A quaint and curious English village name

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In studying the history of the Chinese Imperial examination system, I came upon an individual named Stafford Northcote (1818-1887), 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, who was instrumental in devising the British civil service.  Naturally, I tried to pronounce the name of the village he was from, but couldn't quite wrap my head and tongue around it.  So I decided I'd better do a bit of research on the history of Iddesleigh to see what topolectal gems lay hidden in that perplexing concatenation of six consonants and four vowels.

Here's what Wikipedia told me:

Toponymy and early history

The name Iddesleigh derives from the Old English personal name, Ēadwīġ (or perhaps Ēadwulf), and lēah, a wood or clearing. The first documentary evidence of the settlement appears in the Domesday Book (1086), where it is referred to twice, as Edeslege and as Iweslei. By the 13th century its name was recorded as Edulvesly and in 1428 as Yeddeslegh.

Domesday Book shows that in 1086 the majority of the manor of Iddesleigh (under the name of Edeslege) was owned directly by the king, but a small part of it (one virgate recorded as Iweslei) was held from the king by William of Claville. The pre-conquest owner of this land is unclear: two women's names – Alware Pet and Aelfeva Thief – are recorded. The overlord is recorded as Brictric son of Algar. By the 13th century the lands had passed to the de Reigny family as part of the honour of Gloucester.

Now, would John Wells, Philip Taylor, or other learned phonetician please instruct us common folk on how to pronounce this lovely Dumonian* toponym?

*An added puzzle for the inquisitive.


Selected readings



  1. languagehat said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 9:59 am

    Daniel Jones' Pronouncing Dictionary says (as I expected) ˈidzli.

  2. cameron said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 10:16 am

    I too would have guessed ˈidzli, but then I thought that if the place in question is in Wales, or close to the Welsh border, the dd character string might be rendered as /ð/ – but I looked it up and find that it's in the middle of Devon, so the spelling conventions of Welsh probably aren't in play

  3. Haamu said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 10:22 am

    Dumonian or Dumnonian?

  4. AG said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 12:25 pm

    "i'd a sleigh", on the other hand, is a deleted line from citizen kane?

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 12:28 pm

    No personal experience of either the place or its name, and not at home so no access to reference books, but at first sight I would expect it to be tri-syllabic /ˈɪ dəz liː/.

  6. Ian Preston said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 12:37 pm

    It sounds like ˈɪdəzliː here.

  7. Tom Dawkes said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 2:12 pm

    BBC Pronouncing Dictionary gives /idzli/

  8. Not a naive speaker said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 2:39 pm

    Pronunciation of Iddesleigh

    Tooltips are available

    from A Pronouncing Dictionary of English Place-Names including standard local and archaic variants by Klaus Forster RKP 1981


    idʒli PND 93,

    idzli EPD,
    idzlei Bchm.78
    idəzli Schr.

  9. Not a naive speaker said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 2:47 pm

    Does somebody know where is a sandbox to test the post?

    Is the knowledge about the markup transferred by osmosis?

  10. Ian Preston said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 2:53 pm

    Here's another video connected to War Horse. You can hear Michael Morpurgo, who lives there, pronouncing it at 0:17 or 3:25, for example. To my ear, he says ˈɪdəzliː.

    Here's a local news reporter interviewing a pub owner after a visit to Iddesleigh by the Prince of Wales. She pronounces it at 0:08 and also says ˈɪdəzliː.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 3:50 pm

    From Adam Dalton:

    I’m a Language Log reader and my family comes from a village in Devon in the U.K. where the Earl of Iddesleigh owns a lot of land. (Upton Pyne, near Exeter.)

    I’m no linguist, but the name is pronounced akin to “idder-slee”. The “i” is as in “implant”; “dder” as in “duh”; “slee” as in “parsley”.

    Sorry for the rough explanation – but hopefully that gives you an idea!

  12. AntC said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 4:08 pm

    … and from the West Coast to the East: Happisburgh /ˈheɪzbʌrə, -bərə/.

