I am strongly in favour of closing this question.

There are other formulations that would have been appropriate:

Are there any dictionaries, online sites, etc that give the correct pronunciation of mathematicians' names? (and mathematical terms, for that matter)

The anglocentric nature of this question is galling, the list of "ignorant people pronounce it like this, but it should be pronounced like this, but no, stressed syllables are not important" depresses me, the comments on krauty and froggy pronunciation and on Yoo-clid being the Western prononciation don't help, either.

If there ever was a candidate for subjective and argumentative, this is it.

And yes, I know that I have contributed in spite of my reservations, but it turned out as I expected.

Edited to add: Alternatively, there could be a tag to indicate that the question is only intended for native English speakers, so that I can ignore it.

FWIW, I flagged the "froggy/krauty" comment as it was not very helpful or even funny. I don't want the question closed, but I would understand if there are enough people who feel strongly about it... – J. M. May 9 '11 at 15:32
Here's a link to the original question: math.stackexchange.com/questions/37990/… – lhf May 9 '11 at 16:25
Why this question is not community wiki? It is not mathematical question, it is a linguistic question. – Anixx May 10 '11 at 23:59
Revisiting this after a year or so, I find that I essentially agree with it. I have deleted my answer (which was previously the top-voted) and would be (slightly) in favor of the question being migrated/deleted. – Chris Taylor Jan 3 '12 at 21:44
up vote 11 down vote accepted

I agree with Phira about the quantity of garbage this question seems to attract. Besides, it seems to me that a list of unverified pronunciations written in a lousy English transcription has no interest whatsoever. There are better websites where the pronunciations can be indicated (forvo, wiktionary, wikipedia...)

Actually, the only question which seems interesting to me is "What should we do (as a general rule) to pronounce foreign mathematicians names?" But even for this more language-neutral question, I'm not sure MSE is the good site (but it's a good coffee discussion).

Closing seems a reasonable choice.

The answer to that question is to go to pronunciationguide.info and do what they say there. This is a guide originally intended for classical radio announcers. They run into the same problem as mathematicians - math, like music, is done by people from many different places, by speakers of many different languages. (It's written by a mathematician.) – Michael Lugo May 9 '11 at 20:57
It's not clear to me that trying to approximate the foreign pronunciation is the best thing to do. And it's clearly not what most people do: If you pronounce Hilbert [ˈhɪlbɐt] instead of [ilˈbɛːʁ] in French, you won't be understood (I guess equivalent English examples exist). Who pronounces Chern [tʂʰən˧˥]? Again, it's a bad place to discuss this question, but I don't think it has a clear irrefutable answer. (And regarding the website you quote, it may be useful for English speakers trying to pronounce European names, but that's hardly a definitive answer). – PseudoNeo May 10 '11 at 9:05
Michael: +10 for your comment and the link if I could. In particular the Antiperfection Manifesto on that site is invaluable and a must-read in this context. – Hendrik Vogt May 10 '11 at 12:55
PsuedoNeo: sure, it's only useful for English speakers trying to pronounce European names. But that is a considerable portion of the people trying to pronounce names of mathematicians in languages other than their own. – Michael Lugo May 10 '11 at 23:23

I agree the question should at least be rephrased. Both for these reasons and those Qiaochu pointed out in his comment.


I question also the value of this question. I don't understand what it brings to the site. In practice, if one is unsure on the pronounciation of anything, one can always ask. If the people one is conversing with know, they will tell you and think nothing of it, and if they do not know, then who really cares.


I'm not so sure about moving the question to english.stackexchange.com as Charles suggests in his answer. I imagine that the mathematically interested audience in there is not so big (maybe I'm wrong, who knows). But in any case, I think the question can be made into a useful question if it is modified a little.

I found at least three questions in Math Overflow relating to the pronunciation of names of some mathematicians and it wasn't considered off-topic there. The relevant questions are about the pronunciation of the names of Robin Hartshorne, Edsger Dijkstra and Henry Crapo.

The persons that are more likely to know about pronunciation issues of the names of mathematicians are, well, mathematicians themselves.

I'm not a native English speaker and at several times I've found myself wondering how to pronounce certain names, so I find a question like this one helpful. At least I don't see any harm in it.

If you have a question with a specific set of names (like the MO questions), then there are no issues. But just asking for a list of names which is commonly mispronounced is too open ended and subjective. – Aryabhata May 9 '11 at 21:51
@Mor It's much less noise to have one "big list" type question of this sort than to have many questions, one for each specific name. – Bill Dubuque May 9 '11 at 22:04
@Bill: Disagree. The question can easily have atleast a couple hundred answers, making it harder for people to go through and vote on the answers. Also, voting itself would be kind of meaningless, and there would likely be no way to filter out the incorrect answers. Also, It is not as if people looking for answers would actually be looking for all the mathematicians whose names can be mispronounced. They usually will have a specific name in mind. So there really is no compelling reason to have a "big-list" in one place. – Aryabhata May 9 '11 at 22:14
@Mor Any (local) noise innate to big-list questions is probably orders of magnitude less than the (global) noise of having hundreds of single questions for each name. – Bill Dubuque May 9 '11 at 22:34
@Bill: Why do you think we would have hundreds of single questions for each name (as a simple web search would be enough in most cases)? And what if we did have individual questions? If they are spaced out, that is not noise. I don't really see any compelling need for such a big list. In fact, it might even be detrimental. We won't have much confidence in the answers and any new questions asking for a specific name would probably get closed as a dupe... – Aryabhata May 9 '11 at 23:01
@Mor Suppose that that are 100 names each in its own thread (vs. 100 names in one big-list thread). Then, cumulatively, this may amount to much more work. Each user has to process 100 (vs. 1) questions, (cumulatively) filter out 100 (vs. 1) irrelevant search results. There are 100 (vs. 1) questions to tag, many more opportunities to argue about such threads be off-topic, 99 more interesting questions pushed off the front page, etc, etc. – Bill Dubuque May 9 '11 at 23:25
@Bill: As I said, if they are spaced out it is not noise. In terms of the work involved, by having a big list, you are basically making sure that people have to put in more effort: when voting, adding a new answers etc: basically ensuring you have the problem you are trying to avoid. On top of that, the content would be of low confidence. As to your 100 vs 1, suppose a user knows about 5 different mathematicians. He will only spend time on 5 answers, instead of having to wade through 200. Also, why would the search results be irrelevant? If you search for Erdos, you will get Erdos, not Euler. – Aryabhata May 9 '11 at 23:38

I think that the question should be moved to english.stackexchange.com rather than closed. It's not that it's subjective so much as that it's off-topic.


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