són or són?


Ever since the elders of the ‘Old English’ speaking world tasked their scribes with creating and populating their new-fangled “dictionary”, the word són has been attributed as the root meaning of the word sound, and (via sóncræft) music (nb – the term sonorous also has its foundations here).

“That’s lovely,” you might say, “but why all the sudden hoohah over this innocuous, and rather obscure, little word?” Well, in response to its recent ascent into the public domain (having been plucked from relative linguistic obscurity last May like a pop-singing starlet and promptly adopted as a rather snazzy play-on-words moniker by the UK’s newest professional chamber orchestra), it has created something of a buzz amongst early concert-goers, mainly through its begging of the immediate question – how do you pronounce it?

In recent months, this semantical “tomayto, tomahto” issue has become something of a doosey for thesónproject‘s creators to contend with, especially when dealing with how to succinctly address the issue in print – (“No, it’s són, not són…”) – not to mention the grammatical headache of working around modern technology’s adherence to using diacritic glyphs (try typing simply ‘son’ as opposed to són into google and see what we mean).

Enjoy a scone with són

Not since the great “scone (like gone) or scone (as in phone)” argument has one small word perhaps engendered such heated debate amongst Englishers, or created such discombobulation amongst the music-loving populous:

I asked the maid in dulcet tone
To order me a buttered scone;
The silly girl has been and gone
And ordered me a buttered scone

During són‘s recent launch concert – Sibelius Unwrapped – which saw the orchestra debut to a sold-out crowd at Turner Sims in Southampton, there were many pre, mid and post concert conversation circles touched by this most critical and sentient of conundrums.

“But, if it’s so difficult, why-ever was it chosen?” you may next ask. The answer to this question is somewhat more equivocal. In simple truth, we just liked it.

Taking a moment to look at the word són itself on a purely aesthetic plain, it is possible to contend that it is a rather debonair and exotic little gem – with its brief length, its nicely rounded and pleasingly symmetrical lettering, and its fetching little accent – which not only fulfils the criteria of being otherwise unique in the marketplace, but also works (via clever Latin ‘familiarness’) to immediately summon forth subconscious notions of ‘sophisticated Europa’ in many peoples’ minds, and even hints to a certain (and very fashionably-modern) Scandi-noir-vian “moodiness” (think how well the modern Danish restaurant Noma has done with its minimalist, no-frills name).

“That’s all well and good!” you now probably shout. “But just how are we supposed to pronounce it?!”

Well, dear reader, in short it can be pretty much pronounced however you wish. Here at són HQ, however, we are keenly sensitive to the feedback of our audience members and associated followers, so in deference to this sound debate (ahem) we have created a three-part guide detailing how some early pioneers have gone about tackling this somewhat tricky question…

Stage 1 – The “Literal” approach

Most native English-speakers, on encountering the word/name for the first time, tend to begin with offering a simple phonetic interpretation, voicing són as you would “mon” or “con”. Any inclination towards treating the word the same as the similar-looking English word “son” (as in the term for a male offspring, which itself is confusingly pronounced “sun”) is usually sidestepped pretty quickly by the canny newcomer, who takes a swift note of the appearance of the jaunty little “foreign-looking” glyph above the o and (quite rightly) decides that a more “continental” approach is probably in order.

(nb – this is the preferred way that we here at són HQ have adopted, if that means anything to anyone…)

Margaret & Marjorie agonise over pronunciation

Stage 2 – The “Connoisseur” interpretation

In some instances (and this is by no means a comment upon any specific societal group, but rather an observation of a broad and uniquely “English” trait), after the newcomer has made an initial appraisal of the word, a secondary factor comes into play – that of the inner “Connoisseur” gene – which compels those in the population with a “sophisticated” disposition to administer an air of class into the proceedings by giving són an instant “Gallic twist”.
In short, a centralised “European-esque” accent is adopted into the voice during pronunciation, infusing the word (or even the entire sentence) with an instantly richer (some might even say “sonorous”) tone.

“Non, Margaret, je ne l’ai jamais entendu parler de són. Sont-ils bien?”
“Yes, Marjorie, són are apparently quite good…”

(nb – extra points are gained by the speaker if the Gallic trait of “dropping” the vocal pronunciation of the last letter is audibly observed).

Stage 3 – The “Technical” Debate

For the most learned of newcomers, there is a third, (and perhaps ultimately decisive) way to respond to the challenge – they can cheat.
Technically, there is an original or “authentic” pronunciation of són, which has been (sort of) agreed and handed down the centuries by generations of academics in Old English linguistic circles – in essence, són becomes só(h)n (like “tone”). However, as the invisible h that would handily indicate towards this last “correct” interpretation is, well, invisible, it has been postulated (by the same linguistic academics) that a broad adoption of só(h)n into the wider public vernacular is unlikely to occur any time soon, rendering the truth of the conundrum ultimately moot. (Take that, clever-heads!)

(nb – a word to the wise for those whom do transcribe to this version being the only “correct” answer. It is not generally thought cricket to dispense this wisdom upon your fellow plebs in any manner which might be interpreted as “elitist”. A better way to go about it is to calmly deposit the suggestion amid the other ideas in the conversational cloud, thus providing the concourse with enrichment without overtly stepping on anyone’s toes.)

So, there you have it. A tiny glimpse into a clear-as-mud debate that will no doubt go on for years to come, stretching out far into the ethers of time and (cyber)space. In the end, all you really need do is choose how you wish to pronounce són and proceed from there. Or is it their? Oh dear… TK

Like what you’ve read?
Subscribe to our Blog and don’t miss a single new post

More from the són Blog
Scroll through these related articles: