List of shibboleths

List of shibboleths

Below are listed various examples of shibboleths. Note that many apocryphal shibboleths exist, and that since, by definition, shibboleths rely on stereotypical pronunciation traits, they may not accurately describe the speech of all members of the group in question.


Shibboleths used in war and persecution


  • Schild en vriend: On 18 May 1302, the people of Bruges killed the French occupiers of the city during a nocturnal surprise attack. According to a famous legend, they stormed into the houses where they knew the tenants were forced to board and lodge French troops serving as city guards, roused every male person from his bed and forced them to repeat the challenge "schild en vriend" (shield and friend). The Flemings pronounced 'Schild' with a separate "s" /s/ and "ch" /x/" (see also "Scheveningen", later in this section). Flemings would pronounce 'vriend' with a voiced v and a rolling r [1] whereas French would render those as a voiceless f and a fricative or approximant uvular r [2]
    Every Frenchman who failed the test was stabbed on the spot, still in his nightgown. Because the signal for the uprising was the matins bells of the city's churches and monasteries, this became known as the Bruges Matins or Brugse Metten. Like the name of the massacre, the story may have been influenced by the Sicilian uprising mentioned below.
  • The problem with this legend is that in medieval manuscripts of that time, a shield is referred to as Skilde as in Norse and Norse-influenced English words. Therefore it is sometimes said that the words must have been "'s Gilden Vriend" meaning "Friend of the Guilds". The combination of the 's and the g in "'s Gilden" would be pronounced /sx/.[3]


  • Ciciri (Chickpeas): This was used by native Sicilians to ferret out Angevin French soldiers in the late 1200s during an uprising (Sicilian Vespers) against Angevin rule. Both the Italian soft c /tʃ/, and the Italian r, were (and are still) difficult for the French to pronounce; also French tend to stress words on the final syllable.[4]


  • During the Spanish Succession War, the phrase "Setze Jutges d'un jutjat mengen fetge d'un penjat" [ˈsɛd͡zə ˈd͡ʒud͡ʒəs dun d͡ʒuˈd͡ʒat ˈmenʒəm ˈfed͡ʒə ðun pənˈʒat] (sixteen judges from a court, eat the liver of a hanged man) was used to tell apart Spaniards from Catalan, as the phrase contains voiced affricate consonants and "neutral" vowels, non-existent in Spanish; a typical Spanish pronunciation of the phrase being [ˈset͡sa ˈjut͡ʃas ðun juˈt͡ʃat ˈmenjan ˈfetje ðun ˈpenjat]. The phrase is still used as a tongue-twister, with different endings.


  • Soczewica, koło, miele, młyn (Old Polish pronounciation: [ˈs̪ɔt‿ʃɛvit‿sʲa ˈkɔɫɔ ˈmʲɛlʲɛ ˈmɫɪn̪]), meaning "lentil, wheel, grinds [verb], mill": In 1312, the Polish Prince Ladislaus the Elbow-high quelled the Rebellion of wójt Albert in Kraków, populated mostly by Silesian, German and Czech citizens. Anyone over the age of 7 who could not pronounce these Polish words was put to death, ejected from the city or had his property confiscated. 'Ł' (then pronounced as velarized alveolar lateral approximant, aka dark l) and initial voiceless /s/ are both difficult to pronounce for Germans. (The former was approximated by Germans as l, and has evolved now into a sound similar to English w, which is not a German phoneme; in the latter case, an initial s is pronounced in German as z.)

Castilian Spanish – Latin-American Spanish and Portuguese

  • In the Paraguay War (1864–1870), Brazilian soldiers would identify Paraguayan citizens by having them say the word pão, meaning "bread". Non-native Portuguese speakers have great difficulty replicating the ão sound – instead, they would say pan or pao (without the due nasalization indicated by the tilde).
  • During the Latin American wars of independence, the name Francisco was used by Colombian rebels to tell Americans from Spaniards. Whoever pronounced it as /fɾanˈθisko/ (as in European Spanish) would be thrown to the Magdalena River.[5]
  • During the Cuban War of Independence, prisoners caught by the insurgents were asked to pronounce the word "garbanzo" (pronounced [ɡarˈβanθo] in Castilian Spanish). Cubans pronounced the /r/ as /l/, and the /θ/ as /s/, resulting [ɡalˈβanso]. They were considered traitors.
  • The Spanish word perejil (parsley) was used as a shibboleth by Dominican Republic strongman Trujillo against Haitian immigrants at Parsley Massacre. See [2]."[6]
Statue of Pier Gerlofs Donia, the last "King of all Frisians" known for his legendary strength and size and his invention of a famous shibboleth


  • The Peasants' Revolt of AD 1381 (also Tyler’s Rebellion, or the Great Rising) was used by the merchants of London in an attempt to get a competitive edge in the trade with the Low Countries by reducing the number of competitors. A massacre among the Flemings in London – not just the Flemish merchants – ensued. "And many fflemmynges loste hir heedes at that tyme and namely they that koude nat say Breede and Chese, but Case and Brode."[7]


  • Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis; wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries (About this sound example ) means "Butter, rye bread and green cheese, who cannot say that is not a genuine Frisian" was used by the Frisian Pier Gerlofs Donia during a Frisian rebellion war (1515–1523). Ships whose crew could not pronounce this properly were usually plundered and soldiers who could not were beheaded by Donia himself.


  • Yksi: Finnish for "one", used by the White Guard to separate Russians from Finns in the Finnish Civil War during the invasion of Tampere. Many of the Russians caught had changed to civilian clothing, so suspected people were rounded up, even from hospitals, and asked to say yksi. If the prisoner pronounced it [juksi], mistaking the front vowel 'y' for an iotated 'u', he was considered a Russian foreign fighter and was shot on the spot. Any Slav or Balt, Communist or not, was killed, including some members of the White Guard.[8]
  • Höyryjyrä: ([høyryjyræ], Finnish for "steamroller"): Finnish soldiers in World War II used this as a password, as only a native Finnish speaker could properly say this word, which contains the Finnish front vowels Ö, Y, and Ä in combination with the rolled R used in Finnish. The leading H /h/ is particularly hard for Russian speakers, since the same sound does not exist in Russian; analogous Russian sounds /ɡ/, /ɦ/ and /x/ are distinguishable.


