Barbados & the Caribbean

The scene behind the KFC near my Barbadian hotel
is rather unlike the scene behind the KFC near my Brighton home
As I mentioned in the last post, and as I have been wont to mention at any opportunity, I got to go to Barbados recently. It was my first time in the West Indies and it was fabulous—even if I did spend much of it in a windowless conference room.

In the weeks before I went there, I was wont to mention at any opportunity that I was going to Barbados soon. And this is when my (obviously jealous) English friends started pointing out (or was it mocking?) that I didn't say Barbados like they say Barbados. I (in my American way) say the last syllable as if it is the word dose. Theirs sounds like (BrE) doss  or the acronym for 'disk operating system': DOS. In saying it they use the 'rounded short o' vowel that Americans like me don't have.

I was gratified to learn, in the welcoming speeches at the conference, that Barbadians pronounce the last vowel in Barbados like I do, more like the Spanish number dos than like doss. I tweeted about this discovery, and one of my longtime blog correspondents emailed to note (as others had) that in olden times it was often Barbadoes in English, suggesting the "long", or more accurately "tense" o pronunciation that I use. She added "the modern spelling suggests the '-oss' ending".

To which I had to respond—well, the modern ending might suggest '-oss' for you, but not for me. Barbados is part of a partial pattern of difference between BrE and AmE. For my American English, I see the -os in kudos or pathos and I say it with the tense /o/. They rhyme with dose, not doss. But the standard pronunciation of these in Britain is with the -oss sound. And that kind of pronunciation has bled into Barbados. The name Barbados comes from either Portuguese or Spanish for 'bearded ones' (probably because of a tree with beard-like foliage). It's not related to the Greek-derived words pathos and kudos, but the spelling leads us to treat them similarly.

This varies in the US, though. Merriam-Webster gives the doss-type pronunciation first for kudos and pathos (though, of course, with the kind of short-o that Americans use, see link above). American Heritage's first choice for kudos rhymes with doze. But my kudos rhymes with dose. That pronunciation is in both dictionaries, but further down their lists. They both give the dose-type first for Barbados, though. (And they don't give a 'doss' type, but do give a schwa pronunciation more like "Barbaduss".) I suspect that the dose pronunciation for Barbados is preserved in the US because it looks like Spanish, and Americans are used to pronouncing the Spanish o in the tense/long way. (For more on AmE/BrE approaches to Spanish words, see this old post & its comments.)

Thanks to previous UK comment on/mockery of my pronunciation, I went to Barbados also nervous about saying Caribbean. Natural-me says caRIBbean. English people (and now me-when-I'm-speaking-to-English-people-and-wanting-to-avoid-mockery) say caribBEan.  I again heard "my" pronunciation during the opening speeches of the conference. Professor Jeannette Allsopp, co-namesake of the Richard and Jeannette Allsopp Centre for Caribbean Lexicography, put her stress on the -rib-. I thought if she does it, I can do it too. Then I noticed other staff and students from the University of the West Indies (UWI) putting their stress on the -be-. This is what Oxford Dictionaries says on the matter:
There are two possible pronunciations of the word Caribbean. The first, more common in British English, puts the stress on the -be-, while the second, found in the US and the Caribbean itself, stresses the -rib-
The 'first' in this quotation is made especially weird by the fact that it's the rib-stressed pronunciation that is listed first in their entry for the word. Phonetician (and frequent travel[l]er to the Caribbean) John Wells tells me that indeed the rib-stressing pronunciation is traditionally the more common in the area. The fact that I heard a lot of younger UWI folk using the more BrE pronunciation is an interesting counterexample to the oft-heard claims that English is being Americanized all over the world. In this case, decades after Barbadian independence, a British pronunciation seems to be making inroads.

The competition between these pronounciations comes from the fact that Caribbean has two possible etymologies. It's either Carib(b)+ean or Caribbee+an. Both Carib and Caribbee are apparent anglici{s/z}ations of the Spanish Caribe (which is probably an adaptation of an Arawak word). Caribbee has pretty much died out now, but it and Carib are both found in the earliest days of European reporting on "the New World". 

So, I'm happy now to say Barbados and Caribbean in my natural way even with British friends who might mock me because (a) they're not wrong, and (b) I GOT TO GO TO BARBADOS AND THEY DIDN'T. 😎


  1. And they dint. (American South)

  2. I wonder if UK pronunciation comes from the fact that "-os" in Spain rhymes with "doss", not "dose". As you say in your blog about Spanish, British people obviously encounter the language as spoken in Spain. Can you shed any light on the tendency for Americans to pronounce European place names in an uncharacteristic manner? I am thinking of "Cannes" with a long "a" when the French uses a short vowel (it even sounds more like Caen in Normandy pronounced the US way!). Also, Milan with a long "a" when the
    name is, after all, an anglicised version of Milano. I stand to be corrected but I can't think of any words containing "-an" which any native English speaker would pronounce that way. My thought is that Americans want to pronounce European places in a "European" style which leads them to use "European" ie British English. I ask this as someone with a keen interest rather than as a qualified linguist, albeit one with a good knowledge of French, German and Spanish.

