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Every so often, I have a question about the correct pronunciation of a math term/name that I’ve only read, and the answer isn’t on Wikipedia. Some examples from my past:

  • “Hartshorne” (I ended up asking him in person—he pronounces it “Hart’s horn”)
  • “homotopy” (turns out there’s more than one accepted pronunciation!).

Would MO be the right place to ask this sort of question?

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    $\begingroup$ I'll just point out that a nearby site has pronunciation tag - by looking at the questions in that tag you can see whether they were well received. And there are a few discussion on Mathematics Meta about such questions, for example, Questions about pronouncing names of mathematicians and Questions about how to read mathematical notation. (They are a few years old - there's no guarantee that the community sees things the same way today.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Mar 13 '18 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, your question is about MathOverflow not about Mathematics - so take my comment just as a (hopefully useful) side note. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Mar 13 '18 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak I worry that for some of the more niche names, people at math.SE might not know. $\endgroup$ – Avi Steiner Mar 14 '18 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have an example? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Mar 14 '18 at 6:38
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    $\begingroup$ My pronunciation question was closed as off-topic ... mathoverflow.net/questions/71652/pronunciation-vaughan-jones $\endgroup$ – Gerald Edgar Mar 14 '18 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, the word "Hartshorne" has (at least) two meaning. The one you meant is the person called Robin Hartshorne and in that meaning it is indeed pronounced "Harts-horn". However, the same word also refers to his famous book. In that meaning it is pronounced "Heart-shorne". Well, at least that's how I do it....but I mentioned this while giving a talk at MSRI many years ago with Harts-horn in the audience and he didn't object... :) $\endgroup$ – Sándor Kovács Mar 19 '18 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ I'm very interested. Please link the question if you finally ask it. What are the variants for "homotopy"?!? $\endgroup$ – Pedro Sánchez Terraf Mar 20 '18 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe in this context it's worth linking to this question on the main: How do you pronounce “Hartshorne”? It seems that when it was asked almost 8 years ago, there was enough users who considered it off-topic and voted to close. From the timeline we can see that it was in reopen review queue once and the result was leave closed. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Mar 20 '18 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ @SándorKovács: excellent rationalization! For years I've been trying and failing to call the book "Harts-horn" consistently, but now I know I was saying the right thing all along! $\endgroup$ – Pooter Mar 21 '18 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ 8 days passed, 9 upvotes, no downvote, no closure - and yet no answer? Weird! I'm also interested in the site policy about this, because I too have troubles with person's names in languages other than mine. $\endgroup$ – Alex M. Mar 21 '18 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ @PedroSánchezTerraf “HOH-muh-toh-pee”, “HAH-muh-toh-pee”, and “hah-MAH-tuh-pee” all seem to be used. $\endgroup$ – Avi Steiner Mar 21 '18 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ @AviSteiner Whatever those strings mean, it looks like Navajo to me. Can you please write it in an unambiguous international standard, i.e., IPA? $\endgroup$ – Emil Jeřábek supports Monica Mar 23 '18 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilJeřábek : Avi's three pronunciations are, in order, /ˈhowməˌtowpi/, /ˈhɑməˌtowpi/, and /həˈmɑtəpi/, at least using a phonemic transcription that works reasonably well for American accents. $\endgroup$ – Toby Bartels Mar 24 '18 at 5:55
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, my opinions about how to transcribe long vowels phonemically in English, while not entirely idiosyncratic, are uncommon; but one nice thing about IPA is that, as long as you're reasonably familiar with the transcribed language, you should be able to sound out whatever's written and understand what's being said. $\endgroup$ – Toby Bartels Mar 24 '18 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe forvo would be more appropriated for asking these questions? $\endgroup$ – Shamisen Mar 27 '18 at 19:57
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I would be willing to consider such a question as on-topic. It is useful for researchers in mathematics. Definitive answers are possible, at least in cases where someone can report on the pronunciation of a personal name by the individual concerned. Answers are not readily available anywhere else. I see no harm in it.

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    $\begingroup$ If the outcome of this discussion is that pronunciation questions are on-topic, maybe also creating the tag for such questions would be a reasonable thing to do. As already mentioned, there is pronunciation tag on Mathematics Stack Exchange. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Mar 22 '18 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak How does one decide / who decides when a consensus is reached? $\endgroup$ – Avi Steiner Mar 24 '18 at 6:05
  • $\begingroup$ In case somebody stumbles on this discussion, I'll add that now there is a separate question about the issue mentioned in @Avi Steiner's comment: Who decides on a community policy? I have posted my suggestion for a new tag in a separate post, too. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak May 9 '18 at 4:54
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No, MO is not the right place for such a question because the very idea that there might be any difficulty in pronouncing a mathematician's name is grotesque.

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    $\begingroup$ Is that grotesque with a hard q or a silent q? Gerhard "Has Trouble With Name Pronunciation" Paseman, 2018.03.23. $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman Mar 23 '18 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ I can’t for the life of me figure out how to interpret upvotes and downvotes on this answer. It’s probably a good thing they cancel out. $\endgroup$ – Emil Jeřábek supports Monica Mar 23 '18 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ Dear @Emil Jeřábek, given the spelling my own name name one might suspect a correlation between the votes and the sense (resp. lack) of humour of the voters . But this is certainly clear to someone of the same nationality as Jaroslav Hašek, Franz Kafka or Milan Kundera :-) By the way, I'm happy to have learned how to pronounce your name here... $\endgroup$ – Georges Elencwajg Mar 23 '18 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ Irony never works on the internet, and therefore all jokes one insists on making should be carefully explained (the comments do that now). $\endgroup$ – Christian Remling Mar 23 '18 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ Right. So an upvote may mean: (1) I agree that MO is not the right place for such a question, as written. (2) I agree that banning such questions is preposterous, as indicated by the sarcasm. (3) I couldn’t care less, but I like the joke. $\endgroup$ – Emil Jeřábek supports Monica Mar 23 '18 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ Dear @Christian, my experience with the internet has slowly started to convince me that unfortunately you might be right... $\endgroup$ – Georges Elencwajg Mar 23 '18 at 21:02
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This might be most useful as a big list question. Someone can ask for a list of the most problematic pronunciations, and people can provide answers in phonetic renderings or links to audio files. I think it would be good to have two or three big list questions around pronunciation rather than a scattering of tagged questions.

Gerhard "Pronounces His Name Three Ways" Paseman, 2018.03.22.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there a good way to search within such big lists? $\endgroup$ – Avi Steiner Mar 23 '18 at 8:04
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    $\begingroup$ it depends on the search and the organizational scheme. I recommend a list for people and place names and a separate list for specific terms. Each entry would mention the word or phrase and relevant languages and mathematical domains. One could use a browser's find in page feature, or an index set up in the question body, or use the MathOverflow search tool with question number and word, with an example search posted in the question. Gerhard "There Are Bad Ways Too" Paseman, 2018.03.23. $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman Mar 23 '18 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ I think this is a nice idea. Moreover, such compilation would be useful to update Wikipedia where is missing IPA transcriptions. $\endgroup$ – Shamisen Mar 27 '18 at 19:57

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