Are "How do you pronounce [proper name]" questions on topic? For a recent example I point you to this question:

How do you pronounce this possessive - Trask's?

My initial thoughts: if the question had instead been "How do you pronounce the letter combination "sks" in English?" that would have been a better question. (I'm assuming this is what had the OP stumped, at any rate.) Pronunciation questions are regarded as On Topic at this point, but I'm not sure that should extend to a separate question for (potentially) every proper name with what the OP views as an odd letter configuration. I'm not sure, however, and welcome the community's input. So, thoughts?

4 Answers 4


As a general principle I would say that pronunciation of proper nouns is Off Topic, but there are plenty of contexts where I wouldn't closevote for that reason here on ELL...

1: As OP points out here, the Trask's question might just as well have asked about asks.
2: If someone asks How do I pronounce "Uranus", it's worth flagging up the "your anus" alliteration.
3: If someone asks about EYEraq for EEraq, there may be a relevant "backstory" there too.
etc., etc.

Personally I think if someone asks a question that's even remotely to do with language, which does admit of a reasonably concise/accurate answer, they should be given that answer regardless of whether the question is closed as Off Topic. An informative comment accompanying a closevote seems fine to me.

If it seems likely the answers to a "How do I pronounce [proper noun]" may include additional information relevant to learners of English, over and above a phonetic transcription of the normal (or only) valid pronunciation, I'm inclined to leave them open.

  • Fair points. I'm inclined to agree, but I wonder if there is any way to help guide askers as to what does and doesn't make a good pronunciation question. In each of your examples the asker couldn't know the question is relevant in some other way to future learners until they saw the answer. Some time ago, a question How To Pronounce 'Hermione' was closed. That fits your premise; there's no additional useful information to add. But I'm not sure how the asker might know that ahead of time. Any thoughts?
    – WendiKidd
    May 28, 2013 at 21:05
  • @WendiKidd: I don't think ELL is likely to be overrun by unwanted questions of this type if we don't explicitly debar them in the FAQ. Nor do I think debarring them in the FAQ will stop the occasional pointless one from coming through, since we get lots of questions where the supplicant clearly didn't feel particularly bound by the FAQ (probably the majority ignore the bit about "be sure to add as much detail as you can"). I think we just let the community decide on a case-by-case basis (with sterling support from mods like you, whose judgement I have great faith in over such matters! :) May 28, 2013 at 21:16

As a not native of the English language, I'm impressed to see how many sounds English possesses, but, presumably, this circumstance doesn't surprise whom talk English every day and, therefore, I'm not surprised that you posed this question.

I don't want to generalize, but, alas, there are a lot of interesting and difficult problems regarding this matter, even if they can be considered destitute of interest among native English speakers, albeit, as it seems outside Anglophone countries, if there is one thing certain about English pronunciation it is that there is almost nothing certain about it.

Among others, some interesting problems could be: What is the most common vowel sound in English? Why English doesn't have words like fwost or abtholve? Why is the combination 'ng' usually treated as one discrete sound? Why is the combination 'th' uttered in a way in those and in another way in thought?

And so on and on.

Summarizing, I think that pronunciation questions should be considered On Topic, or, at any rate, real questions whose topicality should be evaluated singularly time by time—e.g., I want to say it is better not to establish rigid and a priori rules.

  • 1
    Hey Carlo, currently pronunciation is On Topic (it's listed in the FAQ). I'm interested in defining in what way, and to what extent, these questions ought to be posed. (I'd also note that a lot of your example questions are why questions, not how questions, and would thus be more suitable on ELU I think). But yes, pronunciation is definitely on topic. I just wonder if having separate questions asking how to pronounce any number of proper nouns is Too Localized or not. What do you think?
    – WendiKidd
    May 28, 2013 at 20:56
  • @Wendi, interesting observation, and I thank you for considering my answer worthy of a your comment. On the point I think that if one asks "How to pronunce 'singer'?" It is TL, but if one asks "Is the 'g' in 'singer' a soft 'g' or a hard 'g'?" then I think it is On Topic.
    – user114
    May 28, 2013 at 21:09
  • 2
    I've just written decide on a case-by-case basis in a comment to my own answer, so in light of your final paragraph I can hardly fail to upvote this answer. But I do agree with WendiKidd's point that - all else being equal - pronunciation questions focussing on why rather than how are likely to be better suited to ELU (or even Linguistics). May 28, 2013 at 21:31
  • 3
    @Carlo_R. "How is 'singer' pronounced" may be a very valid question if OP is unsure whether /ŋ/ or /ŋg/ is in play. (And the combination <ng> is usually treated as one discrete sound because it is an arbitrary digraph used to represent a single sound for which there is no character in the Roman alphabet. That would make a good question here!) May 28, 2013 at 21:49
  • 1
    Hey Carlo, I'm undeleting this because I think it's important to the discussion! I do see that you've got a negative net score on the question, but since downvotes on meta don't affect rep and I think the conversation here is useful, I think it's important to keep this answer around. I don't think many people have seen this question yet; maybe you'll get more upvotes! :)
    – WendiKidd
    May 30, 2013 at 3:42

I would think that pronunciation of proper names should not be off-topic, but the usual criteria should apply to those questions too. For example:

  • Is there anything to add to what said from a dictionary?
  • Did the OP look up a dictionary before asking the question?
  • Did the OP explain the reason for asking the question?

If the question were about the pronunciation of Albert, there would probably not be much to add to the pronunciation reported from a dictionary. If the OP heard a native speaker pronouncing the name in a way that doesn't match what reported by a dictionary, then there would be a reason to ask the question. (The OP should not simple ask "How do you pronounce Albert?" but explain that.)

The question in question was not about the pronunciation of a name, but how the possessive of a proper name is pronounced. As per StoneyB's comment, there is something more to say about that, even though that is about a pronunciation that English learners should probably not try to emulate. (Knowing that the pronunciation of a native speaker could be different from the one they expect is probably useful information, though.)
The question in question doesn't make clear why the OP is asking the question, or what the OP looked before asking the question.

  • kiam, in "question in question" do you think that the two occurrences of question mean the same thing?
    – user114
    Jun 9, 2013 at 16:43
  • By question in question I mean the question this question is taking as example.
    – apaderno
    Jun 9, 2013 at 18:24
  • kiam, thank you, at first look I had the impression that you had used the second "question" to mean "de quo", "di cui trattasi" and so on.
    – user114
    Jun 10, 2013 at 17:43

I don't see how a pronunciation question, any pronunciation question, can be closed as Off Topic. Too Localized, maybe, if it's not the name of a famous entity; but even that is questionable. (How famous is famous enough?)

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