    1. I don't think so. The problem is that British and Americans have a different sets of vowels to work with when trying to make the /o/ sound one finds in other languages. I typed this all out and then lost it, so please have a look at my reply to David Crosbie below, since it makes much the same point!

    2. More precisely Americans feel the need to employ a (relatively) 'authentic' set of vowelswhen trying to make the /o/ sound from other languages. We just don't feel that need, and stick with the objectively strange set we've inherited.

    3. Long vowels: American English, like Scottish English, does not have distinctive vowel length. The length of a vowel depends on the following consonant. So for us, vowel quality is what's important. Our TRAP vowel is far forward and doesn't match either French "a" or "â" (in varieties of French that distinguish); the PALM vowel is the nearest in quality, so we use it for French "a".

      Milan: This is not an anglicization of Milano. Rather Milano is an italianization of Milan, the native (Lombard) name of the city. In German, it's called Mailand, literally 'May land', by folk etymology, because Germans think of Italy as the land of eternal spring.

    4. Yes, I knew about American/Scottish lack of actual distinctive vowel length. Nevertheless,don't you preserve the historic opposition in the names of the vowel letters — using, like us, the reflex of historical 'long' pronunciation?

      [As I suspect you know, the length of a vowel in Scottish English (for many speakers at least) depends on the following morpheme.]

      Another departure I've heard in American speech, in addition to the A and O examples, is the pronunciation of beta with a 'foreign' value for the historic long-E. In my non-rhotic speech it sounds the same as beater.

      For the Spanish i vowel, the most popular pronunciation of Ibiza mixes
      • out-and-out British value for the first vowel ..................
      • British/American value for the first consonant ............... b
      * approximate authentic value for the second vowel.........
      • Castilian Spanish value for the second consonant......... θ
      • British/American value for the final vowel ...................... ə

  3. I am (barely) old enough to remember when Pirates of the Car-rib-BE-an was an exciting new ride at Disneyland. That's how they advertised it (see here: and I'm pretty sure I learned the word from those ads as they didn't teach geography in Kindergarten. I'm not sure when or how I changed over to Ca-RIB-be-an, but that's how I say it now, even when I'm at Disneyland.

    When we were in Barbados on vacation a few years ago, I think all the natives I met who worked in the tourism industry pronounced it as I do, with the Spanish style dos on the end. The accent is on the second syllable though, so the last vowel is somewhat shortened.

    My favorite memory of that vacation is explaining to my 6 yr old that when her new British friends went off to change into their "swimming costumes", she could just put on her "bathing suit". She was convinced they were going to come back with mermaid tails or other fancy dress-up outfits.

    1. I was going to make a similar point - Pirates of the CarribBEan is probably to blame for younger people adopting that pronunciation across the Americas instead of CarRIBbean.

    2. I grew up in the Caribbean and it was never ever pronounced "Carib-be-an". We always said, and I still say,'Ca-rib-be-an'. Americans were the only ones I'd ever heard pronouncing it "Carib-be-an', which I thought was an affectation.

    3. What an interesting observation, Cathy. I grew up in California and always referred to that ride with the CaribbEAN pronunciation, but still referred to the region as the CaRIBbean. Until this moment, I never realized the inconsistency.

  4. Or alternatively US pronunciation of "-an" is informed by Spanish (I've heard Americans say "flan" with a long "a" for example). It reminds me of the 1990s r&b group En Vogue - in US "en" pronounced in a Spanish or indeed English way, in UK "on".

    1. Not sure I understand this point. In both pronunciations of Caribbean, in both countries (in my experience), the -an just a syllabic 'n'--no full vowel with it.

  5. It's not just Spanish words where this happens. There are no end of Classical Greek words adopted into English that are spelled with final ‑os (the citation form of the largest class of Greek nouns). Hence kudos and pathos and the more frequently spoken-aloud cosmos.

    In Britain we apply the normal spelling pronunciation; there's no final E so we use the 'short o' LOT vowel. This is normal transcribed as ɔ, but in Accents of English John Wells uses ɒ for RP and ɑ for General American. To untrained British ears ɒ sounds as close as dammit to Spanish o. But you have an o pronunciation for the GOAT vowel or 'long o' where we have regional variations on a diphthong such as RP əʊ — which sound not at all like Spanish o.

    I'm not sure why you Americans think the ancient Greeks spoke like modern Spanish-speakers.

    I don't think we often notice the difference in your GOAT vowel, but we tend to use an exaggerated PALM vowel when saying LOT words in an attempted American accent.

    1. There's more reason for Americans to think Greek o is tense vowel than that it's a lax one. In general, if pronouncing European words, you're better off assuming more Spanish-like vowels, since English vowel spelling has been entirely messed up by the Great English Vowel Shift. Our pronunciation of /o/ comes out as the extra long [oʊ]. That's the closest vowel to Greek's that AmE has. But RP's GOAT vowel is more centralized, and so its lax LOT vowel might well be closer to a Greek /o/. But an American LOT would be much furɑːther from /o/, since it's /a/.

      The difference in how we pronounce these vowels extends to how we hear them--a victim of 'categorical perception'--that we automatically fit what we hear into the sound categories we have.

