June 17, 2005

The case of the mysterious vanishing [i]

In yesterday's NYT Fashion and Style section, there's an article by Ruth La Ferla on the rise, fall and rise of Oribe Canales. He's clearly a hairdresser, and apparently -- both by name and by various clues in the article -- of Latino origin. The weird thing is how La Ferla tells us to pronounce his name:

Grand enough himself to go by his first name only, Oribe (pronounced OR-bay) was seized by a burst of cocaine-fired inspiration.

It seems to me that "Oribe" should be pronounced (in NYT-ish pseudo dictionary pronunciationese) as or-EE-bay; or in IPA as [oˈri.βe]. I don't have any expertise in the matter, but a couple of native speakers of Spanish agree with me, and so (for whatever it's worth) does the Columbia Encyclopedia's entry for Manuel Oribe, president of Uruguay from 1834 to 1838.

I'm willing to believe that there's some variant of Spanish -- Cuban? -- where the normally-stressed vowel of Oribe is deleted, with stress shifted back to the initial syllable. If that's really true, I know some phonologists who would be very interested. The alternative is that La Ferla (or some NYT editor) just misheard. Perhaps the [i] followed a tapped [r] seemed to them like a trilled [r]? If you know anything about this, please let me know.

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 17, 2005 12:48 AM