Saturday 25 September 2010


Several of my Italian students this week were flabbergasted when I told them that the pronunciation of the famous district of south London, Wimbledon, was not ˈwimblədɒn but ˈwɪmbəldən. I guess, this is a word whose pronunciation most EFL learners - not just Italians! - very often get wrong. This is probably because they fail to recognise its analysis as Wimble plus the old Anglo-Saxon suffix -don.

According to Wikipedia,
[t]he name Wimbledon means "Wynnman's hill", with the final element of the name being the Old English dun (hill). The current spelling appears to have been settled on relatively recently in the early 19th century, the last in a long line of variations.
The village is referred to as "Wimbedounyng" in a charter signed by King Edgar the Peaceful in 967 and is shown on J Cary's map of the London area as "Wimbleton".

The stem
Wimble rhymes with nimble, the final consonant sound being the same as in incredible, able, unbelievable. Also, the syllable-final phoneme sequence blə which they used in the version they produced is not possible as far as English phonotactics is concerned.
Finally, in RP the Anglo-Saxon suffixes -ton, -don, -ham in placenames like Southampton or Birmingham are always unstressed and weak. Not always so in General American: cf. Birmingham ˈbɜ˞mɪŋhæm.


  1. Interesting. But how is the name of the championship pronounced in Italian then?

  2. It's something like /ˈwimbledɔn, ˈwimblɛ-/.

  3. Yes, that makes sense then.
    In Serbian we call it Vimbldon (broadly /'vimbldon/), so EFL learners know how to pronounce it in English. Unlike, say, London which all too frequently ends up being /ˈlɒndən/.

  4. For some reason, the transcription in GA of "Birmingham" doesn't display well. It is obviously /ˈbɜ˞ːmɪŋhæm/.