  • Paljanytsja: Ukrainian word "паляниця" ([palʲaˈnɪtsʲa], a "sacred" wheat bread eaten on special occasions) was used by soldiers of Makhno troops to identify Russians of Bolshevik food-troops, who were sent into Ukraine to expropriate food. Russians pronounce the word approximately as [pəlʲɪˈnʲitsə]. The word paljanytsja was also used during World War II by Ukrainian nationalists to identify Russians.


  • 15円 50銭 (jū-go-en, go-jū-sen) and がぎぐげご (gagigugego) were used in Japan after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake to search for Koreans, who were killed – being accused of well poisoning. Japanese people pronounce initial g as [ɡ] and medial g as [ŋ] (such a distinction is dying out in recent years), whereas Koreans pronounce the two sounds as [k] and [ɡ] respectively.
  • Ba, bi, bu, be, bo Japanese used this syllabary group to detect Korean spies. Koreans would pronounce the syllables unvoiced, [pa, pi, pu, pe, po].


  • Scheveningen (About this sound example ): The letter sequence "sch" in Dutch is analyzed as "s" [s] and "ch" [x], while German orthography has "sch" as a trigraph, pronounced [ʃ]. The Dutch Resistance used this to ferret out Nazi spies and defectors during the liberation of their country in World War II.
  • Likewise, Allied patrols in the just liberated areas of the Netherlands used the word Nijmegen to quickly distinguish between Dutch natives and German soldiers who changed into civilian clothes to evade capture. Locals raised in Dutch would have no problem with the Dutch ij (pronounced as [ɛɪ]) and the fricative g ("ch" [x]) while Germans would pronounce the sounds like [iː] and [ɡ], or completely revert to 'Nimwegen', the city's name in German.


  • The famous phrase rødgrød med fløde was used in Denmark during World War II to identify German infiltrators. Being filled with Danish-specific approximants, it was hard for non-native speakers to pronounce correctly.

Spanish – Haitian Creole and French

  • Dominican dictator Rafael L. Trujillo conducted a brutal massacre of undocumented Haitian settlers along the Dominican-Haitian border. The action is known as the Parsley Massacre. Suspects not fluent in Spanish either did not know or could not properly pronounce the Spanish word 'perejil' (parsley). The pronunciation of the word by Haitian citizens tended to be with a non-rotative r and an omission of the 'l' at the end of the word.


  • During the Sumgait Pogrom, Azeri rioters targeted ethnic Armenians pulled from their homes and vehicles by asking them the Azeri word for Hazelnut, fundukh, which Armenians typically pronounce with a [p] instead of an [f].[9]

Language- and culture-specific passwords

  • During the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War, the American forces used the challenge-response codes "Flash" – "Thunder" – "Welcome". The last response was used to identify the challenger as a native English speaker (and therefore not an enemy), whereas the German enemy would pronounce it as "Velcome".
  • Similarly during Operation Chariot the British raiders used the challenge "War Weapons Week" and the countersign "Welmouth", likewise unpronounceable by most Germans.
  • In the Pacific Theatre of Operations, the shibboleth was lollapalooza, whose pronunciation produces severe difficulties for native speakers of the Japanese language (another was Lucille Ball).
  • Woolloomooloo was used by Australian soldiers in the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War to identify themselves when approaching a camp.
  • During the Israeli War of Independence, Israeli army passwords were often chosen to contain 'p' sounds, which native speakers of Arabic can rarely pronounce properly, replacing the 'p' with a 'b'.

Shibboleths in fiction

  • In his essay To Tell a Chemist (1965), Isaac Asimov [10][11][12] claimed that one could distinguish a chemist from a non-chemist by asking a person to read the word "unionized" aloud. With no context given, he said that a chemist will pronounce it "un-ionized", but a non-chemist will pronounce it "union-ized".
  • In Isaac Asimov's short story "No Refuge Could Save", a suspected German spy exposes himself by finishing a line from the third verse of The Star-Spangled Banner. (Under the assumption that most Americans know only the first verse.)[13]
  • In his essay "The Shibboleth of Fëanor", J. R. R. Tolkien describes how the Noldorin Elves intentionally change the sound /θ/ to /s/ in the Quenya language. The king's son Fëanor considered this change to be an insult to his dead mother Þerindë whose name he likewise would have had to pronounce Serindë.
  • The U.S. TV series Law & Order: Criminal Intent also features an episode titled "Shibboleth". In the episode, a serial rapist/murderer is identified largely because of his uncharacteristic enunciation of the /t/ sound in certain words. Specifically, his speech does not exhibit flapping; that is pronouncing the /t/ as an alveolar tap, [ɾ], between vowels in unstressed syllables (e.g., pronouncing the word "pretty," usually pronounced [ˈpɹɪɾi] in American English, as [ˈpɹɪti]).
  • The U.S. TV series The West Wing, in the episode "Shibboleth", Christian Chinese nationals have smuggled themselves to the United States in a shipping container purportedly to escape religious persecution. President Bartlett decides to interview one of them to determine the sincerity of their beliefs. The immigrant's knowledge of the biblical story of the shibboleth convinces Bartlett.
  • In the TV series The Wire, in the fourth season episode "Corner Boys", Felicia "Snoop" Pearson is seen discussing "Baltimore questions" with fellow gangster Chris Partlow in order to find rival drug dealers, freshly arrived from New York City, to kill. The idea is that anybody who grew up in Baltimore would know certain things about local popular culture that a recent arrival would most likely not know.
  • Baltimore is also the subject of a shibboleth in an early episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, in which a suspect launches into a monologue involving whether locals are more likely to pronounce the name "Bawlmer" or "Bal-ti-moh".
  • A TV commercial run by Tim Hortons features a family passing through Canadian customs coming from the United States. Without a passport, the Canadian driver says "rrrroll up the rrrrrrim to win" (a popular annual promotion run by the restaurant chain), properly rolling the "r". Another family, presumably not Canadian, fails to reproduce the phrase.
  • A TV advertisement for KiwiBank features an Australian banker attempting to pronounce the New Zealand town name Whakatane as "Wack-a-tain". (It is actually pronounced /fɒkəˈtɑːni/ or /hwɒkəˈtɑːni/.)
  • In the film Inglourious Basterds, Lt. Archie Hicox, a British soldier meeting with an informant in Nazi-occupied France betrays his identity to an SS Officer when he orders three drinks by holding up his middle three fingers, whereas Germans traditionally hold up the thumb, index, and middle fingers.
  • In the film Red Dawn, during the Soviet invasion of the United States, the Wolverines encounter Col. Andy Tanner, a downed American pilot. Erica, one of the Wolverines, suspects Tanner is a Russian, and asks him to name the capital of Texas to prove he is American. Tanner correctly identifies Austin as the capital, but Erica believes the capital to be Houston and is about to shoot him when the other Wolverines intervene.
  • Different forms of finger counting are used as a shibboleth in the novel Pi in the Sky, by John D. Barrow (between China and Japan).[14][15]
  • In Dara Horn's novel All Other Nights, a Jewish woman is talking with several male soldiers, and hopes to date one, but is only willing to date another Jew. So, she asks all the soldiers to solve the riddle "what is the opposite of meat?". After getting answers ranging from "non-meat", to feed, the lone Jew correctly answers "milk". Under kashrut laws, meat and dairy products cannot be mixed, and as such a Jew (and only a Jew) would consider them opposites.

