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Why is Neanderthal pronounced with a /t/ sound instead of a /th/ sound?

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According to OED, it can be pronounced either way. –  American Luke Nov 8 '12 at 17:32
I've never heard it pronounced with a T sound. –  ThinkingMedia Nov 8 '12 at 17:46
Richard Dawkins, famous evolutionary biologist/author/TV presenter, pronounces it with a hard T. –  Graham Borland Nov 8 '12 at 17:52
@MathewFoscarini I've never heard it pronounced with a TH sound! –  JAM Nov 9 '12 at 3:28
Americans say 't', Brits say 'th' and put the emphasis in a different place. –  A E Dec 6 '14 at 2:25

2 Answers 2

Although the word can be pronounced both ways, very often its German origin is honoured and it's pronounced the German way, where -th- is pronounced as -t-. Note that the word has four syllables, with the initial e separated from the a immediately following [ne 'an deə tal].

It's a German word meaning Neander Valley, the valley where the Neander River runs, and it's where Homo neanderthalensis was discovered.

You may even find it spelled Neandertal, which is the modern German spelling.

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in English, pronounced (TH) /niˈændərˌθɔl/ or (T) /niˈændərˌtɔl/ –  nohat Nov 8 '12 at 18:33
About 100 years ago the t-sound at the beginning of a word was spelt Th as in Thür (door) or Thal (valley, dale). One wanted to show that it is an aspired t-sound. But one has soon given up this over-exactitude and today the spelling is Tür and Tal. –  rogermue Jul 29 at 19:10

True, the German pronunciation is T, not TH. However, since the word was adopted into English first as a scientific term, then more generally, when the spelling was still TH (it's spelled Neandertal in modern German) it is perfectly acceptable to say the TH pronunciation is appropriate for the pre-modern human species specifically. Likewise it's preferable to say KRO MAG NON (Cro-Magnon) instead of KRO MAN YON. The former is not the French pronunciation, but if you are not speaking French it is best to stick to English pronunciations with words that have been long-adopted into English.

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protected by tchrist Aug 31 at 13:06

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