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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, March 20, 2020

The L in salmon

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook:
"You might as well go ahead and pronounce the L in SALMON. Nothing matters anymore"
I had a bit of a chuckle, though as you know I am not judgemental about variant pronunciations.

The real question is, why DON'T we pronounce the L in "salmon"?

The word comes ultimately from the Latin salmon, but we got it by way of French, as we did with so many other food words. The French, as was their wont, had swallowed up the Latin L in their pronunciation, so by the time we English borrowed the word, it was saumon, no L in the spelling and so no L in the pronunciation. It is saumon in French to this day.

But as faithful Wordlady readers know, in English this was doomed to change, thanks to the Renaissance obsession with reflecting Latin origins in English spelling, a phenomenon responsible for many of our silent letters.  By the 17th century, the spelling without an L had died out altogether. Most of us still do pronounce the word SAMMON, but there is some evidence of people saying SALmon (or else the above meme wouldn't exist).

It is exactly the same phenomenon as happened with falcon, palm, almond, and calm.

The influence of literacy, and seeing that L before our eyes, is very strong. In this case, it is reinforced by the pronunciation of "salmonella", which is indeed pronounced -- or supposed to be pronounced -- SAL mon ella. It has nothing to do with fish (unless you eat one that's gone off). The word "salmonella" was coined in French in 1900 to honour the American veterinarian
Daniel Salmon.

How do YOU pronounce "salmon"? With an L or without? 

For more explanations of silent letters in English, go to this post: https://katherinebarber.blogspot.com/2014/11/silent-letters-in-english-series.html
or click on the "silent letters" tag at the bottom of this post.


3 comments:

  1. Stubblejumpers CafeMarch 20, 2020 at 6:48 PM

    Without. -Kate, in Sask

    ReplyDelete
  2. Falcon? ? ? Have I been an ignoramus all this time, pronouncing the "l" in "falcon"? How glad I am that you aren't judgemental about pronunciation. And indeed, literacy makes silent letters treacherous.

    ReplyDelete
  3. If you go to my entry about "falcon", all will be explained. https://katherinebarber.blogspot.com/2016/02/dapple-dawn-drawn-falcon.html

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.