    2. You explain why phonetically trained Americans avoid a LOT pronunciation for Spanish ɑ. I'm still unsure why untrained readers-aloud don't employ the common-sense spelling pronunciation. My best guess is that it's the pull of the similarities with your own o vowel rather than the push of the dissimilarity to your ɑ vowel.

      There's been some break in continuity over there. Here in most British accents the LOT vowel started as objectively similar to the Spanish pronunciation of O, and the two sounds continued to be equated as our LOT vowel changed over time to present ɒ. Thus the two sounds are psychologically the same — perceived as such though measurably different.

      As for the Greek words, the rule (sometimes broken) is that we have followed the distinction signalled by two distinct letters of the Greek alphabet.

      ο (omicron) has been pronounced with the LOT vowel of the day
      This is the vowel of κύδος (kudos), παθός (pathos), κόσμος (cosmos) — ΝΟΤ *κὐδως, *παθώς, *κὀσμως.

      ω (omega) has been pronounced (less consistently) with the GOAT vowel of the day
      This is the vowel of ἥρως ('hero'), Ἰω (Io), Πλάτων (Plato) — NOT *ἥρος, *Ἰο, *Πλἀτον.

      Once upon a time these were the objectively similar o and . They don't feel any less similar now that they're ɒ and əʊ. Indeed, some of us at least still speak of short o and long o.

      [Yes there are quite a few exceptions to the rule mapping Classical Greek to English O-values. But these seem to result from historic processes internal to English — notably lengthening 'short o' when it bore the word stress.]

      The difference in how we pronounce these vowels extends to how we hear them--a victim of 'categorical perception'--that we automatically fit what we hear into the sound categories we have.

      I suspect it's the other way round. The way we apply our sound categories extends to the pronunciations we hear. For some reason the two British sound categories in question have never dissociated themselves from the alphabetical letter O.

    3. I realise not everybody still uses the terms long o and short o. But surely we all use the GOAT vowel to pronounce the name of letter-O.

    4. David: because it's not a common-sense spelling pronunciation unless you are used to pronouncing -os words as -oss. What counts as 'common sense' in spelling/pronunciation is only 'common' in a particular spelling/pronunciaition system. Americans look at -os endings, don't see the double 's' that tells them it's the 'LOT' vowel, so say it with the vowel they use in other -os words, which includes plurals with -os (though those we pronounce with a /z/, which also accounts for the pronunciation of 'kudos' that some dictionaries have first).

      The only -os word I can think of that I'd pronounce with the LOT vowel is the acronym DOS, and I only pronounce it that way because I've heard other say it. If that weren't the case, I'd have no reason to not say it like the Spanish number or the plural of the nouned verb 'do'.

    5. Yes of course I meant common sense to me. The British system may be wrong-headed, but it is simpler and essentially conservative. It hasn't involved reassigning Spanish and Greek vowels from LOT to GOAT just because the phonetic realisations have changed.

      The ‑os plural is interesting for another reason. In the past it justified a spelling with an apostrophe (tomato's, potato's) when they were unfamiliar new foodstuffs to show that the words were not SINGULAR forms — and therefore pronounced OSS.

      So how do you pronounce ostrich, prospect, hospital? The British spelling pronunciation is the same for ‑os whether or not it's followed by another consonant letter. (Of course, a following vowel letter does make a difference.)

      There are problems in relying on both final ‑ose and ‑oss spellings as guides to pronunciation. The former may suggest a rhyme with doze and the latter points to both floss and gross.

      I think the different spelling pronunciations here reflect a difference between what we mark a 'foreign' and outside the usual rule.

      • You have a 'foreign exception' condition for sound — which allows you to associate 'long o' pronunciation with what was a short-o spelling in Greek.
      • We have a 'foreign exception' condition for spelling — which allows us to associate LOT pronunciation with final ‑os spelling.

    6. Your system is more complicated in that it doesn't automatically assign historic 'short' value before a single final consonant in the exceptional case of O. For the other vowel letters we have slab, fret, bin, hob, plug. For both systems, final ‑s is exceptional. Before other consonants we have blob, bloc, plod, dog, amok, nytol, from, nylon, hop, hot, fox, Boz. For you the exceptionality of O is totally consistent (apart from DOS). For us the exceptionality is only partially consistent.

      How do you handle the abbreviated names Jos. and Ros? The latter (for me) has a LOT vowel — albeit with a /z/ sound for final consonant. (When I was young my surname was abbreviated to Cros pronounced KROZZ.)

    7. "How do you handle the abbreviated names Jos. and Ros?"

      Mostly by not using them. 8-)

      If a Joseph is abbreviated other than to "Joe", it's likely to become "Joss", which has the the expected pronunciation.

      And the spelling for an abbreviated Rosalyn would likely be "Roz".

    8. David: It just doesn't make sense to talk about Spanish or Greek having a GOAT vowel. Those are descriptions that were invented to describe the English vowel system. When I hear a Spanish or Greek 'o', I hear a tense /o/. It's shorter than English GOAT vowels because that vowel is a diphthong. But it doesn't make sense to call it the LOT vowel.

    9. I'm not saying they have a GOAT vowel or a LOT vowel. Though I am saying that Greek had long O and short O.

      My pronunciation of Spanish — when speaking English, of course — is based on spelling-to-sound considerations. For that reason my ear translates an actual Spanish o to a perceived approximation to my LOT vowel.

