JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: Russian Phonetics #general

Jules Levin

At 07:38 AM 2/3/2006, you wrote:

It is classic genealogy trap -when is a slight spelling difference
significant and when is it mere coincidence -
with transliteration >from Cyrillic to Latin script often via Yiddish always
written without vowels an always present nightmare .
We have a case in point for years we suspected the Litvak families KLOSS and
KLASS were the same but had no proof. Very recently we were able to compare
two ship manifests one was a US 1905 immigrant Nachamia KLAS who fitted the
profile of Nick KLASS in Chicago perfectly now we find a US 1905 immigrant
Nechamia KLOSS who surely is Nick KLASS in Chicago , confirmed by the
destination address.
Can a Russian liguist comment on how such a confusion arose.
BTW KLOSS is a relatively common German name and KLASS is rare other than in
the USA.
I don't quite see how Cyrillic vs. Latin plays a
role here, since curiously enough,
the Cyrillic letters for A and O are in fact A
and O. Thus "Moscow" in Russian letters
is MOCKBA, pronounced [in NGR dialect]
'moskva'. (In standard Russian unstressed
'o' becomes 'a'.) As for the phonetics involved,
note that the 'a' involved is pronounced
'ah' as in 'father', and the 'o' involved is
pronounced 'aw', as in 'dawn' [*not* 'o' as in 'dope'!]. If you speak an
American dialect that doesn't make a distinction
between Don and dawn, you won't get this.
As for the confusion, I can't think of a reason
based on Eastern European phonetics. If both names are
attested in EEurope, they must be considered
different names. If, not, perhaps we
should look at local factors in the US. Could
the spelling be changed >from 'o' to 'a' under the influence
of the English word 'class'? I hate to resort to
the theory of ignorant immigration officials, but could the
pronunciation of Kloss as 'klaws' have been
misapprehended as 'klahs' and then written with 'a'?
Other ideas?
Jules Levin
Professor of Russian and Linguistics, Emeritus

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