Eyjafjallajoekull: What happens if a volcano erupts and no one can pronounce its name?

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Austin, Texas, April 20, 2010 — Eyjafjallajoekull , the Icelandic volcano that has been disrupting airborne transportation systems around the globe, would ordinarily stand an excellent chance of becoming an English language word at some time in the future, perhaps meaning to cause widespread disruption.  A word that evolves from a name is called an eponym.  Eyjafjallajoekull is already cited some two million times on Google. But a larger question arises: can a word enter the English language if only 320,000 can pronounce it (and most of those are citizens of Iceland)?

“A dictionary contains the spoken words in a language and those used in the written form of the spoken language known as exposition,” said Paul JJ Payack, president and Chief Word Analyst of the Global Language Monitor.  “However, there are very few words that appear millions of times in print yet can be pronounced by so few.”

Over the course of its 1400-year old history, scores of proper names have moved into the English language.  Examples include caesarian section, named after Julius Caesar, who was ‘plucked from his mother’s womb’; cardigan sweater, worn by the 7th Earl of Cardigan (who also led the Charge of the Light Brigade); and shakespearean, a supreme literary accomplishment named after the Bard, among many others.  There are approximately 1.53 billion English speakers that can readily pronounce each of these.  Eyjafjallajoekull is another matter entirely.

For the record, Eyjafjallajoekull is pronounced ay-yah-FYAH-plah-yer-kuh-duhl.



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