List of shibboleths

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Below are listed various examples of words and phrases that have been identified as shibboleths, a word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups.

Shibboleths used in war and persecution[edit]


  • Schild en vriend: On 18 May 1302, the people of Bruges killed the French occupiers of the city during a nocturnal surprise attack. According to a famous legend, they stormed into the houses where they knew the tenants were forced to board and lodge French troops serving as city guards, roused every male person from his bed and forced them to repeat the challenge "schild en vriend" (shield and friend). The Flemings pronounced "schild" with a separate "s" /s/ and "ch" /x/" (see also "Scheveningen", later in this section). Flemings would pronounce "vriend" with a voiced v whereas French would render those as a voiceless f.

Every Frenchman who failed the test was stabbed on the spot, still in his nightgown. Because the signal for the uprising was the matins bells of the city's churches and monasteries, this became known as the Bruges Matins or Brugse Metten. Like the name of the massacre, the story may have been influenced by the Sicilian uprising mentioned below.

  • The problem with this legend is that in Medieval manuscripts of that time, a shield is referred to as "skilde" as in Norse and Norse-influenced English words. Therefore, it is sometimes said that the words must have been "'s gilden vriend" meaning "friend of the guilds." The combination of the 's and the g in "'s gilden" would be pronounced /sx/.[1]


  • Ciciri (chickpeas): This was used by native Sicilians to ferret out Angevin French soldiers in the late 13th century during the Sicilian Vespers, the uprising which freed the island from Angevin rule. Both the Italian soft c /tʃ/, and the Italian r, were (and are still) difficult for the French to pronounce; also French tend to stress words on the final syllable.[2]


Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis; wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries
  • Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis; wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries (About this sound example ) means "Butter, rye bread and green cheese, whoever cannot say that is not a genuine Frisian" was used by the Frisian Pier Gerlofs Donia during a Frisian rebellion (1515–1523). Ships whose crew could not pronounce this properly were usually plundered and soldiers who could not were beheaded by Donia himself.[3]

Castilian Spanish–Latin-American Spanish[edit]


  • The Peasants' Revolt of AD 1381 (also Tyler’s Rebellion, or the Great Rising) was used by the merchants of London in an attempt to get a competitive edge in the trade with the Low Countries by reducing the number of competitors. A massacre among the Flemings in London – not just the Flemish merchants – ensued. "And many fflemmynges loste hir heedes at that tyme and namely they that koude nat say Breede and Chese, but Case and Brode."[5]


  • Yksi: Finnish for "one", used by the White Guard to separate Russians from Finns in the Finnish Civil War during the invasion of Tampere. Many of the Russians caught had changed to civilian clothing, so suspected people were rounded up, even from hospitals, and asked to say yksi. If the prisoner pronounced it [juksi], mistaking the front vowel 'y' for an iotated 'u', he was considered a Russian foreign fighter and was shot on the spot. Any Slav or Balt, Communist or not, was killed, including some members of the White Guard.[6]

Spanish–French and Haitian Creole[edit]

  • Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo conducted a brutal massacre of undocumented Haitian settlers along the Dominican-Haitian border. The action is known as the Parsley Massacre. Suspects not fluent in Spanish either did not know or could not properly pronounce the Spanish word 'perejil' (parsley). The pronunciation of the word by Haitian citizens tended to be with an trilled r and without the 'l' at the end of the word.[7]


  • The Azeri word for Hazelnut, fındıq, which Armenians typically pronounce with a [p] instead of an [f].[8]


  • Soczewica, koło, miele, młyn (Old Polish pronunciation: [ˈs̪ɔt͡ʃɛvit͡sʲa ˈkɔɫɔ ˈmʲɛlʲɛ ˈmɫɪn̪]), meaning "lentil, wheel, grinds [verb], mill": In 1312, the Polish Prince Ladislaus the Elbow-high quelled the Rebellion of wójt Albert in Kraków, populated mostly by Silesian, German and Czech citizens. Anyone over the age of 7 who could not pronounce these Polish words was put to death, ejected from the city or had his property confiscated. 'Ł' (then pronounced as a velarized alveolar lateral approximant, aka dark l) and dental [s̪] are both unlikely to be pronounced properly by Germans since they cannot make out the difference from their own sounds [l] and [s]. (The former was approximated by Germans as l, and has evolved now into a sound similar to English w)[9]

Culture, religion and language-specific shibboleths[edit]

English shibboleths for native speakers or local natives[edit]