    I can mimic quite a few English regional accents, but Norfolk always eluded me. I'm pretty sure the initial /h/ that wp alleges was a glottal. When I was a kid, my family to used to holiday at Bacton, just along the coast. Happisburgh's red and white striped lighthouse was always good for 'I spy' on day outings.

  13. Andrew Taylor said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 4:57 pm

    The village is presumably the inspiration of the title of "one of the worst books of all time":


  14. Philip Taylor said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 5:02 pm

    "Does somebody know where is a sandbox to test the post ?" — I use https://jsbin.com/

  15. Timothy Rowe said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 5:57 pm

    The English tradition would be for half of the residents to refuse to speak to the other half of the residents because they pronounce the name of the place wrongly (See Shrewsbury).

    Your next challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to work out how to pronounce Trottiscliffe…

  16. PeterL said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 7:04 pm

    Reference books of pronunciation don't always get things right.
    For example, my grandparents lived in Teston, whose pronunciation is given as /ˈtiːstən/ (Wikipedia, referencing "The Place Names of Kent"); but my grandparents (and presumably other inhabitants) pronounced it /ˈtiːsən/ ("tea-sun"), with the 2nd "t" silent.

  17. PeterL said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 7:07 pm

    Answering Timothy Rowe — Wikipedia gets Trottiscliffe's pronunciation correct.
    It doesn't give the pronunciation of nearby "Maidstone", but I suspect that not everyone realizes that "stone" rhymes with "stun" (typical English schwa for an unaccented syllable).

  18. chris said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 7:35 pm

    The English tradition would be for half of the residents to refuse to speak to the other half of the residents because they pronounce the name of the place wrongly

    In that case oughtn't it to be renamed Shibboleth?

  19. Phil H said,

    March 3, 2022 @ 7:46 pm

    I used to live in Devon, and I guessed the three-syllable pronunciation as well. Because West Country accents are rhotic, that unstressed syllable in the middle will have a bit of an R to it, which I guess means it won’t get eroded away as quickly?

  20. F said,

    March 4, 2022 @ 4:41 am

    Then, of course, there are all the places named Leigh, not to mention Gillingham and Gillingham …

  21. Philip Taylor said,

    March 4, 2022 @ 6:28 am

    Re. Kentish names, I lived near Teston Bridge and not far from Trottiscliffe; I won't give away the latter, but the former always had the second 't' sounded in my experience. It was nonetheless a surprise to learn that the first vowel was an /iː/ rather than an /e/, since prior to moving near to Teston Bridge I had lived near Keston Ponds, where the first vowel is definitely an /e/. As to Maidstone, it follows the same pattern as Folkstone (i.e., final schwa) whilst the final vowel of Lullingstone can be either schwa or /əʊ ǁ oʊ/.

  22. Andrew Usher said,

    March 4, 2022 @ 7:49 am

    Well I don't see how it could possibly have an r sound in it, but the three-syllable pronunciation is reported enough to justify giving it as /ɪd(ə)zli/. Quite straightforward for a British place name, really.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  23. Trogluddite said,

    March 4, 2022 @ 8:05 am

    I would have guessed the two syllable pronounciation – likely influenced by local syllable-swallowing Brigantian toponyms such as Barnoldswick ("Bar-lick") and Appletreewick ("Ap-trick"). When I first moved "oop North", it was "Keighley" which most perplexed me – the "ley" is pronounced the same as Iddesleigh's "leigh", but Keighley's "eigh" is pronoounced "eeth" – "Keeth-Lee". I remain convinced that this was deliberately chosen as a shibboleth for tripping up "offcumdens" (i.e. poor souls unfortunate enough to be born outside Yorkshire).

    Further (tongue in cheek) guidance to the UK's cryptic toponyms may be found in this jolly little video from the Map Men.