      My pronunciation of Classical Greek words is similarly based on spelling-to-sound — reinforced by my knowledge that kudos, pathos, cosmos were all spelled with omicron (short o). There was a time when I regularly heard Classical Greek spoken by teachers and lecturers. They used whatever British English vowel sound was a plausible approximation to what scholars believe the pronunciation to have been.

      I've been on about LOT and GOAT because it allows us to think both about oppositions in the past when length was distinctive and oppositions in the present when length is only partly a feature in British accents and not at all in American. Yet the opposition is still there and still associated with the letter O.

      The opposition in the past is interesting because our LOT vowel would once have sounded rather like the Spanish O-sound of the day. And the LOT-GOAT opposition would once have resembled the Classical Greek omicron-omega opposition.

      LOT, GOAT and the rest were invented to describe and discuss the English vowel system without being too distracted by the actual sounds.

    10. OK, I think I see what you were picking up on. I wrote:

      It hasn't involved reassigning Spanish and Greek vowels from LOT to GOAT just because the phonetic realisations have changed.

      What I meant was that Anglicised Spanish words and Anglicised Greek words were originally assigned pronunciations with the LOT vowel of the day. We have continued to do this, while you have reassigned them to pronunciations with the GOAT vowel of the day.

    11. I live in California, where most of our place names are anglicized from Spanish. My "long o" is default for a Spanish o, perhaps because my "short o" is closer to a Spanish "a."

    12. David: what is your evidence that the borrowings were originally LOT-vowel in English? Especially for those that were borrowed after AmE and BrE split?

      Also confused by the claim that AmE has no long/short distinction, since long/short vowel is what distinguishes our 'can' from our 'can't'.

    13. I took the 'short o' set to be the default. There is some supporting evidence.

      • The 'long o' set was an innovation — not descended from the Old English long o words. For a time the new set and the Old English derived set co-existed: the books I read transcribe the vowels as ɔː and respectively.

      • This ɔː vowel really does seem to be a longer version of the 'short o' — which everyone transcribes as ɔ. Indeed, a major source of the new vowel was a lengthening of previously short o in open syllables.

      * A set of loanwords that we do know about is from French. Here the O sounds were absorbed into what eventually became English LOT — with one exception. If the resulting English word had stress on the syllable with o, then the syllable took what eventually became the GOAT vowel.

      So here's the negative evidence; the Spanish borrowings with ‑os produced a syllable which was
      • not open
      • not stressed

      Not a watertight case, but pretty suggestive.

      As for words that were borrowed after AmE and BrE split, we just assigned spelling pronunciations that were analogous with previous borrowings.

      [An interesting contrast with borrowed stressed A, with an early pattern like potato and a later pattern like tomato.]

      And I didn't mean to claim that AmE had no long/short distinction at all. My point was that this particular historical long/short distinction — ɔː/ɔ, GOAT/LOT — disappeared in AmE as a (as a natural pair, that is).

      As John Cowan observed, in AmE 'the length of a vowel depends on the following consonant.'

    14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    15. I think your LOT is about the same as my "cord," which I think is an allophone of GOAT when an r or l follows. (I don't otherwise have that vowel.) But do potato and tomato really not rhyme for you?

    16. Julie, assuming you really want to know: Brits refer to a po-tay-toe and a tom-ah-toe, each with a T consonant, never a D, for the final syllable.

    17. Julie, lexical sets don't work like that.

      John Wells invented sets like LOT and GOAT as a tool. They allow us to discuss the differences between accents — which is incredibly hard for any but trained phoneticians, especially in writing. The sets also allow us to discuss changes in pronunciation over time.

      Ignoring the Spanish and Greek ‑os words at the margin, there's a vast number of words about whose pronunciation we can make a simple observation. For the LOT lexical set, John lists these examples

      sop, pot, sock, notch, Goth,
      rob, odd, cog, dodge,
      Tom, con, doll,
      solve, romp, font, copse, dos,
      profit, possible, proverb, bother, rosin,
      honest, ponder, ...:
      swan, quality, yacht, wasp, watch, squabble,
      waffle, ...;
      knowledge, acknowledge.

      Now cord is quite distinct from this set. John's term for the set it belongs to is the NORTH set. Here are a few examples :

      or, orb, corn, porpoise, order, warm, aura

      In my accent, words in this set are pronounced the same as words in the FORCE set. Here's a sample to illustrate the spellings or words in this set:

      ore, boar, floor, four, deport, coarse, court, oral, gloria, hoary.

      In American accents this tends not to be the case. Many of you pronounce for and four differently. Phoneticians compare these using symbols which most people can't interpret. But it takes little training to understand FORCE and NORTH.

      Another interesting observation that can be made using these sets is that in the non-regional General American accent important is a NORTH word, while in other accents it's a FORCE word.

      Now in my accent both NORTH and FORCE words sound the same as THOUGHT words — except that I sometimes insert an R-sound.

      [The rule is that we pronounce an R-sound corresponding to the R-spelling only when a vowel sound follows immediately. So everyone with an accent like mine says

      lore-R-and language.

