Personally I would say the correct way is Cost-a Coffee but I've heard some people use Coast-a.

Which is correct?

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    This may be a recent American interest which has caused the "Coasta". Whitbread have recently sold the company to Coca Cola. And Americans are very fond of their long 000000s. Notice how Donald Trump calls Emanuel Macron - "Macrone". – WS2 Jan 11 at 10:38
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    And yet they manage to pronounce coffee with a short O..... Surely then it should be Costa Coffee or Coast-a Coe-ffee (Or Coasta Covfefe in the case of President Trump) – RobertEves92 Jan 11 at 10:41
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    Here in America we are familiar with the "coast" pronunciation of Costa Rica. So (we think) "Costa Coffee" is a clever variant of that. – GEdgar Jan 11 at 11:43
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    This Costa ad pronounces it cost-a. (Around 50 seconds in.) – Peter Shor Jan 11 at 12:25
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    However they pronounce it. If they pronounce it "eflax" that's still the correct pronunciation, since it's their name. – Hot Licks Jan 11 at 13:03

Surprise, they’re [ˌɔə̯ɫkɚˈɻɛ̝t̚]!

Many, many other ac­tual pro­nun­ci­a­tions of this word can be found among na­tive speak­ers of dif­fer­ent re­gional ac­cents. Each one is “cor­rect’ for that ac­cent and speaker, even should this dif­fer from one’s own.

Not only is English a pluri­cen­tric lan­guage spo­ken na­tively by some 400 mil­lion peo­ple all across the globe, even within a given ge­o­graph­i­cal re­gion, no­table pro­nun­ci­a­tion dif­fer­ences abound be­tween that re­gion’s own nu­mer­ous in­ter­nal di­alects.

There can there­fore be no sin­gle “cor­rect” pro­nun­ci­a­tion of a word for all na­tive speak­ers ev­ery­where. This holds as true of com­mon words like all and right, mother and daugh­ter, warm and bath, as it does for less com­mon ones.

When you dis­cover ev­i­dence that na­tive speak­ers of dif­fer­ing ori­gins, ed­u­ca­tions, or oc­ca­sions all say the same word dif­fer­ently, that does not mean that one ac­cent’s pro­nun­ci­a­tion for that word is “cor­rect” and the oth­ers are “in­cor­rect”. A case in point is that you’ll never get ev­ery­one to say the word cof­fee the same way.

If you don’t be­lieve me, just try to get folks to agree on what the “cor­rect” pro­nun­ci­a­tion is of words like like route or roof is. Each na­tive speaker will doubt­less say that their way is “cor­rect”, but only those with the most severely provin­cial of view­points would dare call al­ter­nate pro­nun­ci­a­tions from other na­tive speak­ers “in­cor­rect”.

You might imag­ine that the per­ceived “owner” of a name has an an­nointed right to de­ter­mine what is the “cor­rect” way to say that name, but even here you can some­times be wrong. That’s be­cause with proper names like those of peo­ple, cities, or busi­nesses, this pic­ture be­comes even mud­dier. Anna, Charles, Mel­bourne, and Ore­gon are all nat­u­rally pro­nounced dif­fer­ently in some ac­cents than in oth­ers. You will never get a non-rhotic speaker to say Charles the way its rhotic owner says it. Or just be­cause Anna her­self may hap­pen to use the same vowel there as she uses in ap­ple does not mean that some­one of a dif­fer­ent ac­cent who al­ways uses the vowel from fa­ther for that word is some­how “in­cor­rect”.

Proper names orig­i­nally from a dif­fer­ent lan­guage than English are some­times even more sub­ject to vari­a­tion, as these are not nec­es­sar­ily only vari­a­tions by di­alect alone. Rather, ed­u­cated na­tive English speak­ers with ex­pe­ri­ence in lan­guage the word was bor­rowed may pro­nounce that word closer to how it is said in the other lan­guage. Think of Paris, Ber­lin, Cairo, Louis­ville, Lyons, Lima, New Or­leans, San­ti­ago, Co­lom­bia, Chile.

The par­tic­u­lar sound that seems to be con­cern­ing you here, the stressed vowel from the first syl­la­ble of the word Costa, hap­pens to be a sound that varies dra­mat­i­cally be­tween English’s many re­gional di­alects. This is fur­ther com­pli­cated by vary­ing im­pres­sions of how as­sim­i­lated the word has been into English from its Ro­mance roots.

It may sound just like the word coaster in some di­alects but like the word caster in oth­ers. Some may rhyme it with how they say pasta. It might even sound like the last two words in the sen­tence “That’ll sure cost her”, or rhyme with the first two words in “Lost a penny?”

Each ver­sion is “correct” in that ac­cent. That’s why all native speakers’ pronunciations of a word are “correct”.