English shibboleths for native speakers or local natives

  • nuclear/nucular: The word "nuclear", /ˈnuːkliər/ in General American, is sometimes pronounced "nucular" /ˈnuːkjələr/ in parts of the United States. This is considered incorrect or a metathesis by many authorities, although the alternative pronunciation is common, having been used by U.S. President Jimmy Carter (himself a former Naval nuclear engineer) and U.S. President George W. Bush and other politicians. This is common in some midwestern states, particularly those in the southern part of the region.
  • When referring to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the location of most of the city's major monuments, natives usually say that a given landmark is "on the mall". Tourists will sometimes say "in the mall," something that automatically identifies them as tourists.
  • Fish and chips: The accents of Australians and New Zealanders seem very similar, and the term fish and chips is sometimes evoked to illustrate a major difference between the two. The New Zealand pronunciation converts the i to a schwa. This unstressed vowel sound is sometimes caricatured as "fush and chups" by Australians, but is more accurately f'sh and ch'ps, with the vowel almost dropped. The Australian pronunciation has the standard, fully enunciated short-i which, due to an overall vowel-shift in New Zealand, sounds like "feesh and cheeps" to New Zealand ears.[16][17]
  • Geyser: a notable difference exists between New Zealand English and the most common British English pronunciation of the word geyser; /ˈɡaɪzə/ "guy-zer" vs /ˈɡiːzə/ "gee-zer". British visitors to New Zealand towns like Taupo and Rotorua, known for their nearby geysers, frequently confuse locals by asking the way to the "geezers".
  • Kiwi/kiwi/kiwi: The national bird of New Zealand is the kiwi, of which the plural is simply "kiwi". The people of New Zealand are colloquially called Kiwis (capital K, pluralised with an -s). The fruit which is called "kiwi" in some countries is always referred to in New Zealand as "kiwifruit".
  • Pronunciation of letters of the alphabet:
  • New England, United States: certain words/phrases are well known in other regions of the United States and often serve as stereotypes or shibboleths for New England natives (especially from the Boston area), considered by many as an informal "standard" or central area of the dialect region. Typical as "How are you?" pronounced in a clipped manner, "H'w ar'ya?", and the well-known "Harvard Yard" (with non-rhotic pronunciation), often in the context of the stereotypical sentence, "Park the car at Harvard Yard", which gives many instances of this derhotacization.
  • In Highland Dress, for anyone who has ever served in a Scottish Regiment, or even played in a pipe band, or whenever said by any Scot, should ‘plaidactually be used to refer to tartan cloth, it could be pronounced: /ˈplæd/ (to rhyme with ‘mad’). (NB: This usage, as a synonym for ‘tartan’, is generally only ever found in North America). More often, however, when referring to the cape-like garment – in its various forms – worn over the left shoulder as part of the traditional or formal Scottish dress, the pronunciation is: /ˈpleɪd/ (to rhyme with ‘made’); (although the OED accepts both pronunciations in this usage). To further stress the pronunciation of the garment versus the cloth, the garment has an alternate spelling ‘plaide’, although rarely used. Thus: belted-plaid, drummer's plaid, evening-plaid, fly-plaid, full-plaid, piper's plaid, et al., are pronounced ‘pleɪd’ by those who have worn, or are familiar, with the same. Etymology: plaide Scots Language via Scottish Gaelic) meaning ‘blanket’ or ‘cloak’, (albeit usually made of tartan; most often the same tartan as the wearer's kilt or trews).[18]
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Natives of this city usually pronounce the word 'water' [wʊɾəɹ] instead of [wɑːɾəɹ]. A similar phenomenon is found in the closely related Baltimore dialect.
  • Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are named for their creator, Harry Reese. In broadcast advertisements the name of the company and the product is consistently pronounced "Ree-sizz," but in several areas of the U.S. it is common for the candy to be called "Ree-seez Cups." (In addition to altering the pronunciation of Reese's, the phrase "peanut butter" is often omitted.) Similarly, "Reese's Pieces" may be pronounced "Ree-see Pee-sees," the rhyme being preserved by altering the pronunciation of both words.[19][20]
  • Regional vowels
    • The BATH vowel is a significant divider in England between north and south. The north and the midlands of England use /a/ in BATH whereas most of the south uses /ɑː/, which is also favoured by the BBC. There is a third pronunciation /a:/ used in parts of south-west England.
    • About: U.S. commentators (and popular culture) have drawn attention to the stereotypical Canadian pronunciation of about. While the American imitation of the stereotype (as seen, for example, in the film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut) pronounces the word like "a boot", Canadians actually pronounce the word [əˈbəʊt] which sounds more like "a boat", as compared to General American [əˈbaʊt]. This phenomenon is known in linguistics as Canadian raising, and is not restricted to just Canada, as many Northern U.S. dialects have clear Canadian Raising as well.
    • No: Residents of Northern Lincolnshire and to a lesser extent parts of East Yorkshire will be able to recognise a speaker from Hull as they will pronounce 'no' as 'nurr' (nurrr), whereas the surrounding accent tends towards 'naw' (gnaw). In Cleethorpes this has led to the stereotype of Hullish tourists as 'comforts' after the phrase "Come fert'day, stop fert'week".
    • Tomato: UK pronunciation is usually /təˈmɑːtoʊ/, while US pronunciation is usually /təˈmeɪtoʊ/. Ira Gershwin famously used this difference in the verse "You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to", from the song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off".
    • "Sauna": Scandinavians, and North Americans that reside in areas settled primarily by Scandinavians (chiefly the Norwegians of North Dakota and the Finns of Michigan's Upper Peninsula), pronounce the word /ˈsaʊnə/, mirroring the original Finnish [ˈsɑunɑ]. Those who reside elsewhere in the world almost exclusively pronounce it /ˈsɔːnə/.