  • Fish and chips: The accents of Australians and New Zealanders seem very similar, and the term fish and chips is sometimes evoked to illustrate a major difference between the two. In New Zealand pronunciation short i is a central vowel, [ɘ]. This vowel sound is sometimes caricatured as "fush and chups" by Australians. The Australian pronunciation has the front vowel [ɪ] (which is more common in most varieties of English) which, due to an overall vowel shift in New Zealand, sounds like "feesh and cheeps" to New Zealand ears.[15][16]
  • Pronunciation of letters of the alphabet:
  • In Highland Dress, for anyone who has served in a Scottish Regiment or played in a pipe band, or whenever said by any Scot, if ‘plaid’ is used to refer to tartan cloth, it could be pronounced: /ˈplæd/ (to rhyme with ‘had’). (NB: This usage, as a synonym for ‘tartan’, is generally only ever found in North America[citation needed]). More often, however, when referring to the cape-like garment – in its various forms – worn over the left shoulder as part of the traditional or formal Scottish dress, the pronunciation is: /ˈpld/ (to rhyme with ‘made’); (although the OED accepts both pronunciations in this usage). To further stress the pronunciation of the garment versus the cloth, the garment has an alternative spelling ‘plaide’, although rarely used. Thus: belted-plaid, drummer's plaid, evening-plaid, fly-plaid, full-plaid, piper's plaid, et al., are pronounced /pleɪd/ by those who have worn, or are familiar, with the same. Etymology: plaide (Scots) via Scottish Gaelic meaning ‘blanket’ or ‘cloak’, (albeit usually made of tartan; most often the same tartan as the wearer's kilt or trews).[23]
  • Regional vowels

Place-name pronunciations[edit]

In Australia[edit]

  • Cairns, Queensland: Pronounced [ˈkʰeːnz] or [ˈkʰæːnz] by Australians,[24] is pronounced /ˈkɛərnz/ by speakers of rhotic dialects. Although the rhotic pronunciation is standard in the case of the English word 'cairn' referring to a stack of stones,[25] most Australians consider it a mispronunciation when referring to the city.

In Canada[edit]

  • Newfoundland: Some outsiders pronounce the island almost as if it were three separate words, "new-FOUND-lənd" rather than the local pronunciation, "Noo-fən-LAND"[26]
  • Regina, Saskatchewan: Pronounced /rˈnə/,[27] similar to "vagina". Familiarity with the standard pronunciation may in some cases distinguish Canadians from Americans.[28]
  • Vancouver, British Columbia Vancouver is often pronounced by the locals as if it were Vangcouver.
  • Toronto, Ontario Toronto is often pronounced by Torontonians as Torono, Trawno, or Chrawnno, without the second t sound.

In Malaysia[edit]

In the United States[edit]

  • Houston Street, New York City: Locals pronounce the first syllable identically with "house" (/ˈhaʊstən/), while most visitors will employ the same pronunciation as in Houston, Texas (/ˈhjuːstən/). Houston Street is actually a corruption of the original name of Houstoun Street, named after Continental Congress Delegate William Houstoun, who pronounced his name in this way.[30]
  • Nevada: Nevadans say /nˈvædə/ nə-VAD-ə, pronouncing the first A as in 'dad'. Visitors often say /nˈvɑːdə/ nə-VAH-də, pronouncing the first A as in 'bra.' Additionally, there are a number of smaller towns in other states bearing the name Nevada where locals frequently use the latter pronunciation, and in Missouri, pronounced Neh-VAY-dah. In Nevada County, Arkansas, it is also pronounced with the first A as long.[31]
    • A similar phenomenon is also true of Colorado; locals render the third vowel as /æ/, whereas visitors are more likely to use /ɑ/.
  • The U.S. state of Oregon is home to a county, city, river, bay, state forest, museum, Native American tribe, and dairy processing company called Tillamook. Residents pronounce "ook" in the word similar to the American pronunciation of "cook" or "hook," while nonresidents often mistake the pronunciation for being similar to "spook" or "fluke".[32]
  • Portland, Oregon's Couch Street rhymes with "pooch," unlike the identically-spelled sofa synonym which rhymes with "pouch." [33]
  • Boise, Idaho: The city's name is commonly pronounced with the 's' sounding more like /z/. However, locals will pronounce it as an actual 's' sound, rendering the name more like "boy' see".[34]
  • Quincy, Massachusetts: The city's name is commonly pronounced by non-locals as "Quin-see". However, locals will pronounce it with a 'z' sound, as "Quin-zee." [35]
  • Louisville, Kentucky: The name is pronounced by locals as "Lou-UH-vul" (Listeni/ˈləvəl/). However, non-locals will usually use "Lou-EE-vil" (Listeni/ˈlvɪl/).

Place-name terms[edit]

