It is believed that word yougurt has Turkish etymology, and in Turkish phonology stess "is complicated" (you can listen different Turkish native speakers at forvo.com).

Why in English yougurt has first syllable stressed, while many other languages have last, and word has same Turkish etymology?

  • 1
    Because most people in English speaking countries first read the word before they heard it spoken by a Turk. It is pronounced in the most obvious way, given English phonetic spelling.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 18 '18 at 23:54
  • In Türkçe the word is virtually a single syllable containing a diphthong, pronounced much like the word "your" with a final "t".
    – MetaEd
    Jun 19 '18 at 0:22
  • Indeed, the French sometimes call it 'le yaourt'. According to my Petit Larousse, this is the Turkish version and 'le yogourt' is Bulgarian! Jun 19 '18 at 8:15

An exotic “health food” in the 1960s and 70s, yogurt only became a regular feature in supermarket dairy cases fairly recently. As a dairy product consumed in the Ottoman Empire, however, the first mention of yogurt/yoghurt in English occurs in the second volume of Samuel Purchas’s Pilgrims of 1625:

Neither doe they [the Turkish people] eate much milk, except it bee made sower, which they call Yoghurd.

Varied spellings throughout earlier centuries may suggest an aural phonetic transcription or different methods of rendering Turkish into the Roman alphabet before Ataturk’s reform.

In Old Turkish the yumuşak g, rendered as ğ in modern Turkish yoğurt, was pronounced as an English g, later, however, as a voiced velar fricative /ɣ/, and finally becoming silent in relatively modern times. Since /ɣ/ does not exist in modern English, the g-sound was as close as you could get. This would have been reinforced by the word’s pronunciation in, say, south Slavic languages whose speakers ate lots of yogurt, but which also had no /ɣ/ sound.

This sound change was reflected in a renewed borrowing of the term in the early 19th c. as — again, variously spelled — yaoort. Since the word with a not quite accurate g-sound could easily be pronounced — with the accent falling as in most native two-syllable words on the first — rather than a vocalic trainwreck representing modern Turkish, it’s easy to see why the former won over the latter.

  • The more than 30 historical spellings shown by the word’s (paywalled) OED entry seem to support your theory of an attempt at an aural phonetic transcription of an imported word here. Per usual with English spellings, almost none try to represent stress, although a cited 1896 spelling of yiaoúrt may be one such. Once Romanized into the target language, phonetics and stress tend to follow rules for native words spelled that way. So English yoghurt /ˈjoʊɡɚt/ stressed on the first syllable but Spanish yogur /ʝoˈɣuɾ/ stressed on the second, etc.
    – tchrist
    Jun 19 '18 at 13:57
  • 1
    It's Hobson-Jobson.
    – KarlG
    Jun 19 '18 at 14:09

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