Place name pronunciations

In Australia
  • Launceston, Tasmania: generally pronounced lon-ses-tən (locally [ˈlɔnsestən]) or lon-səs-tən ([ˈlɔnsəstən]) by its inhabitants and other Tasmanians, but as lawn-ses-tən (locally [ˈloːnsestən] or lawn-səs-tən ([ˈloːnsəstən]) by mainland Australians.[citation needed]
  • The car race-track town of Mallala, South Australia, pronounced "Maller-lah" by locals, is often pronounced "Malahler" by interstate TV commentators. Local pronunciation of aboriginal names in different states often confounds non-locals throughout Australia.
  • Manuka, Australian Capital Territory: Local pronunciation is with equal emphasis on each syllable; new arrivals can be identified by the pronunciation with emphasis on the middle syllable.
  • Newcastle, New South Wales, pronounced "Newcarsle" by locals, is often mis-pronounced "New-Cassle" by visitors from Victoria Australia.
  • Albany, West Australia, pronounced Al-bun-ee by Western Australians (Al as in Al Jolson) is often mis-pronounced "All-ban-ee" (All as in call) by other Australians and visitors.
In Canada
  • Calgary, Alberta: Residents of Calgary, and Alberta in general, often pronounce the name of the city as "Calgry". Even people from other provinces generally pronounce it as "Calgary".
  • Montreal, Quebec: English-speaking locals (and most Canadians) pronounce the name of the city as /mʌntriˈɔːl/ whereas most Americans pronounce it as /mɒntriˈɔːl/. The same applies to the name Quebec, which is pronounced /kwɨˈbɛk/ by most Americans, whereas local English speakers pronounce it /kɨˈbɛk/.
  • Toronto, Ontario: Natives often say /ˈtrɒnə/.
  • Vancouver, British Columbia: Residents of British Columbia, or often other parts of Canada, will generally pronounce the first syllable as /væŋ/ or "vang", displaying the consonant assimilation typical in English when /k/ follows /n/ (such as in "ankle" or "ranking"). English-speaking Americans and some Canadians from other regions tend to pronounce it /væn/ ("van"), resisting assimilation to the following /k/ sound.
In the Netherlands
  • Gorinchem: Pronounced as the alternate spelling of its name: Gorkum.
In New Zealand
  • Charleston is pronounced with three syllables, as /ˈtʃaːləstən/, unlike its better-known namesake in the United States.
  • Two of the main streets in Christchurch are local shibboleths. One, Barbadoes Street, is pronounced the same as the Caribbean country but spelt with an added "e"; the other, Antigua Street, is spelt the same way as its Caribbean namesake but pronounced with a shortened "i" and prominent "u" (/ænˈtɪɡjuːə/ rather than /ænˈtiːɡwə/).
  • Dunedin: Pronounced locally with E as the only stressed vowel, the others either replaced by a schwa (the U) or elided (the I, sometimes also the U) – /dəˈniːdən/. Non-locals usually pronounce all three vowels clearly (/dʌˈniːdɪn/).
  • Kumara: pronounced with the stress on the second syllable (/kʉˈmɑːɾɘ/), unlike the vegetable (which has the stress on the first syllable).
  • Levin: pronounced with the stress on the second syllable as /ləˈvɪn/, not – as is sometimes thought by non-New Zealanders – with a first-syllable stress (as in the surname).
  • Oamaru: Pronounced locally, and by other natives of the Otago region, as /ɔːməˈruː/, a pronunciation borrowed from the local dialect of Māori. Most Māori speakers from farther north in New Zealand pronounce both initial vowels separately, as [oamaˈru], while non-Māori-speakers will pronounce it /oʊməˈruː/.
  • Otago: Pronounced locally with a schwa replacing the first O and sometimes – especially by older residents – with a schwa also replacing the final O (/əˈtɑːɡoʊ/ or /əˈtɑːɡə/); other New Zealanders tend to pronounce both the first and last letters similarly as long Os (/oʊˈtɑːɡoʊ/).
In the United Kingdom
  • Many English placenames act as shibboleths. Warwick, Norwich and Alnwick may be pronounced /wɔrˈwɪk/, /nɔrˈwɪtʃ/ and /ælnˈwɪk/ respectively by Americans, when the local pronunciations are /ˈwɒrɨk/, /nɒrɨtʃ/, and /ˈænɨk/.
  • Beaulieu, both place and hunt named after it, are pronounced Bewley /ˈbjuːli/.
  • Caldmore, Walsall, UK is pronounced by the locals as /ˈkɑːmər/, a homophone of Karma when not followed by a vowel.
  • Derby in England: liable to be pronounced 'Durby' by Americans. The actual pronunciation is /ˈdɑːbi/.
  • Edinburgh in Scotland: liable to be pronounced 'Edinburg' by Americans. The actual pronunciation is /ˈɛdɪnb(ə)rə/, or 'Edin-burra'. In Scotland it is often pronounced /ˈɛmbrə/.
  • Greenwich, London is pronounced by locals as /ˈɡrɪnɨtʃ/ whereas most Britons (including most non-native Londoners) pronounce it /ˈɡrɛnɨtʃ/.
  • Launceston in Cornwall, is pronounced "Lan-st'n", "Lan-s'n", "Lahn-st'n" or "Lahn-s'n" (always with only two syllables, unlike the Tasmanian town). Non-locals commonly mispronounce it as "Lawn-st'n".
  • Milngavie, Glasgow, Scotland: locally pronounced /ˈmʊlɡaɪ/ but often /mɪlənˈɡæviː/ by non-Glaswegians. (This is elaborated upon in the article on the town.)
  • Mousehole, Cornwall, England: pronounced /ˈmaʊzəl/ by locals, but usually as the spelling suggests by tourists.
  • Newcastle upon Tyne in the North-East of England is pronounced /njʊˈkɑsəl/ by locals and many other natives of the North-East, but /ˈnjuːkɑːsəl/ or /ˈnjuːkasəl/ in other accents.
  • Sanquhar in Scotland: liable to cause difficulty for outsiders.
  • Llanelli in Carmarthenshire, Wales: [ɬaˈnɛɬi], often mispronounced by non Welsh-speaking people, particularly those from outside the UK. The "ll"s in the name represent voiceless alveolar lateral fricatives (IPA symbol [ɬ]), a phoneme that does not exist in English. In England, where many people are aware that "ll" is not the same as "l" but are unable to pronounce it quite correctly, it is common to hear "Llanelli" approximated as "Clanethli".
  • Acrefair in Wrexham, locally as in Welsh [akrɪˈvair]; often pronounced /ˈeɪkərfɛər/, ie as English words "acre" and "fair" by English speakers, including those from other mostly English-speaking parts of Wales.
  • Isle of Wight place names which would be pronounced differently by locals would be Nunwell ("Nunnel") and Shorwell ("Shorrel"). Niton and Knighton are also respectively called "Crab-Niton" and "Kaynighton".
  • Belvoir Street in Leicester is commonly pronounced phonetically by non locals, while the actual pronunciation is a homophone of "Beaver". This is often used to identify between locals and the city's large student population.