  • 1
    I agree with most of what you say here, except the part about personal names. If someone named Anna doesn’t like her name pronounced with the can vowel and uses the father vowel (e.g., Elsa’s little sister), then people who say her name with the can vowel are just as incorrect as if they call her Beth or Steve. They may be pronouncing the name ‘Anna’ correctly, but they’re not pronouncing her name correctly. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 11 at 16:43
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I chose that one because of personal experience. My aunt Anna, being Polish, has the father vowel there. But her husband, my uncle, who knows no other languages than English and Danish (where he did his postdoc) randomly calls her by both versions and she never complains. I try to use her vowel myself, but a lot of people flip-flop without even realizing they're doing it because somehow those aren't phonemic distinctions for them there. I don't understand it myself. Maybe it’s like saying José with [h] not [x], which English basically lacks. – tchrist Jan 11 at 16:46
  • Of course, if the person in question is indifferent (as most are), it doesn’t really matter much; but if they do have an opinion (remember Aundrea from 90210?), then it does need to be their preference that determines what’s correct. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 11 at 16:51
  • @JanusBahsJacquet How do you get a non-rhotic speaker to pronounce Charles the way its rhotic-speaking owner does? This is the sort of thing I’m concerned with. – tchrist Jan 11 at 17:09
  • If Charles is really adamant about including an audible r, then by force. It’s not like non-rhotic speakers are unable to pronounce syllable-final r. If they refuse, then it’s them being rude, not Charles. I’ve never actually met anyone who was bothered by non-phonemic differences, though, but I have met several Julies who were annoyed at being called Julia (or vice versa), and also a few Anthonies who were annoyed at being /ˡanθəni/ instead of /ˡantəni/ – both phonemic differences. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 11 at 17:14

In all the (many) bits of the UK I know it's the same "o" as in "coffee", i.e. short. This is also how we pronounce the Spanish "costa" as in "Costa del Sol" or "Costa Rica". A shift to pronouncing it as "coast" seems unlikely in British English, especially with the extended alliteration (for want of a better term) in the coffee brand

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    I think the comments are right in that Americans are confused by the pronunciation of Costa Rica (a country which Americans know produces coffee, and which we often pronounce coast-a-reeca, but which dictionaries say is pronounced cost-a-reeca in the U.K.). – Peter Shor Jan 11 at 12:39
  • @Peter quite possibly, I've been to Costa Rica and met lots of Americans there, but don't recall any of them saying the country name – Chris H Jan 11 at 12:58

Word pronunciations may vary depending on the broader phrase in which the word appears or on particular local historical factors. In California, where I live, a great many local place names are of Spanish origin. Often the standard native English pronunciations of these names indicate little awareness of Spanish pronunciation preferences—and yet these English pronunciations persist alongside pronunciations of the same or similar words or names that are not local and reflect a much stronger awareness of common Spanish pronunciation.

For example, whereas most (though not all) native English speakers in the San Francisco Bay Area pronounce the country name Costa Rica with a long o (KOAST-uh REEK-uh), and (back in the 1980s) many pronounced the anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan insurgency known as the Contras with a long o ("Koan-truhs"), they almost universally pronounce the East Bay county name Contra Costa with short o's ("KON-truh KOS-tuh").

Likewise, I have never heard a native English speaker in the Bay Area pronounce the last name Allende (in reference to Salvador or Isabel Allende) with an l sound rather than a y sound for the ll (the pronunciation is usually approximately "I-YEN-day"). Yet almost all native English speakers here pronounce the city name Vallejo with an l sound ("Vuh-LAY-ho"). (Note that they do use the Spanish-preferred h sound for the j.)

Further, most native English speakers here pronounce the familiar name of the artist Raphael in three syllables (approximately "Rof-I-EL" or "Raf-I-EL") but they pronounce the second word in the city name San Rafael in two syllables (approximately "Ruh-FEL").

The conclusion I draw from these (and similar) inconsistencies is that pronunciation is largely an aurally received phenomenon, and it is received from different sources at different times—rather than being formulated systematically and cross-checked consistently on the basis of identical or similar spelling. The name Costa Coffee is not one that I've encountered previously, so when I first met it in print (just now), I had no idea whether people who are familiar with it generally pronounce it with a long o or a short one. But the fact that people may be inclined to pronounce it different ways in different places doesn't surprise me at all.

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    You're in the Bay Area so you still even have a “short o”! Folks from Southern California have lost all rounding there completely, replacing both the CLOTH vowel and the THOUGHT vowel with the FATHER one. Hearing them say this as [ˈkɑstə ˈkɑfi] with nothing but AH there is pretty jarring to those of us unused to it, but so it goes. – tchrist Jan 11 at 21:03

Going back to the roots, the term Costa is an Italian surname which has nothing to do with Costa Rica or other coasts along which coffee plants are grown. Costa in Italian is pronounced as cost - with a final a as in alpha. Any variant, elongation of vocals etc. are purely local interpretation of the term. (British, Americans or else)

Costa Coffee was founded in London in 1971 by the Costa family as a wholesale operation supplying roasted coffee to caterers and specialist Italian coffee shops.

Brothers Bruno and Sergio Costa founded a coffee roastery in Lambeth, London, in 1971, supplying local caterers. The family had moved to England from Parma, Italy, in the 1960s. Costa branched out to selling coffee in 1978, when its first store opened in Vauxhall Bridge Road, London.

  • Some native speakers of English have no /ɔ/ phoneme at all, nor even /ɒ/, so they can only hear and say /ˈkɑstə ˈkɑfi/ there. To them [ˈkɔstə ˈkɔfi] sounds identical to [ˈkɑstə ˈkɑfi] and so that is the only thing they can hear and reproduce. It’s the phonemic wiring in their brains, which is really really hard for untrained people to ever get around. – tchrist Jan 11 at 17:29
  • @tchrist - that’s normal. I never heard Tom Cruise pronounced correctly in Italy... – user240918 Jan 11 at 17:39

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