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Whence the "ff" in Roscoff, where I am now? The Breton name is "Rosko". And "ff" is not a common word ending in French.




  1. Tom M said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 2:13 am

    According to the town's Wikipedia entry:
    "Une mutation consonantique durcit après ros le g en c. La prononciation de la consonne finale -ff est muette en léonard, d'où la graphie bretonne moderne: Rosko [roskṓ]. La prononciation française [roskɔf] est une lecture fautive de la graphie bretonne classique, Roscoff."

    Similar to how English retains the original name/pronunciation of "Mongkok" in Hong Kong even though the written Chinese characters have changed and, subsequently, the Cantonese pronunciation.

  2. Phillip Minden said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 2:39 am

    "La prononciation de la consonne finale -ff est muette en léonard, d'où la graphie bretonne moderne",

    to quote from the article you link.

  3. Phillip Minden said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 2:40 am

    Er, to.

  4. Keith said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 2:41 am

    Wikipedia explains it:

    Roscoff vient du breton ros signifiant promontoire, et de goff qui signifie forgeron, probablement un anthroponyme, peut être celui du même saint patron que celui de la paroisse de Plogoff, masque chrétien d'une divinité forgeronne, Gofannon. Le nom de Roscoff pourrait donc se traduire en français par le coteau du forgeron.

    Une mutation consonantique durcit après ros le g en c. La prononciation de la consonne finale -ff est muette en léonard, d'où la graphie bretonne moderne: Rosko [roskṓ]. La prononciation française [roskɔf] est une lecture fautive de la graphie bretonne classique, Roscoff.

    To paraphrase, the name derives from ros goff, meaning Goff's Point, where Goff is a family name meaning "smith". Breton being a brythonic celtic language, with all the consonant mutation, the g in ros goff was pronounced /k/ and the ff at the end is silent in the Léon topolect. So modern Breton pronounces it /roskṓ/, but modern French, preserving the orthography of middle Breton, pronounces the /f/ at the end.

    Simples, eek.

    [(myl) Thanks! I should have seen that…]

  5. Laura Morland said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 3:09 am

    @ Keith —

    Thanks! I wonder why the Wiki editor claims that the French pronunciation [roskɔf] is from "une lecture FAUTIVE". It would simply seem to preserve the form in middle Breton, as English preserves the medieval (since there is no 'middle') French 's' in words such as forest, hospital, pasture (modern French forêt, hôpital, pâture — thank the Academy, I guess, for the circumflex that nods to the missing 's').

    While we're on the subject of English preserving older forms of French words, I've always thought it a fun fact that our word 'aunt' reflects the original French word. The initial 't' of modern French 'tante' came later, fused from (the 2nd person possessive adjective) 'ta' + 'ante'.
    "de ta et ancien français ante, du latin amita, tante"

  6. Jenny Chu said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 4:36 am

    @Tom M – thank you for the explanation about Mongkok. Honestly, the English names/spellings of locations in Hong Kong often leave me baffled when I try to divine their relationship to the Cantonese names.

  7. Bob Ladd said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 5:37 am

    @ Laura Morland:

    And I in turn wonder why you say there is no "middle" French. I took a course called "Old and Middle French" as a grad student, and Wikipedia is now happy to oblige with an article called "Middle French" (or "moyen français" in the French version). Of course, if you meant "medieval" French, that would probably correspond to what is usually called "Old French" (ancien français), since the conventional definition of the medieval period comes to an end about the time Middle French is usually said to have begun.

  8. John Swindle said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 6:10 am

    Slightly OT: I don't know French, so I used Google Translate to translate Tom M.'s post from French to English. The paragraph about Mongkok — translating from French, mind you — came out as "Mongolia, Mongolia, Mongolia, Mongolia, Mongolia."

    [(myl) Amazing but true:

    Another one for the Elephant Semifics file…]

  9. AG said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 6:26 am

    A bit of cursory googling seems to show that “Goff” is related to the root of the Irish name McGowan, and

  10. Philip Anderson said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 7:34 am

    Final -f /v/ is often silent in Welsh too, although not as far as I know in ‘gof’ (smith).

    I read once that Smith, together with its equivalents in other languages, is the most common surname in the world.

  11. Bloix said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 8:56 am

    Laura Morland –
    Another nice example is how English preserves the s in hostel but not in the more recent borrowing from hôtel.

  12. Adrian Bailey said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 12:04 pm

    I grew up near the village of Gawsworth "Smith's estate", which has lost the final sound from gof/gough "smith".

  13. Keri Davies said,

    July 12, 2018 @ 5:16 pm

    The eighteenth-century antiquary Richard Gough claimed that his family name indicated descent from the marcher lord Rhodri Goch (Rhodri the Red). The Welsh word "gof", smith, is pronounced very similarly to the surname of the British politician MIchael Gove (origin claimed to be the Gaelic "gobha", smith) and thus very differently to the Breton "goff" (short vowel, unvoiced final consonant). Gosh, this is confusing.

  14. Wentao said,

    July 18, 2018 @ 4:15 pm

    @Tom M
    What part of Mongkok is archaic? Surely modern Cantonese still differentiates -p/-t/-k endings?

  15. Alyssa said,

    July 18, 2018 @ 4:57 pm

    @ Laura Morland

    Quebec French has taken this an extra step further, and uses "matante" and "mononcle" as words for aunt and uncle.

  16. Tom M said,

    July 18, 2018 @ 9:37 pm

    @Wentao: The earliest recorded name of Mongkok is 芒角 (Canto. mong4 gok3). By the end of the 19th century, the area's inhabitants were mostly of the "Tanka" boat people, who tended to call it 望角 (Canto. mong4 gok3, Mandarin wang4jiao3, Min uō̤nggŭ/uônggáe̤k/bhuang6gag4).
    This, then, was the version that was recorded as the place name in British colonial records, transliterated to Mongkok.

    By the 1930s, the area was an industrial centre and was variously referred to as 芒角,望角 and – I suspect with some influence from other languages such as Mandarin and Min due to their pronunciation of "望角" – the present 旺角 (Canto. wong6gok3). This last one became the new Chinese official name around this time, another chapter in Hong Kong's ongoing love affair with "positive" place names (see also the former 'Hanging Ridge'). But the English place-name remained the same and, at least according to the Cantonese Wikipedia entry on the area*, boat people also still call it 望角.


  17. Rodger C said,

    July 20, 2018 @ 9:23 am

    It's Wallace Stevens time:

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