Sowerby Bridge in Calderdale, West Yorkshire is correctly pronounced Sor-by by the locals but people from elsewhere often pronounce it Sow-er-by, as it is spelt, this pronunciation is common even in other areas of Yorkshire outside the Calder Valley.

In the United States
  • Many US cities and towns are named after larger cities elsewhere, yet have a locally different pronunciation of their name. Outsiders generally pronounce them as their more famous counterparts. For example, Havana, Florida, locally /heɪˈvænə/; assorted American locations named Cairo (locally /ˈkeɪroʊ/); Lima, Ohio, Lima, New York, and Lima, Pennsylvania (all locally /ˈlaɪmə/ ly-mə), Berlin, New Hampshire (locally /ˈbɛərlɨn/ bair-lin), while New Berlin, Pennsylvania is distinctively pronounced by Central Pennsylvanians as New /ˈbɜrlɨn/ bur-lin. Natives of Iowa, Louisiana pronounce the town's name as /ˈaɪ.oʊ.eɪ/ eye-oh-ay.
  • Alachua County, Florida: Frequently pronounced by non-locals with the stress on the third syllable. This Native American word is pronounced by locals with the stress on the second syllable. Oddly, the town of the same name is frequently pronounced by locals as /əˈlætʃəweɪ/, perhaps to distinguish between reference to the town versus the county.
  • Albany, New York: The first syllable is frequently pronounced by non-locals as /æl/ (as in Alfred), while locals pronounce it /ɔːl/ (like "all").
  • Albany, Georgia: The stress is on the second syllable, pronounced by locals as "all-BEN-nee".
  • Aloha, Oregon, is pronounced /əˈloʊ.ə/ by locals, with the "h" silent, instead of like the Hawaiian greeting aloha (/əˈloʊhɑː/).
  • Amherst, Massachusetts: The name of this town (and its namesake colleges) is pronounced with a silent "h" by locals (/ˈæmərst/), and with a pronounced "h" by outsiders (/ˈæmhɜrst/).
  • Andreas, Pennsylvania: located in the SE corner of Schuylkill County and locally pronounced "ANN-dreez."
  • Appalachia: pronounced /æpəˈlætʃə/ within the central portion of the region, particularly between North Carolina and West Virginia; usually pronounced /æpəˈleɪʃə/ elsewhere.
  • Arab, Alabama: Unlike the conventional pronunciation, this city's name is pronounced as if it were two separate words – /ˈeɪræb/ ("AY-rab").
  • Arkansas River: While in most places the name of this river is pronounced the same way as the name of the state of Arkansas (/ˈɑrkənsɔː/), Kansans typically pronounce it as if the "Ar-" were a prefix added to the name of the state of Kansas.
  • Beaufort, North Carolina, is pronounced /ˈboʊfərt/ ("BOH-furt"); Beaufort, South Carolina, is pronounced /ˈbjuːfərt/ ("BYOO-furt").
  • Beloit, Wisconsin: Those used to speaking French will usually pronounce this [belwa], while people in Wisconsin tend to pronounce it /bəˈlɔɪt/ according to the spelling.
  • Bogota, New Jersey: New Jersey residents pronounce as /bəˈɡoʊtə/ instead of the pronunciation used for the Colombian capital.
  • Boise, Idaho, is generally pronounced by locals as /bɔɪˈsiː/. Most Americans, especially those far removed from Idaho, pronounce it /ˈbɔɪziː/. In contrast, "Boise" in Boise City, Oklahoma, is pronounced /ˈbɔɪs/ "Boyce".
  • Buena, New Jersey; Buena Vista, Virginia; and Buena Vista, Colorado: "Buena" is pronounced as /ˈbjuːnə/ bew-nə by locals rather than its native Spanish pronunciation, which is approximated as /ˈbweɪnə/ in Lake Buena Vista, Florida or Buena Park, California.
  • Chalybeate, Tennessee is pronounced by locals as /ˈkliːbɨt/ whereas outsiders may refer to it as /ˈtʃælɨˈbiːti/ or /ˈtʃælɨbaɪt/.
  • Charlotte, VT and Charlotte, MI are both pronounced by locals as shar-lot where outsiders refer to them as shar-let, like Charlotte, NC
  • Chili, New York is pronounced by locals as /ˈtʃaɪlaɪ/ chy-ly, not like the food.
  • Darien, Connecticut is pronounced by locals as /dɛəriˈæn/.
  • DuBois, Pennsylvania: Locals pronounce it /dᵿˈbɔɪz/. Dubois County, Indiana is pronounced /dᵿˈbɔɪs/. Non-locals usually pronounce both /duːˈbwɑː/, an approximation of the French.
  • Forest City, North Carolina: Locals tend to pronounce the city's name as "Far City", while visitors or new residents will pronounce the city's name the way it is spelled.
  • Gough Street in San Francisco is pronounced "goff" by locals, but any of several alternative ways by visitors. Cartoonist Dr. Seuss played on this difficult combination of letters in "The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough": each appearance of "ough" is pronounced a different way.
  • Holyoke, Massachusetts: Locals pronounce it as 2 syllables, sometimes omitting the "l" (either HOLE-yoke or HO-yoke). Outsiders pronounce it "Holy Oak"
  • Houston Street, New York City; Houston, Delaware; Houston and Houston County, Georgia: Locals pronounce the first syllable identically with "house" (/ˈhaʊstən/), while most visitors will employ the same pronunciation as in Houston, Texas (/ˈhjuːstən/). Houston Street is actually a corruption of the original name of Houstoun Street, named after Continental Congress Delegate William Houstoun, who pronounced his name in this way.
  • Hurricane, Utah; Hurricane, West Virginia: both pronounced by locals as /ˈhʌrəkɨn/, identical to the British pronunciation of the word 'hurricane'. Others pronounce it as the American pronunciation of the word.
  • Lafayette, Tennessee: Locals stress the second syllable (/ləˈfeɪ.ɨt/) as opposed to the more standard pronunciation (/lɑːfeɪˈɛt/) used for most towns with this name.
  • Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Locals end the first syllable at C, /ˈlæŋkɨstər/ (LANK-is-ter), like the city in England for which it was named, rather than the wider American pronunciation of /ˈlænkæstər/ (LAN-kast-er).
  • Lebanon, Pennsylvania: Although the country of the same name is generally pronounced "Leb-a-non" locals tend to pronounce the Pennsylvania city's name "Leb-a-NIN," and frequently shorten it two two syllables—"Leb-nin" or even "Lep-nin." The latter is particularly identified with Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.[21]
  • Louisiana: Residents tend to use four syllables ("LOOZ-i-a-na"), not five like the rest of the U.S. ("Loo-EEZ-i-a-na")
