JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: Pronounciation: "stein" #general

Roger Lustig


Tell your friend that all of these names were originally in Germanic
languages - generally German or Yiddish. Funny things happen to
pronunciations when spelling (or, in the case of Yiddish,
transliteration for reading as German) is retained even in the
environment of a different language.

In modern German the 'ei' combination has the vowel sound you get in
"fine." The 'ie' combination has the sound you get in "seen."

Of course, both vowels and consonants change >from dialect to dialect and
also shift over time. Yiddish having evolved >from an earlier form of
German, the vowels don't exactly correspond even if the Yiddish word is
recognizably the same as the one in modern German. In some regions, the
sound in Yiddish that corresponds to the 'ei' of 'stein' sounds closer
to the one in 'brain'.

German has its dialects too. Up north (Low German) the 'st' at the
beginning of a syllable is pronounced as we have it in English: the
initial sound in 'stop.' Elsewhere (and in standard school German) it's
pronounced 'sht.'

The 'sht' pronunciation is evident in the transliteration of Jewish
names into languages other than German. In Polish, what we'd write as
STEIN is SZTAJN. Pronounce that Polish-style and it sounds like
"shtine." And >from Russian - well, think of the author Gary SHTEYNGART.

Accordingly, the "original" pronunciation of 'stein' is always (more or
less) 'shtine.'

The 'steen' version comes >from English-speaking people reading the
letters as though they'd always been in English. Which is why many
immigrants changed the spelling of their name when they got to a country
with a different language - to keep the sound, which mattered more to them.

But others were more interested in keeping the spelling...

Roger Lustig
Princeton, NJ USA

On 8/23/2014 12:10 PM, David Mayer Rafky dave15851585@... wrote:
A gentile friend pointed out that some names ending in "stein" are
pronounced "stine" while others are pronounced "steen." What can
I tell him?

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