      Some of us go further and treat THOUGHT words the same even though there's no R spelling. Thus

      law-R-and order

      This is extremely common, but ridiculed by others as a woman obsessed with crime whose name is

      Laura Norder.]

      So, to compare your accent and mine, we need to know
      • whether you have the same sound for NORTH and FORCE
      • whether you have a different sound for THOUGHT

      When we know this, we can attempt to describe the vowel sounds in the three sets. On paper and on screen

      • my LOT sound can be represented by ɒ.
      • my NORTH, FORCE,and THOUGHT sound can be represented by ɔː

      John Wells observes that in General American (your accent may be different)
      • the LOT sound can be represented by ɑ
      •the NORTH sound can be represented by ɔr
      • the FORCE sound can be represented by or

      To hear exactly what these symbols represent, there's a wonderful facility supplied by the Universty of Victoria. When it works, you click on a symbol and hear the sound. Unfortunately it relies on an old plug-in which you may need to restore to your computer.

      Using lexical sets, biochemists's explanation of the vowels (in BrE) can be rephrased:

      •The second vowel of tomato is a PALM sound
      • The second vowel of potato is a FACE sound

    18. David,

      Isn't amok properly pronounced with the same vowel as but? That's what my (old) Chambers gives, with no alternative pronunciation, but alternative spelling of amuck. I have heard people pronounce it to rhyme with sock, but assumed they had learnt the word from reading and wrongly guessed the pronunciation. Perhaps modern sources give that as a recognised alternative now, though?

    19. Personally I always rhyme amok with sock. John Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary lists the UCK variant as secondary in British RP and primary in General American.

  6. I have the impression that the pronunciation of Caribbean varies regionally in the US. (With the usual caveats about pronunciation intuition, of course.) At any rate, my pronunciation stresses the "-be-" most of the time, though my pronunciation of the "Car-" is different from what I believe to be the typical pronunciation in BrE.

  7. About American and British differences in the pronunciation of the letter "o" in Barbados, the word Soviet also springs to mind. It still jolts me when I hear people on the BBC say sawv-i-et when my natural inclination is say sow-vi-et.

    And about Caribbean. I'm pretty sure I say the word both as ca-RIB-be-an and as ca-rib-BE-an. Offhand I think I prefer ca-RIB-be-an when I use it as an adjective before a noun, as in I just won a Caribbean vacation! but when using it alone, as in I just got back from the Caribbean, I may go the other way.

    I know it's dangerous to self-diagnose one's pronunciation habits, but I'm pretty sure this is true. So basically it's no different from my habits with pronouncing either as EE-ther or EYE-ther. I can go either way (and yes, I can go either way when I say that sentence out loud).

    1. Both are pronunciation of soviet are 'wrong', Dick. A moderately authentic approximation to the Russian would be suh-VYETT

  8. I am in the US (NJ) and for me the default pronunciation of plurals of words ending in O (like pianos, radios, etc) is a voiced Z sound as in "those" or "tomatoes". If a word just ends with "os" it's pronounced like "oss". Kudos feels like a plural to me, so I treat it as one. Barbados and cosmos are exceptions that I hear often enough to pronounce as if it were plural. Pathos is not one of those exceptions for me. Then again I don't hear it out loud.

    As for Caribbean, I hear and say it both ways just about equally. However, I bet I know how the owner of "Carabbean Spa" (,-74.3410725,3a,15y,124.85h,87.12t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sL0x-PNUZPIYIFzFUnAtr5g!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!5m1!1e1) pronounces it.

    1. But I don't think anyone is saying that Barbados (or cosmos) are pronounced with final 'z' sound, are they? Are you saying you do?

  9. Oh yes! How do Americans pronounce Amos?

    1. Jane Elizabeth19 June, 2017 20:28

      AmE I would say I typically hear this male first name pronounced as A-mus. Rhymes with famous as in the chocolate chip cookie brand Famous Amos. Perhaps you’re looking for your ‘gotcha’ moment to prove your BrE pronunciation of Barbados is somehow correct and AmE is incorrect by using this –os ending as an example. I know an Amos from South America and one from western Africa and both pronounce their name as AH-mose. I have no problem hearing people pronouncing the same words differently, in fact it’s very interesting and educational and it's what I like reading about on this blog. What a boring place we’d live in if everyone spoke English like the Queen of England and claimed it to be THE correct way.

    2. I despise the idea of a pronunciation being 'correct', Jane Elizabeth.

    3. I should have said 'for a healthy sober mature native speaker'. It's OK to describe the pronunciations (and other language features) of babies, foreigners and drunks as 'incorrect'.

      I was genuinely interested in what the answer to my question would be. Your answer, Jane Elizabeth, was interesting and unexpected.

    4. Well I say "AH-moss" by default, but that has more to do with the Hebrew pronunciation of the prophet of that name and the book of the Bible named after him. He does not come up in conversation outside my religious circle enough for me to default to the Anglicized pronunciation (or even to know what it might be) like I would for Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, etc. I don't really encounter A outside this context very much, though I've heard of Famous Amos.