  • Locals refer to San Francisco as "SF", or simply "the City" within the context of the San Francisco Bay Area. Tourists may sometimes say "San Fran" or "Frisco".[36][37]
  • In Southern California, locals generally use the article "the" preceding the number of a freeway. Northern California locals generally do not use "the" before a numerical freeway name. For example, Southern Californians usually refer to Highway 101 as "The 101," whereas Northern Californians will refer to it as simply "101." [38][39][40]
  • Long-time Democratic residents of Washington, D.C., will refer to Reagan National Airport as simply as "National," while Republicans and visitors to the area are more likely to call it by the name of the former president.[41]
  • In Oxford in the UK, only locals (and longtime students) will know that while "Magdalen Street" is pronounced "Mag-da-len", Magdalen College and Magdalen Road are pronounced "Maudlin". This inconsistency prevents any outsider from getting it right, whatever their default pronunciation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Phil Lee, The rough guide to Bruges & Ghent, pp. 22–3 
  2. ^ McNamara, Timothy; Carsten Roever (2006). Language testing: the social dimension. John Wiley and Sons. p. 153. ISBN 978-1-4051-5543-4. 
  3. ^ "Greate Pier fan Wûnseradiel" (in Western Frisian). Gemeente Wûnseradiel. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  4. ^ Centro Virtual Cervantes. "III Congreso Internacional de la Lengua Española. Paneles y ponencias. Raúl Ávila". 
  5. ^ Chronicles of London; Oxford University Press, 1905; ed. C. L. Kingsford; p. 15
  6. ^ Heikki Ylikangas, Tie Tampereelle, ref. at
  7. ^ "Untitled Document". 
  8. ^ Shahmuratian. Sumgait Tragedy, Interview with Vanya Bazyan, p. 159; also: Vahagn Martirosyan, interview (Alexandre Billette, Hervé Dez (2014) - Transkraïna, online, retrieved 2014.02.13,
  9. ^ Węgłowski, Adam (21 June 2012). "Soczewica, Koło, Miele Młyn z Albertem" (in Polish). Retrieved 13 June 2016. 
  10. ^ Ambrose, Stephen E. (1994). D-Day. New York: Touchstone. p. 191. ISBN 0-684-80137-X. 
  11. ^ Ross, Stuart. Teach Yourself - The Middle East Since 1945. Hodder Education. p. 98. 
  12. ^ "Nairobi siege: What we know". BBC News. Retrieved 22 September 2013. An Indian man who was standing next to him was asked for the name of the Prophet's mother and when he was unable to answer, he was shot dead, the witness told him. 
  13. ^ "Explosions inside mall as stand-off nears end". The New Zealand Herald. Agence France-Presse. 25 September 2013. Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  14. ^ Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (27 September 2013). "Peace groups warn of empty victory in Zambo siege". The PCIJ Blog. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  15. ^ Ilka Ludwig (2007), Identification of New Zealand English and Australian English based on stereotypical accent markers, p. 22 
  16. ^ Laurie Bauer, Paul Warren (2008), New Zealand English: phonology, ISBN 978-3-11-019637-5 
  17. ^ Philippe Laplace. "Cities on the Margin, on the Margin of Cities: Representations of Urban Space in Contemporary Irish and British Fiction". Presses Univ. Franche-Comté. p. 186. 
  18. ^ Cynthia Cockburn. "The Space Between Us: Negotiating Gender and National Identities in Conflict". Zed Books. p. 51. 
  19. ^ Frederick Ludowyk. "AB(H)OMINABLE (H)AITCH" (PDF). Ozwords. Australian National Dictionary Centre. 
  20. ^ "Think". International Business Machines Corporation. p. 9. 
  21. ^ "Science Digest". 1958. p. 44. 
  22. ^ Blame Canada and Molson for brilliant 'Rant' at States, Advertising Age, May 08, 2000
  23. ^ "[1]", Collins English Dictionary.
  24. ^ Macquarie Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Melbourne: The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd. 2005. ISBN 1-876429-14-3. 
  25. ^ The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Springfield: Merriam-Webster. 2004. ISBN 087779930X. 
  26. ^ Story, George Morley, et. al, Dictionary of Newfoundland English (Toronto, University of Toronto Press:1982), "Newfoundland", p. 344.
  27. ^ Merriam-Webster Audio File, Regina 
  28. ^ "You heard what? Because Jon Ryan went to University of Regina". CJME. February 2, 2015. 
  29. ^ "Casino shuffles the pack with revamp". 
  30. ^ "New York Bookshelf; An Oddly Named Street, A Dark Night, a Gamy Club". The New York Times. Feb 8, 2004. p. CY12. 
  31. ^ "Nevada County - Encyclopedia of Arkansas". 
  32. ^ Connelly, Dolly (Mar 1, 1970). "Mush!...And Then Some: A Tour Of The Great Northwest". Los Angeles Times West Magazine. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times: 20–30. 
  33. ^ Greiner, Tony; Bridgewater, Rachel (2014). "Portland: An eclectic introduction". College & Research Libraries News. 75 (8): 422–426. 
  34. ^ web|url=
  35. ^
  36. ^ "Don't Call It Frisco". SFGate. 
  37. ^ "Don't Call It Frisco: The History of San Francisco's Nicknames". The Bold Italic. 
  38. ^ ""The" Freeway in Southern California" (PDF). American Speech. 
  39. ^ "Roadshow: The Debate on Highway Names Roars On". The San Jose Mercury News. 
  40. ^ "Why Southern Californians Say "The" Before Freeway Numbers". Mental Floss. 
  41. ^ "National? Reagan? DCA? 17 years later, locals still can't agree on the name of the airport in question.". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-02-12.