listen to an audiobook. You can download a free audiobook, to keep, by signing up for a free 2-week trial of audible.com. Just go to www.audiblepodcast.com/pronuncian. After you download your book, you can cancel your subscription and keep your book.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening.