I'd appreciate a native speaker's opinion on this.

Dictionaries list both pronunciations to be correct.


Pronunciation: BrE /ˈfɔːlkən/ ; NAmE /ˈfælkən/

However, I have heard 'fall-con' only in old movies (The Maltese Falcon/ The Millennium Falcon, both American movies), never in anything recent.

My questions:

  • Am I likely to be made fun of in (your country) if I call it Fall-con, or is it still pronounced that way?

  • Are there any particular connotations attached with the 'Fall-con' pronunciation. Does it sound too highbrow?

EDIT: At Peter Shor's suggestion, let's throw 'fawcon'(ˈfɔː(l)k(ə)n) into the mix.

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    And you don't even mention the British pronunciation fawcon. – Peter Shor May 3 '15 at 11:45
  • @PeterShor: The 'L' is optional? Jeez! Didn't know that. – Tushar Raj May 3 '15 at 11:52
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    The American pronunciation is definitely /ˈfælkən/ and has been my entire life (my father was a falconer). I don't know why all these Hollywood movie are pronouncing it British. The Maltese Falcon was made at a time when actors spoke with mid-Atlantic accents (halfway between American and British), and maybe The Millennium Falcon's pronunciation is an homage to The Maltese Falcon. – Peter Shor May 3 '15 at 12:07
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    @bobtato: "fawcon" may be a Cockney pronunciation but that doesn't make it only a Cockney pronunciation. The "l" being completely vocalized to "w" is historical and dates back to Middle English. The "l" has been restored for most modern speakers, as in similar words like "fault", but not all, and I haven't heard of any evidence that it went extinct in RP while that dialect was still alive. – herisson May 3 '15 at 23:17
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    The pronunciation in Maltese Falcon repeats the sound in Maltese. Think how much less memorable and how much uglier it would sound otherwise. – Drew May 4 '15 at 2:16

In the UK, it is nominally fall-con, but in practice that means that people with non-RP (received pronunciation) dialects pronounce it in their corresponding versions-- fælkən in the North of England, falkən in the Southwest, etc. Dictionaries list only one pronunciation for British English, and in the past other dialects were essentially considered "wrong". The modern view is that you're saying it right as long as your pronunciation transposes into the dictionary form, based on your dialect.

However, it's not uncommon for UK speakers to pronounce proper nouns, or words they only hear from speakers of other dialects, in ways that are not the default for their dialect. For example, an English person who generally says fɔlkən might well refer to an F-15 Falkən. There's quite a lot of latitude in UK vowel sounds.

(Consonants are a different story; many regional variations, like London's /θ/ → /f/ and Newcastle's /t/ → /ʔ/, are still often looked down upon)

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  • Where is the source for it being "nominally fall-con" in the UK? Or have you just swallowed that uncritically from the OP's question? Oxford (ODO, UK edition) gives that pronunciation as only one possibility among several (and not even its first); Cambridge doesn't give that pronunciation at all; Collins gives it but alongside an alternative. – rjpond Sep 21 '17 at 18:46

No one will bat an eye if you refer to the bird with either pronunciation, but the Ford automobile is never FALL-con. (US)

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The word falcon, when it first appeared in Middle English, was spelt and pronounced l-lessly: faucon, faukun, faucoun. The l was added in the 15th century to accord with Latin, and presumably the pronunciation changed (for some speakers at least) subsequently. Faucon is still the word in modern French, and is pronounced /fokɔ̃/.

The OED offers two pronunciations, the traditional RP pronunciations: /ˈfɔːlkən/ (roughly "fawlken" for those who haven't bothered to learn the IPA) and /ˈfɔːk(ə)n/ ("fawken").

However, the OED's entry hasn't been "fully" updated since it was written in the 19th century, and more recent British dictionaries offer different pronunciations:

  • Oxford Living Dictionaries (BrE version) has /ˈfɒlk(ə)n/ ("folken" with an English, not American, short "o") and /ˈfɔː(l)k(ə)n/ (shorthand for the two variants given in the OED)
  • Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary (BrE version) has /ˈfɒlkən/ ("folken" again)
  • Collins has /fɔːlkən/ ("fawlken") and /fælkən/ ("falken" with the short "a" of "cat")

American dictionaries give these pronunciations:

  • Merriam-Webster and American Heritage both offer non-IPA transcriptions equivalent to /ˈfælkən/, /ˈfɔ(:)lkən/, and /ˈfɔ(:)kən/
  • Cambridge (AmE version) has /ˈfælkən, ˈfɔl-/ ("falken" with a short "a", and "fawlken")

It seems a range of pronunciations are possible in both countries, although all American sources put /ˈfæl·kən/ first (which is sometimes an indicator that it is the most common or most widely accepted option, although this isn't infallible), while British sources vary.

Even though all the pronunciations are used and heard, this doesn't mean all will be equally accepted by everyone. At least in Britain, it's not entirely unknown for people to make fun of (or make secret judgements about) others' pronunciations if they are unfamiliar with them or if they think they sound too "posh" or too "common" or too northern or too southern.

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A native American born before WWII, I have always pronounced 'falcon' FALL-k'n and that was how I had always heard it pronounced too, until Ford Motors introduced the Falcon, which Ford ads pronounced FAL-k'n. Chevrolet introduced a car spelled 'Vega' which Chevrolet ads called 'VEE-g'(u)h'. Must be a Detroit thing.

Maybe Falcon's 1st pronunciation struck some as too highbrow, but then too some also pronounce Venezuela as 'Ven-eh-ZOO-la'.

Are reasonable people to let ignoramuses try to misinform everybody with claims of how real people really do everything? Such turkeys become instant experts with facts and usages they mislearned only shortly before.

How about informed people?

In my stab at laying out Falcon's pronunciation a schwa should be the 2nd and 4th syllables' vowel sound. My computer does not type schwas.

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    This is actually a question and answer page, not a discussion page. Each answer that you post in an answer box is expected to stand alone as an answer to the question at the top. An answer should answer the question comprehensively as an expert would answer it, with explanation, context, and supporting facts that show that it is right. Personal opinions, speculation, anecdotes, and general discussion are welcome in English Language & Usage Chat. – MetaEd Sep 21 '17 at 17:16
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    Am I missing anything? My answer responded to a request for a native speaker's opinion. I am an American native speaker. Doesn't my answer give do that? Telling whether my answer was in or out, is impossible from what came back. – Max Roberts Sep 22 '17 at 18:14

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