The awful events near Lake Annecy have brought this place name into prominence. At first sight it is a straightforward French name, with no problem for people needing to pronounce it, such as British radio and TV newsreaders and journalists, and yet over the past week I have been hearing three anglicised pronunciations: /ˈænsi/, /ˈænəˈsiː/ and /ænəˈsiː/. The pronunciation given in the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation, edited by Olausson and Sangster, both of whom have since left the BBC’s Pronunciation Unit, is yet a fourth: /ænˈsiː/. From the variations heard, I can’t work out which is the Unit’s current recommendation.

So, which one is ‘correct’? Of course, the answer has to be, “all and none”, as to speak of a correct anglicisation for an unfamiliar name is nonsensical. However, my preference would be for the first of these, on the grounds that in French the medial schwa would be omitted by the law of three consonants (a schwa is only retained, or indeed may be inserted, if there are three successive consonants in a word or phrase, which is not the case here); and that initial stress seems more ‘natural’ for British English speakers. American English may prefer final stress, as it does in many French names (and even some thoroughly anglicised ones such as Christine).


  1. Oddly enough I was thinking about the treatment of medial-e in French a few days ago because although I know that Carrefour should probably be anglicised as /ˈkɑːˌfɔː/, I’ve always called it /ˈkærəˌfɔː/ (and I also prefer this form for its eurhythmy). The Chinese also render the name as three syllables – 家乐福 (jiālèfú).

    So far I’ve been preferring /ˈænəsi/, but that’s based solely on reading, and initial stress does, indeed, come naturally.

  2. My objection to /ˈænsi/ would be the epenthetic [t] that many speakers would likely insert into the /ns/ cluster. Far better to insert a schwa (which is historically justified in French) than a [t]!

  3. Your preference is au courant in Central France in colloquial usage. Elision rules there in these cases. However, original pronunciation seldom trumps English (BrE, AmE) tendencies with foreign terms.

  4. Are we to understand that ‘three consonants’ means letters not sounds?

  5. Jack – I’m sorry for the delay in replying (computer network problems). No – three consonant sounds, not letters. Lileas Armstrong deals with elision in Chapter XX of The Phonetics of French (1932, although the copy I’m using is a 1962 reprint, and I don’t think these rules have changed much since the middle of the last century). The only exceptions appear to be when either the first or last sound is /r/ or /l/. She gives the examples of extrême /ɛkstrɛːm/, jour splendide /ʒursplãdid/, or when the final sound is /j, w, ɥ/: e.g. elle ne me vois pas /ɛl nə m vwa pa/. The case of Annecy is identical to that of acheter, where the first ‘e’ is always elided in my experience: /aʃte/.

  6. “Le ‘E’ caduc” (the deletable schwa) is a very tricky phenomenon in French.

    When he was my roommate in Grenoble, France, my friend Roberto (a chicano from L.A. born bilingual Spanish/English) spoke perfect French, but was always suprised to discover that French people would always spot him as a non-native speaker of French. At first, I really had some trouble to identify why, since each of Roberto’s French vowel sounded genuinely French.
    Eventually I understood that he sounded foreign because he spoke French without deleting any schwa (and did not have a southern accent either).

    In current French, only the schwas that are spelt are strictly undeletable. So most schwas are deletable, but the process is largely suprasegmental and allows a great deal of free variation.

    Consider the sentence :
    “Il croit que je le regarde.” (He believes that I’m looking at him).

    In the Southern set of varieties of French (which I do not speak), theory has it that all the schwas are pronounced, so there are 5 shwas, distributed this way :

    ɪl ˈkrwa kə ʒə lə rəˈgar də (higher sociolect, retaining the L sound)
    ɪ ˈkrwa kə ʒə lə rəˈgar də (lower sociolect, deleting the L sound))

    In the Northern set of varieties of French, everybody will drop the fifth schwa.
    As for the 4 others, one given individual will alternately delete one, two, or three of the schwas, with huge variability in choosing which.

    Personally, (as a speaker of Besançon’s Northern variety of French) I am likely to oralize the sentence in any of the following ways :

    1) ɪl ˈkrwa kə ʒə lə rəˈgard (four schwas : most careful speech; might sound affected or foreign; that’s what happened to Roberto)

    2) ɪ(l) ˈkrwakəʒəlrəˈgard (1/4th of the schwas deleted)

    3) ɪ(l) ˈkrwakʒələr’gard (half of the schwas deleted)
    4) ɪ(l) ˈkrwakʒəlrəˈgard
    5) ɪ(l) ˈkrwakəʒlərˈgard
    6) ɪ(l) ˈkrwakʒəlrəˈgard
    7) ɪ(l) ˈkrwakʒəlrəˈgard

    8) ɪ(l) ˈkrwakʒlərˈgard (3/4th of the schwas deleted; simultaneous deletion of the l consonant is most likely)

    I do not think that I have any preference for any of the last seven utterances… I may have actually ever said all of the eight variants.

    NB: as for Annecy, except on the behalf of people from “Le Midi” (the South), I can’t think of any suprasegmental circumstance that might cause any other realization than ” ænsi ” in French. This particular deleted schwa is surrounded by syllables with no schwa, so there can’t be any choice for the schwa to be deleted.

    Jérôme Poirrier
    Grenoble, France

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