    5. Sorry about that URL getting in there somehow. I wish the system allowed us to modify our posts

    6. My first vowel is A as in the letter A, and the second is a schwa. I probably first knew it from "Amos and Andy" (not that I ever listened to Amos and Andy) and I think there was an Amos on the Waltons or some similar program(me) when I was a kid--but I've never met an Amos.

    7. Boris

      The trick is to
      Copy the text of your posting
      • Start a new post
      Paste in the text and edit it
      • Publish the new post
      • Delete your original post

    8. David,

      "It's OK to describe the pronunciations (and other language features) of babies, foreigners and drunks as 'incorrect'"

      Americans are foreigners! You're all wrong, Americans, haha!

    9. Even this could be defended. An American actor attempting to portray a British character with a British accent can make a mistake which we might describe as 'incorrect'.

  10. I looked at some of the early references to the island in English. It appears that the island was referred to in at least three ways:



    The Barbadoes

    Richard Ligon's 1657 treatise on the island is a good example. Its frontispiece carries the title A True & Exact History Of the Island of Barbados. But turn to the beginning of the first chapter, and we see the title repeated as A True and Exact History of the Iland of Barbadoes. Explore the first few lines of text, and we see the Barbadoes.

    Interestingly, the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary gives only Barbadoes, pronounced to rhyme with "rose" (there is no entry for "Barbados").

  11. But the US has such huge influence in the area. We all have pirate US TV! Shifting is taking place so we fit with US pronunciation!

  12. Curiously, nobody has mentioned the *second* vowel in Barbados. If the explanation for the AmE "dose" pronunciation is that it "looks like Spanish", do Americans pronounce the whole word as if it were Spanish, i.e. Bar-bah-dose, or do you mix and match and make it Bar-bay-dose? And do non-rhotic speakers drop even Spanish-derived Rs? Bah-bah-dose?

    1. No, it's bar-bay-dose, as it is in Barbados. Not saying that Americans are trying to say the whole word as if it is Spanish, but that we interpret final -os as being "-ose" across many words, and that could be a Spanish effect.

      Having an "other-language effect" in a word can be very specific to sounds, as when BrE speakers make Spanish z into 'th', but then Anglici{s/z}e the vowels, cf. Ibiza.

  13. vp, John Wilcock

    The name seems to have been coined in Spanish or Portuguese, then adopted into all the languages of people who had dealings in the Caribbean. In either language it meant 'the bearded ones' — possibly referring to people, but much more likely referring to distinctive hairy plants. The man who wrote of theBarbadoes seems to have been aware that the name was originally (and still in other languages) plural and a definite noun phrase. So ‑oes seems to have been the same spelling decision was potatoes, Faroes etc.

    British English speakers have
    • lost the sense of plurality
    • adopted the 'international' spelling in ‑os
    • assigned a spelling pronunciation, replacing OZE with OSS

    In both the spelling and the pronunciations of the various languages, the first two vowels would have been at first very similar, if not identical. But in English the sound represented by letter-A was already changing — but not in every sort of syllable.

    In the second syllable the sound was shifting from
    • approximately bah
    •very approximately bear without the R-sound
    • present day bay

    But this shift didn't happen when this vowel was followed by an R-sound. So the sound value assigned to letter-A is
    • similar to the original in Bar‑
    • radically different from the original in ‑ba‑

    In most accents of English — and in some islands of the Caribbean, but not all — the R-sound has disappeared. This makes it easier for speakers like me to think of a and ar as representing very dissimilar sounds.

  14. Do Americans doss about? Or is that a Br Eng phrase?

    1. Not a part of my (AmE) idiolect. Without research I would not really understand what is meant by the phrase.

      After research, I think "bum around" or "goldbrick" (probably obs. at this point) might be related but not equivalent.

    2. No, that's why I put (BrE) before it, with a link to Oxford dictionaries.

  15. As an AmE speaker, I say Amos with a long o and soft s. Exception being the 'famous Amos' example Jane Elizabeth referenced, which is obviously intended to rhyme.

  16. Here's an AE/BE difference I hear frequently. Brits say "lass-vayguhss" for Las Vegas, Americans say "luhss-vayguhss".


    1. Actually, I most often hear "Los" Vegas here in England, which I think is by analogy with Los Angeles, but a gramatical error in the original Spanish, of course.

    2. My explanation for this, as a Brit who has lived in the US for many years, is that the vowel Americans use (allowing for regional variation) when saying the 'Las' of 'Las Vegas' sounds to British ears very different from the LASS vowel of British English and closer to the LOSS vowel. In fact, it's somewhere in between. And the difference between the initial vowels of Las Vegas and Los Angeles in American-speak probably doesn't come across strongly if you have already heard the first one as the LOSS vowel.

      Sorry for the untechnical explanation, but I can't speak IPA.

  17. I'm a bit puzzled by "more like the Spanish number dos than like doss". For me, as a Spanish-speaking Brit, they would sound essentially the same.

    1. In SoCal AmE -- when we are speaking English and are not attempting to make the original Spanish sounds of our adopted words -- dos, burros, tacos, alamo, amigo all have the same o sound.

      The AmE pronunciation of los, as in Los Angeles, has the same sound as lost, floss, moss. It does not rhyme with dos.

