Scone or scone? Our pronunciation depends on where we live

A scone. But how do you pronounce it? Picture: Contributed

A scone. But how do you pronounce it? Picture: Contributed

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Some of us pronounce it to rhyme with ‘cone’ while others reckon it rhymes with ‘gone’. But new research reveals that how we pronounce the word scone depends on where we live.

A study carried out by academics at the University of Cambridge to mark English Language Day - and indeed, St George’s Day and the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth - on Sunday April 23 reveals that pronunciation of scone is largely based on geographical origins.

The university produced ‘The Great Scone Map’ to chart how different regions of the UK and Ireland pronounce the word.

The study found that residents in Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland tended to rhyme scone with gone, while the areas favouring scone rhyming with cone were southern Ireland and the Midlands.

The rest of the UK and Ireland was generally a mixture of both pronunciations.

Although not part of the survey, there is a third pronunciation of the word - the village of Scone in Perthshire, which is pronounced ‘skoon’.

Professor Jane Setter, an expert in phonetics at the University of Reading and co-editor of the English Pronouncing Dictionary, told the Observer: “It is more a matter of where you grew up. By and large, the pronunciation that rhymes with gone is more common, however.

“Our language continually reshapes itself. In addition, pronunciations of existing words alter. The word trap used to be pronounced more like ‘trep’.”

Setter also points out that in some places, two words that sound similar maintain a distinct difference in pronunciation - but in other parts of the country, the two pronunciations can sound very similar.

“In phonetics, this is called a merger,” she adds. “We don’t always know why it has taken place in some areas and not in other parts of the country.”

Additionally, some experts are of the opinion that, as language and phonetics continues to change, within 50-100 years the ‘th’ sound in spoken English may have completely disappeared.

The pronunciation of ‘th’ in some words - such as mother, or bothered - is gradually being replaced by a ‘v’ or ‘f’ sound, to create ‘muvver’ and ‘bovvered’ - a word synonymous with Catherine Tate’s schoolgirl creation Lauren.

While the disappearance of ‘proper’ English may horrify some, Setter is only too aware that language changes for a variety of reasons, such as the influence of incomers, or those perceived as ‘prestige figures or groups.’

Setter adds: “At the end of the day we have to accept that words and their pronunciation are flexible and changeable.”

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