  • Louisville: Most natives of Louisville pronounce the city's name as /ˈluːəvəl/ ( listen), which is sometimes shortened to /ˈlʌvəl/ ( listen). The pronunciation /ˈluːiːvɪl/ ( listen), however, is often used by political leaders, the media and outsiders. In all but the most anglicized pronunciations, the "s" is silent due to the name's French origin.
  • Mantua, Utah; Mantua, Ohio: Outsiders will pronounce it as the Italian city, where locals will say /ˈmænəweɪ/.
  • Marietta, Georgia: This town was once called "May-retta" or "Mar-retta" by its residents and "Mary-etta" by those that are not from there. Since the rapid influx of newer residents starting in the 1980s, this is no longer true, especially in Eastern Marietta, where "Mary-etta" is now a more favored pronunciation.
  • Miami, Arizona and Miami, Oklahoma: Pronounced locally as /maɪˈæmə/ "My-AM-uh" rather than /maɪˈæmi/ "my-AM-ee", the most common pronunciation for the city in Florida.
  • Milan, Indiana, Milan, Michigan, and Milan, Tennessee: Pronounced locally as "MY-lin" /ˈmaɪlən/ rather than "Mee-LAHN" like the Italian city Milan.
  • Missouri: Perhaps the most famous of all place-name shibboleths in the USA, natives may pronounce the last syllable as "-ee" as most Americans do, or "-a" (like zebra) depending on the part of the state they hail from.
  • Mobile, Alabama: Locals pronounce this as pronounced /moʊˈbiːl/ moh-beel, whereas non-locals often pronounce it moh-bəl as in "mobile home".
  • Natchitoches, Louisiana: Pronounced /ˈnækətəʃ/.
  • Nevada: Nevadans say /nɨˈvædə/ nə-vad-ə, pronouncing the first A as in 'apple'. Visitors often say /nɨˈvɑːdə/ nə-vah-də, pronouncing the first A as in 'bra'. Additionally, there are a number of smaller towns in other states bearing the name Nevada where locals frequently use the latter pronunciation.
  • Norfolk, Virginia: Long time residents tend to say /nɑːfək/, while other locals will say /noʊrfɨk/. Non-locals may pronounce it /nɔrfɔːlk/. See Norfolk, England.
  • New Tripoli, Pennsylvania: Located in NW Lehigh County and pronounced "nu tri-POLE-ee."
  • Newark, New Jersey and Newark, Delaware: Locals of Newark, New Jersey pronounce their city's name as NEW-ərk (/ˈnjuː.ərk/ or /ˈnuː.ərk/) where locals of nearby Newark, Delaware pronounce their city's name as new-ark (pronounced /ˈnjuːɑrk/ or pronounced /ˈnuːɑrk/). This sometimes causes confusion for individuals traveling between them.
  • Oregon: Many non-locals pronounce the last syllable, "gon," the same way as they pronounce the word "gone." Residents of the state pronounce it like the second syllable of "begun."
  • Ouachita is a region in southwest Arkansas that lends its name to a mountain range as well as a local university. It's pronounced /ˈwɑːʃɨtɑː/ by Arkansans, whereas non-locals may say /uːˈtʃɪtɑː/ or /ˈoʊtʃɨtɑː/.
  • Palestine, Texas: The name of this small East Texas town (and the nearby lake) is typically pronounced as the region in the Middle East by non-natives, but is pronounced as "Pales-TEEN" by natives.
  • Pawtucket, Rhode Island: native Rhode Islanders pronounce the name of the city as /pəˈtʌkət/ whereas non-natives will pronounce as /pɔːˈtʌkɨt/.
  • Peabody, Massachusetts: Located on Boston's North Shore and pronounced /ˈpiːbədi/.
  • Pierre, South Dakota, is locally pronounced like pier /ˈpɪər/. Non-locals will pronounce it like the French name of the same spelling, /piːˈɛər/).
  • Ponce de Leon Avenue, Atlanta: Non-locals (especially those familiar with Spanish) will at first tend to pronounce this as the name of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, while locals drop final vowel of "Ponce" and pronounce "León" much as the common Anglo given name (/pɒns də ˈliː.ɒn/).
  • Prescott, Arizona: Northern Arizonans prefer to pronounce the name "PRESS-kit" in a way that rhymes with "biscuit."
  • Progress, Pennsylvania is a census-designated place just NE of Harrisburg and is pronounced "PRO-gres."
  • Puyallup, Washington: Pronounced /puːˈjæləp/ by non-local speakers, but is pronounced by native Washingtonians as /pjuːˈɑːləp/.
  • Sans Souci Parkway is a thoroughfare in Hanover Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania connecting Wilkes-Barre and Nanticoke. It is locally pronounced "San Suey."
  • Tulalip, Washington: Locally pronounced /tʊˈleɪlɨp/; out-of-towners may pronounce it as /ˈtuːləlɪp/.
  • Versailles, Kentucky, Versailles, Ohio, Versailles, Missouri, Versailles, New York and North Versailles, Pennsylvania: all /vərˈseɪlz/ locally, rather than /vərˈsaɪ/ as approximated for France.
  • Wayzata, Minnesota is /ˈwaɪzɛtə/[citation needed] to the locals. Out of towners have trouble pronouncing it correctly.
  • Weimar, California, an unincorporated area east of Sacramento, is pronounced /ˈwiːmɑr/ "WEE-mar"[citation needed] after a local Native American chief, while non-locals will pronounce it like /ˈvaɪmɑr/ mistaking it for being named after Weimar in Germany.
  • Weber County, Utah (also Weber State University): Most Utahns pronounce this as /ˈwiːbər/ ("WEE-bur"), with the same vowel sound as "bead", whereas out-of-towners usually pronounce it /ˈwɛbər/ ("webber"). This was parodied by a commercial for a ski resort offering a locals-only discount, using the pronunciation as a test for whether one was a Utah resident.
  • Wisconsin has its first syllable pronounced /ˈwɪs/ by locals but often as /ˈwɛs/ by non-locals.
  • Worcester, Massachusetts: The local pronunciation of this city name is /ˈwʊstər/, like the English city; non-natives will often pronounce it /ˈwɒrsɛstər/ or /ˈwɒrtʃɛstər/. Some non-natives with rhotic accents who are aware of the local pronunciation will use /ˈwɜrstər/ or /ˈwʊrstər/.
  • Worcester Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania is pronounced out with three syllables as "WOR-ses-ter."
  • Yocona, Mississippi: Most locals refer to the river and community as /ˈjæknə/ or /ˈjɒkniː/. Non-locals may refer to it as /jəˈkoʊnə/.
  • In an example of a Shibboleth based on time as opposed to location, United States citizens prior to the American Civil War would often refer to the country in the plural (ex. "The United States are") as it was thought of more as a collection of independent states than as one country. However, after the Civil War, the United States was referred to almost exclusively in the singular reflecting the new national unity the war created. [22]

