Each month, Paul Topping and the Research Division at the Recorded Books Studios in NYC provide everyone here at RB with an update on what's going on in our New York recording studios. It's something that many people don't think about in relation to audiobooks, but a lot of research goes into making sure that everything in a book is pronounced correctly. Sometimes it may be a foreign word, sometimes it may be a word or name created by the author, and sometimes it may be a historical word, place name, or song referenced. The research team investigates all of these cases, scouring each book before it is recorded and producing a list of questions that need to be answered before recording can begin. Thankfully, between the Internet and helpful librarians, the task has gotten a bit easier over the years. Here are some excerpts from recent updates from the Research Division. Note that these are also great lessons for student researchers!
Underground by Kat Richardson (read by Mia Barron)
From the publisher: “Harper Blaine was your average small-time P.I. until she died—for two minutes. Now Harper is a Greywalker—walking the thin line between the living world and the paranormal realm. And she’s discovering that her new abilities are landing her all sorts of “strange” cases.”
Although the word list for this title, Book 3 of the Greywalker series, was relatively short—a few Seattle restaurants, a few businesses—we were utterly stumped when it came to one word: “Duwamps”. Before 1853, the city of Seattle, Washington was known by its Native American name, Duwamps (or Dewamps). Although the existence of the name Duwamps is extensively documented in references books and on the Internet, the correct pronunciation of this term is not. And so we did what often do when we are in a pickle––we turned to a librarian!
We contacted the Local History department of the Central Library of the Seattle Public Library System. They graciously asked if we would mind waiting an hour for them to e-mail the information to us. Would we mind? Imagine! Those kind librarians were willing to do the research for us, for free, and were apologetic that it might take them as long as an hour! We quickly told them how grateful we were and added that they could take as long as they wanted. Within an hour—more like 45 minutes—they emailed us reams of info from the HistoryLink and ProQuest databases, as well as PDFs from various Washington State reference texts. Verdict? doo WAHMPS. Not only did they give us more information than we could ever have dreamed of, they were also apologetic that it might take them a few minutes. This is just one reason why we love librarians!
Are you SURE about that, Mr. Webster?
In the Olden Days before the Internet, we relied very heavily on print dictionaries, particularly for biographical and geographical names. These days, we usually begin our search for the correct pronunciation of people and places with the dictionaries, but it doesn’t end there. We routinely follow up with Internet searches and phone calls. You see, the problem with dictionaries is that once they are printed, that is that. There are no updates or corrections. Since all humans make mistakes, since typesetters make mistakes, since different people sometimes pronounce the same place in different ways, since two people with the same last name might not pronounce their name the same way, dictionaries are not 100% reliable as the sole source of information. They are a good starting point, but they are not the ending point.
Two such cases happened in May, where we found that the dictionaries were wrong. While researching Sand Sharks by Margaret Maron (read by C.J. Critt) we came across “Fuquay-Varina” (North Carolina) on the word list. According to Webster’s Geographical Dictionary this town is pronounced FOO kway vuh RYE nuh. We had our doubts, so we checked online with Wikipedia. They listed the pronunciation as FYOO kway vuh REE nuh. Sure enough, Wikipedia was righ. We called the Fuquay-Varina Town Hall to verify.
Then, while researching White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages (read by Julie Dretzin) we happened upon “Carrizozo” (New Mexico). This time, both Webster’s Geo and the hefty Columbia Lippincott Gazetteer were wrong. They both listed the pronunciation as kahr uh ZOE zoe. A quick call the to the Carrizozo Town Hall informed us that the correct pronunciation is care uh Zoe zoe.
Now, please don’t get the wrong idea! We are not jumping all over the publishing industry and criticizing dictionaries. Far from it. They are indispensable tools to us. What we are saying is that when the research for these dictionaries was conducted, these pronunciations may well have been accurate. Just look at “Los Angeles”, for example. How many times have you watched a black and white movie from the 1940’s or 1950’s and heard it pronounced “loss ANN juh leez” or even loss ANN guh leez? Over time language changes. Pronunciations change. Take the word “Sacrilegious” Twenty years ago the first pronunciation in dictionaries for this entry was sak ruh LEE jus and the second pronunciation was sak ruh LIH jus. Today the reverse is true.
We hope this helps you to better understand the multi-pronged process that is often involved in verifying the pronunciation of a person or a place. Multiply this process by several thousand words a month and you will see what keeps us so busy!