While helping my daughter read (she is 5) we encountered two names in a story, Thumbelina and Carolina. The way I've come to pronounce the last four letters of "Thumbelina" is "LEE NAH" and the same part of "Carolina" as "LIE NAH". My question is what is modifying the sound "i" makes in each name? Is there a name for this rule? Am I just pronouncing "Thumbelina" or "Carolina" incorrectly?

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    What is modifying the pronunciation of 'sow' (the female pig) to change it to 'sow' (scatter seed)? Not a lot within the structure of the word. Why are the last two syllables of 'Arkansas' normally pronounced differently from 'Kansas'? And I think that (the river) 'Arkansas' is pronounced to rhyme with 'Kansas' in Kansas! You're pronouncing Thumbelina (to rhyme with semolina!) and Carolina (to rhyme with Regina) correctly, but I wouldn't expect someone to come up with a nice neat rule to help with other words with the same ending. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 26 '13 at 0:11
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    hat / hate; red / rede; spit / spite; tor / tore; cut / cute - obviously, the following e 'changes' the vowel sound in each of these cases. There are some rules of thumb, but as the above examples show, there are inconsistencies (sadly, many!) Often, the rationale behind these idiosyncrasies is lost in time (or at least, until Jon Hanna comes up with the explanation). – Edwin Ashworth Jan 26 '13 at 0:24
  • Hey - the follow-on question that makes sense of the above just disappeared! – Edwin Ashworth Jan 26 '13 at 0:25
  • Just look at the history of long vowels in English: in this case, long i. It has two variants in ModE: diphthong I; close vowel like in Lee. Same thing applies to long u: diphthong like in cow; and the close vowel like in soup. That's we have variant pronunciations for words like via and router. In two syllable words, you can see the first vowel as old long vowel due to open syllable lengthening: that's why you hear the first syllable of Dana like day. And this does not have that silent-e. – RainDoctor Jan 26 '13 at 0:29
  • @EdwinAshworth, sorry, it seemed like it's own question (and a rather dumb one at that :P, I deleted it) – Jason Sperske Jan 26 '13 at 0:34

Thumbelina is was coined by H.W. Dulcken in the 19th Century as an Anglicisation of Tommelise (itself a 19th Century Danish coinage by Hans Christian Andersen) so it could quite possibly be influenced by the sound of the I in that word. It also, being a recent coinage is likely to be strongly influenced just by what people thought sounded better—there was no rule about how to pronounce it until Dulcken's translation came out, so even if he'd said it rhymed with Carolina and people thought it sounded better as is, it would have changed (unless he'd actually written his translation as a rhyming poem, but he didn't).

Carolina - both the states' and girls' name - comes from the Latin form of Charles and are related to the word Caroline as a girls' name, and Caroline as a separate but related adjective form of Charles (hence the adjective Caroline for things relating the the reign of a King Charles).

When adjective forms produced from other words end in -ine we tend to pronounced them with /aɪn/ sounds, and so we would expect a related -ina to be more likely to end up with a /aɪnɑ/ or maybe /aɪnæ/, but we'd be surprised if they ended up /iːnə/. Not very surprised, because it's not like this stuff is always logical, but a bit.

Ironically, in Thumbelina's native language of Danish, Karoline (a common Danish form of Carolina), is pronounced /kɐroˈli·nə/ (say "caroleena" but swallow the R so it's almost "caowleena"—think of the lack of R sound on the end of words ending in R in some English accents) and does come close to rhyming with Thumbelina, but not with Tommelise.

5 Year Old Version:

Normally it's I-NAH, but sometimes it isn't. Thumbelina was first called Tommelise TOM-Eh-LEES-AH, because she's from another country, the same one that the little mermaid is from and where her statue is, and names are the hardest to spell because a lot are from languages other than English, so they work differently. Semolina is funny too, because semolina is just funny.

  • Thank you very much for such a rich answer, now I have to try and keep this to myself so as not to discourage my daughter from working on sounding out words :) – Jason Sperske Jan 26 '13 at 0:11

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