Place name terms

  • The city of Derry or Londonderry in Northern Ireland is a notable placename shibboleth. With some exceptions, nationalists prefer Derry, and unionists prefer Londonderry.
  • Northern Ireland is referred to as The North or The Six Counties by nationalists, and Ulster by unionists (to nationalists, "Ulster" connotates the six counties of Northern Ireland and Counties Donegal, County Cavan and Monaghan in the Republic)
  • New Jersey is often referred to as "Jersey" by residents. Also residents will usually never say they are "on the beach" but "down the shore". However, there is an exception in that residents who live near the beach will say "on the beach". The use of "down the shore" denotes someone from New Jersey who doesn't live near the beach.
  • San Francisco is referred to as "SF" or "The City" by its natives. Only tourists and immigrants refer to it as "San Fran" or "'Frisco".
  • A distinction between Northern California and Southern California lies in the way residents refer to freeways. Southern Californians will always insert the article "the" in usage such as "I was driving down the 405" but a Northern Californian would say "I was driving down 280."
  • On a similar note, Oregonians would say "I was driving down I-405".
  • Natives of California will not call it "Cali," as many non-natives do.
  • People from New York City will typically give the borough they live in, rather than saying "New York" or "New York City." Many will refer to Manhattan as "the city," as opposed to other boroughs. Similarly, people from surrounding communities generally use "the city" to refer exclusively to Manhattan.
  • New Yorkers always refer to the city's northernmost, and only mainland, borough as The Bronx when it is not used as a modifier, even though the article is rarely used in proper names.
  • In New York City, Long Island is just "the island". Local drivers never refer to the Long Island Expressway as I-495, instead they just call it the LIE.
  • The Minneapolis-Saint Paul area of Minnesota, US is usually referred to as "The Twin Cities" by longtime residents or natives and Minneapolis usually refers to the city itself. Many outsiders refer to the entire area including the nearby and longer established city of Saint Paul as "Minneapolis". Natives of outstate (non-metro) Minnesota tend to truncate Twin Cities to "The Cities."
  • Long-term residents of the Boston area will refer to the inner beltway around the city as Route 128 even though most of the road signs now refer to it as I-95 (see Massachusetts Route 128).
  • Native Coloradans refer to Colorado Springs as just "the Springs", which also includes the neighboring town of Manitou Springs.
  • Philadelphians, and residents of that metropolitan area, refer to their city's downtown commercial core as Center City. Only tourists or infrequent visitors call it downtown.
  • Residents of the Washington, DC area refer to the city as "DC" or "The District," rarely using the term "Washington." Tourists generally refer to the city as "Washington."
  • New Zealand's South Island and North Island are always referred to by New Zealanders using the definite article, and unlike most islands, people are said to be in them, not on them. Thus a New Zealander may live in the South Island, never on South Island. In the South Island, "The Coast" almost always means the West Coast Region unless context makes another meaning more likely.
  • Residents of metropolitan Chicago – primary Cook County and within the bounds of the Tri-State Tollway/I-295 – refer to Interstates by name: The Eisenhower, the Dan Ryan, the Kennedy, the Stevenson, and so on. In the suburbs Interstates are referred to by number (no "the" or "I" preceding): 290, 90/94, 55, and the like.
  • Residents of Buffalo and its suburbs refer to the interstates and expressways in and around the city (other than those part of the New York State Thruway system) by name (the Youngmann for I-290, the Kensington for NY 33 and the Scajaquada for NY 198. If they do use the number it is also preceded by "the". They refer to the expressway linking Buffalo and Toronto, Canada, as "the Queen E" whereas Canadians call it the QEW.