  24. Peter Taylor said,

    March 4, 2022 @ 9:21 am

    As someone from slightly further east in Kent (Canterbury area), I'm used to hearing Maidstone with /əʊ/ (and Folkestone with a final schwa). I think it illustrates that British shibboleths don't necessarily diffuse very far.

  25. languagehat said,

    March 4, 2022 @ 9:43 am

    Reference books of pronunciation don't always get things right.
    For example, my grandparents lived in Teston, whose pronunciation is given as /ˈtiːstən/ (Wikipedia, referencing "The Place Names of Kent"); but my grandparents (and presumably other inhabitants) pronounced it /ˈtiːsən/ ("tea-sun"), with the 2nd "t" silent.

    Wikipedia, needless to say, is not a reference book, and I have no idea whether "The Place Names of Kent" is a scholarly work or one of those slapdash amateur jobs, but the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names, which is very reliable, gives [ˈtisən] (teessŏn). While of course it's true that reference books don't always get things right, it's always a good idea to consider that 1) the pronunciation may have changed since the book was published and 2) there are alternate pronunciations (in which case the book is not inaccurate, just incomplete).

  26. Dan said,

    March 4, 2022 @ 12:33 pm

    Wait until you hear about how Woolfardisworthy—just a few miles away from Iddesleigh—is pronounced (in fact there are two Woofardisworthies https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolfardisworthy%2C_Torridge & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolfardisworthy,_Mid_Devon ). Growing up in Devon, this was a real shibboleth*

    *pron. "Shebbear".
    No, that's a joke, but it's also another village close to both Iddesleigh and the Woolfardisworthies.

  27. Philip Taylor said,

    March 4, 2022 @ 1:50 pm

    How close is the spelling of (the real name of) your "Shebbear" to Kent's "Shipbourne" (/ˈʃɪbərn ǁ ˈʃɪbən/), Dan ?

  28. PeterL said,

    March 6, 2022 @ 12:29 am

    languagehat – I've updated Wikipedia's pronunciation of Teston … will we see an edit war?

  29. Adrian Bailey said,

    March 6, 2022 @ 10:13 pm

    What we see with Iddesleigh is a phenomenon that's repeated across the country, namely that shortened names are being unshortened. This village would've been pronounced with two syllables 100 years ago, but is pronounced with 3 syllables now.

  30. Philip Taylor said,

    March 7, 2022 @ 5:03 am

    Adrian — Thoese were also my thoughts. At a time when books were rare in rural households, transmission was primarily oral. With the printed word (and the on-screen word) now ubiquitous, spelling pronunciation is probably an increasingly significant phenomenon, although that does not explain who the verb "to lose" is ever more frequently written as "to loose". I would very much suspect that the re-appearance in speech of the second /t/ in Teston is a related phenomenon.

  31. Trogluddite said,

    March 7, 2022 @ 8:00 am

    Further to the previous two comments, I'd add that demographic changes may well contribute to such a shift towards spelling pronounciation. Our agricultural industries have long required ever less labour, while rural properties have become highly sought after as holiday homes and commuter bases for affluent urbanites, who have displace born-and-bred locals for whom rural living has become untenable economically. This can only hasten the dilution of these communities' dialects, on top of the general trend in that direction due to e.g. mass-media exposure.

  32. Philip Taylor said,

    March 7, 2022 @ 9:00 am

    "rural properties have become highly sought after as holiday homes and commuter bases for affluent urbanites" — who, I would imagine, would be very keen not to be perceived as "rustic" and would therefore, intentionally or otherwise, tend to eschew any local pronunciations that might, if adopted, convey that undesired impression.

  33. Andrew Usher said,

    March 8, 2022 @ 8:08 am

    Adrian Bailey:

    Yes, spelling-influenced 'unshortenings' are no doubt occurring, sporadically, and perhaps the pronunciations of Iddesley and Teston in the next generation of references will have to be updated. But, etymologically, the three-syllable 'Iddesley' is rather strange as the 'es' is the genitive ending and a modern spelling would be Id's Lea.

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