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Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Monday, July 10, 2006

Marda versus Marta versus Martha

Two times this past weekend I had to tell people what my child was named - Marta - but both times they heard "Martha" instead.

That's ok. "Martha" is the more prevalent version of this name in English. I can stand that. Plus it's closer to "Marta" than the way many friends and relatives pronounce it - "Marda." This drives me nuts. My kid's name isn't "Marda" - the letter 't' is the letter 't,' not 'd' you lazy sods.

To put this in perspective, we have to understand that English is one of the few languages in Europe where the lisping "th" sound is part of the language. And there are actually two different "th" sounds - the roof-of-the-mouth "th" (like this, that, there, then) and the soft between-the-teeth "th" (smith, thin, thimble, heath).

While we all learn to use "th" the truth is that up until the 17th century the letter thorn or Þ was used for both sounds with an emphasis on the "th" in "thin", although the letter ð was used for the "th" in "then." These letters are still in use in Icelandic and were once used all over Scandinavia. For example, the Icelandic word for "house" is "huseð," while the parliament is called the "alÞing."

In the Old English alphabet, Marta would be spelled MarÞa, not Marða. Dig?

People that call Marta "Marda" should be advised to try saying Martha with the "th" in "that." See how unusual it sounds? That is what you are doing to my daughter's name.

Imagine, for example, that we used "Ch" in "Christopher" like the "Ch" in "church." "Tchristopher" doesn't sound right, does it?

Anyway - Mary's sister wasn't named Martha anyway. The Judeans, like most countries, didn't use a "th" sound either. :)


Blogger Treissi said... far I thought that th in thin and there sounds the same. Probably I just haven't been so persistent looking up the pronunciations of the words then. I'm from Estonia and we don't have that th sound as you know. So although I have been studying or practising English for about thirteen years by now my pronunciation of the word three is still mixed up with free.

3:58 PM  
Blogger marta said...

I'm glad someone else shares in my frusteration of Marta being butchered into "Marda." I call people out on it sometimes but they say I'm being too picky.

8:34 PM  

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