  18. I (BrE, Southern) used to say CaribBEan, but I have so many friends who originally came from the area that I now tend to say CaRIBbean, as they do.

    Re Pathos - how do people say the first vowel? I find myself pronouncing it "PAY-thoss", but given words like sympathy and empathy, maybe it should be a short "a"? It's not a word I find myself needing to say out loud very often, I have to admit!

    1. I would say something like "pah-thos" (with the last syllable rhyming with the way Lynne pronounces the last syllable of "Barbados").

      But since I don't really hear the word, that pronunciation is mostly just the way I hear it in my head when I read it.

      It looks like Merriam-Webster ( might prefer what I think of as the BrE pronunciation, since it is listed first, but my pronunciation is listed "also". 8-)

  19. Annabel, the Greek word pathos became an English word so long ago that the pronunciation changed in the process known as the Great Vowel Shift. As Lyne observes elsewhere on this thread, this process explains many of the oddities of English spelling.

    Before the Shift, the first vowel must have been something like AH. Within the history of English, this vowel became long when stressed in pathos but remained short when unstressed as in pathetic.

    The Great Vowel Shift applied only to long vowels. One part of it was that long AH ended up as EIGH.

    1. I woke up this morning afraid that I'd written something very silly. I feared I'd been misled by a particular sort of language feel — one that stems from study.

      Because of what I've been reading and re-reading about the history of English, I've developed a feel for sound-to-spelling and spelling-to-sound over time. So it seemed blindingly obvious what happened to the word pathos. Only on waking did I realise that my feel only suggested what could have happened. What if pathos was borrowed only recently?

      To my relief, what I wrote proves to be only slightly silly. The earliest use known to the OED is from Spenser, spelled παθὀς in the original 1579 publication, then transliterated pathos in the 1591 edition. The is not before the Great Vowel Shift — but neither is it after.

      So I turned to David Crystal's Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation which reflect's Spenser's date. Shakespeare didn't use the word pathos but there's a clear parallel in famous (stressed a-sound) vs infamous (undressed a-sound). According to Crystal, Shakespeare and Spenser would have pronounced the former (but not the latter) with a 'long a' something like the sound at the start of the diphthong in pear.

      So the essence of my reply stands — despite the silliness of assuming that pathos is a very old borrowing.

    2. David

      "famous (stressed a-sound) vs infamous (undressed a-sound)"

      I'm guessing you wrote this before you changed out of your pyjamas!

    3. Famous, fame and similar words entered English long before the Great Vowel Shift, which is when the stressed/unstressed distinction was important.

      Pyjamas didn't enter English before the nineteenth century. And even then it appeared a par jamas (1801), pigammahs (1834) and pajamas (1844) — a spelling which still exists as a variant — then finally pyjamas (1878).

      As I've just been writing further down, recent foreign words with a-letter spelling and/or A-type sound are assimilated into the BATH set of words

  20. Like Dick Hartzell, I say Caribbean both ways. I don't know why. AmE, 63, living in Virginia, but lived in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts when I was younger.

  21. Every western and Midwestern American that I know pronounce the Los and Las in American Southwest placenames (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Los Alamitos, Las Cruces) exactly the same--Loss. They may have started out with Spanish or Mexican names, but they really aren't anymore. The "os" in Alamitos is pronounced just like the "os" in Barbados, though, as in "dos". "DOS" is pronounced "doss" because it was an acronym. My California accent does say "Car-ri-BE-an" and I always thought Ca-RIB-be-an. On the other hand, I say Force and North the same way but Thought differently, so I guess I'm not as mainstream AmE as I believed. :)

    1. Rats. To fix: ...I always thought Ca-RIB-be-an was only used by TV newsmen.

    2. I'm assuming you have the "cot-caught merger" (or at least you think you do). A lot of people from where I grew up in the Midwest make a distinction between "Los" and "Las" in those place names ("loss" /lɔːs/ and "lahs" /lɑːs/, respectively). Well, actually some people (including me) make a 3-way distinction between /lɔːs/, /lɑːs/ and /loʊs/ The latter pronunciation is used in names like "Los Pollos Hermanos" or any other names that feel a lot more foreign and Spanish-y than, e.g., "Los Angeles."

  22. I don't know if this helps that much, but if you look at the word taco, us Americans can't pronounce it /ˈtɑːk ɑː/ or /ˈtɑːk ɔː/. Well, actually maybe we could because both of those final vowels are unchecked vowels*, but both of those pronunciations just sound wrong. Plus, if you use the former pronunciation, then you don't make a distinction between the vowel in the 1st syllable and the vowel in the 2nd syllable. That just feels horribly wrong, especially when you know Mexicans make that distinction, hence why the vowels are spelled differently. We don't use /æ/ (phonetically in the [æ̝(ː) ~ ɛ(ː)] region) in the 1st syllable of the word, because once again, it sounds horribly wrong**.

    So taco is pronounced /ˈtɑːk oʊ/ here. Then we pronounce the plural form of the word /ˈtɑːk oʊz/, because it would feel weird to pronounce the plural form of a word very differently from the singular form of the same word. The /z/ at the end is simply the normal pronunciation of English plural s of course (as in, cows, horses, etc.).

    Keep in mind that tacos is a very common word in American English. It must be much more common here than it is across the pond. So maybe tacos and other Spanish words influence the pronunciation of words that came into English from other languages. Or maybe I just brought up tacos because: 1.) It's late 2.) I'm hungry 3.) Taco Bell is still open

    About Caribbean: I say it both ways, but I usually say it Lynne's way. I remember an (American) friend telling me when we were teenagers that when he said Pirates of the Caribbean, he always used the pronunciation with penultimate stress (i.e., the "British" one). I think he said he used the other pronunciation in all other cases. We probably heard British voice over artists advertise that pirate movie as kids. I don't think I could ever say "Royal Carri-BE-an Cruises" (penultimate stress). That happens to be an American company and I probably heard American voice over artists say the company name in TV commercials for it as a kid.

    * Although the former vowel isn't unchecked very often. There are exclamations like ah! and ahah. There are also some foreign loan words with /ɑː/ at the end.

    ** Although I'm pretty sure Cockneys, whose /æ/ is also phonetically in the [æ̝ ~ ɛ] region, do say [ˈmɛfiə] and ['pɛstə] (mafia and pasta). This makes no sense to me. Although strangely their /ɑː/ is often a very back vowel, so it probably wouldn't sound right in those words either. I'm curious to know what Southern Hemisphere Anglophones, particularly Kiwis, do with such words.

    1. Anonymous,

      In my accent and, I believe, in all other British accents a word-final LOT vowel is psychologically impossible — even in accent like Irish and Scottish with very different LOT vowels. If we read a foreign word spelled with final letter-o, or if we hear a foreign word ending in a sound like o, we consistently Anglicise with a GOAT sound. In my accent this is a diphthong, perhaps best represented as əʊ.

      Foreign words like taco are generally assimilated into the BATH set. This is a rather complex collection of subsets:
      • words which always choose a PALM vowel
      • words which choose a TRAP vowel in Australian and West Indian accents while the rest of the accent's BATH set choose a PALM vowel
      • words which choose TRAP vowel in the North of England and a PALM vowel in the South (and in the speech of some social climbers in the North)
      • words which consistently choose TRAP in standard General American , but vacillate between TRAP and PALM in Standard British RP.

      In none of these subsets is there a third choice. It's either the TRAP of that particular accent or the PALM of that accent.

      It seems safest to consider taco as being in the last sub-set. So in RP it might be either ˈtækəʊ (plural ˈtækəʊz) or ˈtɑːkəʊ (plural ˈtɑkəʊz). In my almost-RP accent, I'd say it was slightly closer to ˈtakəʊ.

    2. Anonymous

      We don't hear Cockney much nowadays. Middle class Londoners tend to speak RP or modified RP or a regional accent known as Estuary, which has displaced Cockney for many working class speakers. Young Londoners increasingly tend to speak in an accent heavily influenced by immigrant speakers, notably but not exclusively from the Caribbean. Not surprisingly, this is the accent which recent immigrants acquire.

      John Wells describes a London accent which has a vowel system structurally very similar to RP — except for the diphthongs which lie on a spectrum between RP and 'Broad Cockney'. He uses the same symbols as for RP in the cases of TRAP, DRESS and PALM. So pasta can't really rhyme with Vesta. I can't think of a pair for mafia but Yugoslavia can't rhyme with heavier.

      A British accent with a TRAP vowel approaching ɛ is the largely defunct 'Advanced RP' stereotypically associated with upper-class Bright Young Things and shop assistants trying to copy them. In the Southern hemisphere, New Zealand is infamous for raising the TRAP vowel to the extent that even some Australians hear it as ɛ. But in both accents the DRESS vowel is also raised — in the direction of or even far as e — so the distinction is maintained.

      In any accent (I think), if a word like taco or mafia chooses a PALM vowel rather than a TRAP vowel, then the contrast with the DRESS vowel is total and obvious.

    3. My apologies for messing up the subcategories of the BATH set. Fortunately I got the final subset right — the one which contains words like taco — but I made a pig's ear of the first three. The actual subsets are as follows:

      • words pronounced by one set of accents (North of England, North America) in the same way as the accent's TRAP vowel, but by another set of accents (South of England, Souther Hemisphere, Caribbean) in the same way as the accents PALM vowel. In the North of England some speakers affect a PALM vowel as a mark of higher social status.

      • words which may be exceptions in Southern Hemisphere or Caribbean accents, pronounced with a TRAP vowel rather than the usual PALM.

      • words which are often exceptions in North-of-Englan accents, pronounced with a PALM vowel rather than the usual TRAP.

      To complicate affairs still further, Wells recognises a subset of PALM words whose vowel is ɑː in RP but fluctuates between ɑ and æ in General American. In this subset he includes Colorado and soprano. Tacos were not widely known in Britain when John compiled the sets and their contents, so it's not listed in any subset. But in his Dictionary he lists ˈtækəʊ or ˈtɑːkəʊ for RP — which places the word in that subset of BATH words. But for General American he lists ˈtɑːkoʊ — which places the word in that PALM subset.

  23. Some Barbadians (or Bajans) use a schwa in the last syllable of the name of their country. So they say "bar-BAY-duss". See here, for instance.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)