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Samuel Rogers (1856):

It is curious how fashion changes pronunciation. In my youth every body said “Lonnon,” not “London:” Fox said “Lonnon” to the last; and so did Crowe.

Richd. Welford (1899):

”Lonnon,” or rather “Lunnun,” was the usual pronunciation in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire when I was a boy there fifty years ago. It was only in reading from book or paper that the d obtained recognition.

Edmund Venables (1893):

the King ... in his mouth it was always “My loyal City of Lunnon.”

Sarah Harriet Burney (1835)

I like Bath better than Lonnon, as you cockneys call it

J. R. (1893):

I was told by that gentleman [William Maltby (1763–1854)] that in his young days London was pronounced "Lunnon" even by such men as C. J. Fox and Richard Cumberland, and that our present pronunciation of it would then have been regarded as the affectation of a boarding-school miss.

Why was "London" pronounced "Lonnon"?

When and among whom was this pronunciation common? (Samuel Rogers was born 1763 and died 1855. Is it true that in his youth, "every body said 'Lonnon'"?)

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    Don't have time to post an answer I'm afraid, but here's a link to an interesting piece albeit classist recount of the phenomenon.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 3, 2023 at 10:44
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    There are a heck of a lot of these in English which survive to this day… I think now primarily to keep foreigners confused;) Some are back-formed from spelling to current pronunciation - waistcoat, at one time pronounced correctly as 'weskitt'. Some have continued in pronunciation despite spelling - Worcester [wuster] Leicester [lester] Chomondely [chumlie] Marylebone [mairburn]. The list goes on…
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 3, 2023 at 16:21
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    By the way, this is an example of elision (verb: elide): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elision
    – Deepak
    Feb 3, 2023 at 17:50
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    I'm not sure I don't say "lonnon" even today. I remember that a linguist friend of mine pointed out that it is very unusual for native speakers of American English to pronounce the 'n' in "mountain", and I was astounded to discover that, in fact, I didn't pronounce the 'n'. This case seems somewhat similar. Native language speakers are often unaware of the quirks of their pronunciation. When I was studying Korean, I noticed that initial 'm' is pronounced more like 'b' My tutor said he didn't know what I was talking about. But the denasalization of initial 'm' is well-known to phonologists. Feb 3, 2023 at 17:59
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    There are probably two reasons why it's more common to hear "Lunnden" rather than "Lunnen" nowadays: there's been a general decline in regional (including London) accents, and there's a general trend for pronunciation of place names to shift closer to the spelling, simply because people are more likely to encounter the names in writing: Cirencester these days is only called "Sister" by a few locals, and it's increasingly common to hear "Shroosbury" rather than "Shrowsbury". Perhaps in time we'll be pronouncing London the way Germans do, "Lonn-Donn". Feb 3, 2023 at 18:33

3 Answers 3

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Why is simple. It is very common to drop or reduce /t/ and /d/ sounds in English. One example is "and", which when unstressed is normally pronounced [ən] or with syllabic [n] or similar. "Sandwich" doesn't have a /d/ even in its standard pronunciation: according to Collins it is /sænwɪdʒ/.

When following an /n/, which is articulated at the same place (alveolar ridge) as /t/ and /d/, it is easy to pronounce the following stop either weakly, with some nasalisation, or omit it at all.

/t/ and /d/ are also commonly reduced in other contexts when in the middle of words, as in US pronunciations of butter, button, ladder, etc (see also) - in the US you might hear a flap. /t/ is also commonly reduced to a glottal stop in parts of the UK, US, and elsewhere.

We don't have detailed information on pronunciation in the past, so nobody knows exactly how London was pronounced. Pronouncing dictionaries only became common in the 20th century (Wikipedia), with A Phonetic Dictionary of the English Language by Hermann Michaelis and Daniel Jones in 1913 and Daniel Jones's English Pronouncing Dictionary in 1917. Audio recordings only date to the late 19th century. Before then there are various resources: evidence from spelling (which isn't certain); isolated comments on pronunciation by earlier writers; rhymes, meter, and other evidence from poetry; puns and jokes that seem to depend on matching pronunciation; and understanding of wider linguistic change and the rules that guide it. See this earlier question

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    "We don't have detailed information on pronunciation in the past", well we do because the OP gives several examples from the 19th century. Feb 3, 2023 at 22:15
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    @chasly-supportsMonica - The OP asks 'Is it true?" and I pointed out that such examples are the evidence for it. Feb 4, 2023 at 9:17
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It most likely was common among locals. In Canada for instance, Torontonians pronounce Toronto as "tuh-RAA-nuh" as opposed to the more proper "tuh-RAAN-toe".

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    – Community Bot
    Feb 3, 2023 at 8:32
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We have no way of knowing how words were pronounced in the past except from comments like this and the evidence of rhymes in verse. Since you have now added further evidence, presumably it is true.

'Fox' would be Charles James Fox the politician (1749-1806). I don't know who 'Crowe' was.

'The King' would be George IV (known as 'the First Gentleman in Europe' when he was Prince Regent).

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    Are these comments rather than an answer?
    – user472896
    Feb 3, 2023 at 9:30
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    You asked "Is it true?" (we have only his word for it) and "When and among whom was it common?" (prominent Englishmen in the late 18th century). Feb 3, 2023 at 9:42
  • Additional evidence for this word is that that in Scottish Gaelic it's spelt Lunnain. That wouldn't be strong evidence on its own, but it does corroborate the claim. Feb 3, 2023 at 12:53
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    From surrounding text, Crowe seems to be William Crowe (1745–1829).
    – benrg
    Feb 3, 2023 at 22:33
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    This should have been a comment. I was hoping for an edit that would improve the answer, and go into some detail. That you have identified the personages in the quotes is interesting but largely irrelevant to the question:*why* was the letter "d" in London, dropped by some/many speakers during the late 18th and 19th century?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 4, 2023 at 18:40

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