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I Camembert It Any Longer

How Do We Pronounce Thee, Let Me Count the Ways

At this festive and giving time of year, my thoughts never fail to turn to . . . oddities of pronunciation. Riddle me this, if you will:

Premise: Throughout the year, we frequently hear of or discuss the State of Israel, and when we do we Americans tend generally pronounce its name with a long "a" sound and condensed down to two syllables: "Iz-rale". Regional variants appear to include "Iz-reel" and "Iz-ruhl."

Question: Why then is it that whenever the same word appears in the lyric of a traditional Christmas carol -- "The First Noel," for example, or "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" -- it is stretched out to three solid syllables and vowel-shifted to become something like "Iz-rye-ell"?

Just asking, just asking.

Update: Almost instantly upon posting this item I heard by e-mail from two of my longtime Jewish friends. First, Portland's own Bridget Hoch [who has no site of her own, claiming that she is "too shy"] writes:

[I say] IZ ree ill - although I went to Hebrew school where we pronounced it EESS ra el. I think the "rye" is the way the sounds "ah" and "el" blend, making it an elongated "eye". But when I say Israel, I sometimes think of the biblical character of Israel and possibly that's why I think of it in 3 syllables. I think the masculine name of Israel sounds lovelier with 3 syllables.
Then Rick Coencas weighed in on similar lines in the middle of an e-mail about something else altogether:
BTW, in Hebrew School we said Is-Rah-El and sometimes Is-Roy-El.
Actually, I've always assumed the three-syllable version to be closest to a proper Hebrew pronunciation -- which would make sense in all those Christmas songs, given that those that use the word at all tend to come from the 19th century, long before the founding of the modern State of Israel -- but saying so would have rather undercut the joke, which was pretty feeble to begin with, don'cha know?


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