  • Krai kai kai gai (ใครขายไข่ไก่) or Kai kai kai: This phrase is used to teach Thai children the subtleties of their tonal language. When each word is pronounced with the proper tone, the phrase means, "Who sells chicken eggs?"
  • Rødgrød med fløde [ˈʁøðɡʁøːˀð mɛð ˈfløːðə]: The definitive test of one's mastery of the Danish language. No non-native is likely to pronounce the sentence (which means 'red pudding with cream' in English) correctly due to the overwhelming amount of Danish phonemes.
  • Rugbrød : Danish for Rye bread, almost impossible for non-Scandinavians to pronounce due to the "soft" g and d and the Scandinavian letter ø.
  • A æ u å æ ø i æ å : a well-known Danish vowels-only way of judging someone's ability to speak Jysk, the general dialect of Jutland. Often/usually practiced on visitors from Copenhagen. In standard Danish, the sentence would be Jeg er ude på øen i åen ("I'm on the island in the stream").
  • I öa ä e å, o i åa ä e ö, a Swedish phrase from Värmland, containing only vowels. "On the island is a river, and in the river an island". In standard Swedish it would be "På ön finns det en å, och i ån finns det en ö". (Literally it would be "I ön är en å, och i ån är en ö.")
  • Chirurgien [ʃiʁyʁʒjɛ̃], French for "surgeon"; very hard for English-speakers to pronounce correctly, due to its containing, in quick succession, several French sounds not found in English: [ʁ], [y], [ɛ̃]).
  • Chuchichäschtli [ˈχʊχːiˌχæʃtli] in Swiss German, meaning "little kitchen cupboard" is nearly unpronounceable for outsiders because of the frequent /χ/; (note that the middle one is geminated) however, unlike German, the [æ] sound does exist in Standard English as well. Most Swiss would pronounce it /ˈxʊxɪxɛʃtli/ with velar fricatives.
  • "Es vergäid käi Tag im Jahr, wo der Fux am Schwanz nid het Haar" in Swiss German, meaning "There's not one day in a year, when the fox has no hair on his tail". This is usually used to verify whether someone is drunk or not. It is difficult because the word order is not the normal way and the measure of the verse is broken.
  • "Tschingg" /tʃiŋk/ in Swiss German is a derogatory name for an Italian guest worker, derived from the Italian word "cinque" (five), which was the name of a popular card game in the Italian diaspora.
  • The sentence a o'agnehm grean agstrichns Gartatihrle (a garden door painted in an awful shade of green) serves as a Swabian shibboleth. The consecutive nasal sounds are almost unpronounceable for other German speakers.
  • A Czech or Slovak shibboleth is Strč prst skrz krk, meaning "stick the finger through the throat". This is usually used to verify whether someone is drunk or not.
  • Another Czech shibboleth is basically any word containing the Raised alveolar non-sonorant trill represented by the grapheme ř, often in the form of the dialogue -Mařeno, řekni ř! (Mařena, say ř!) -Neřeknu, ty vořechu! (I won't, you rascal!) or simply by asking to say řeřicha (Garden cress)
  • Estamos de huelga is a Spanish phrase meaning "We are on strike". The majority of Spaniards pronounce "huelga" (strike) as [ˈwelɣa]. Andalusians and Extremadurans, though, often pronounce the elsewhere silent /h/ and intermix /l/ and /ɾ/, pronouncing "huelga" like the Spanish word "juerga", as [ˈxweɾɣa]. This will change the meaning of the sentence to "We are having fun". The same happens in the Southwestern region of the Dominican Republic, where for example "mal" (bad) [mal] is pronounced "mar" (sea) [maɾ]. Similarly, Puerto Ricans change the sound of a mid-word /ɾ/ to an /l/, thus a Puerto Rican will say "I come from Puelto Rico".
  • In Spanish spoken in Loreto, Peru and San Martín, Peru, most people will say "El fez y el juiscal feron a tomar cajué el feves con don Juederico en San Fan después del ficio" instead of "El juez y el fiscal fueron a tomar café el jueves con don Federico en San Juan después del juicio" (The Judge and the Prosecutor went to drink coffee on thursday with Don Federico in San Juan after the trial).
  • In Spanish, most Argentinians and Uruguayans near the Río de la Plata pronounce /ʝ/ as [ʒ] or [ʃ]. This for example turns arroyo ([aˈroʝo], stream) into [aˈroʒo] or [aˈroʃo].
  • Many businesses in the United States tout the bi-linguality of their workers with the advertisement "Hablamos español," literally meaning "we speak Spanish." However, the proper and grammatical phrasing "Se habla español," is often used by customers to distinguish between establishments that employ native and non-native speakers.
  • Northern-Italian dialects have ü and ö sounds as French or German, which are not present in standard Italian language or southern dialects. Words like föra [ˈføra] (out) may be used to discern whether one is from the north. Comedians Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo presented a whole scene about a similar shibboleth in their first movie, the Lombard word cadrega: a guest, suspected to be a southerner, would be shown a table with many sorts of fruit, and offered to take a cadrega ([kaˈdreɡa]), unaware he was actually being offered just a chair (in Italian, sedia [ˈsɛdja]).
  • Italians travelling abroad and wishing to dine at an Italian restaurant often check the menu's grammar to verify whether the restaurant can be trusted to be authentic. Common errors are missing prepositions as in "spaghetti bolognese" instead of "spaghetti alla bolognese", missing accents, such as "tiramisu" instead of "tiramisù" and uncommon misspellings such as "mozarella" (mozzarella) or the difficult "capucino"/"capuccino"/"cappucino"/"capucchino" (cappuccino)[citation needed]
  • In Chile, the pronunciation of "ch" — which in standard Spanish sounds /tʃ/ — as /ʃ/ is often associated with the lower classes. Hence, humorous phrases like "el shansho con shaleco" (corruption of "el chancho con chaleco", the pig with a sweater) denotes a person with a genuine lower class pronunciation, or just somebody impersonating it, in jest. It is a major problem for English teachers to make their Chilean students pronounce both sounds correctly.[23]
  • The West Flemish dialect does not know the Dutch "ch" (/x/ as in the Scottish 'Loch') Instead West-Flemmings pronounce both the Dutch 'g' and the 'ch' as 'h'. For instance they would pronounce the term "een gouden hart" (a heart of gold) as "een houden hart". Today, most West Flemings are sufficiently exposed to standard Dutch as to know there is a difference between the pronunciation of a 'ch' or 'g' and a 'h'. Folk tales however are full of examples of elder generation West-Flemmings, raised without much exposure to standard Dutch, who tried to speak 'civilized' ABN Dutch instead of 'peasant' dialect. Invariably they would just imitate the way they think Dutch should be spoken by pronouncing both 'ch', 'g' and 'h' as /x/ alike. When trying to pronounce the term "een gouden hart" above in Dutch, they now pronounce it as "Een gouden gart". Although they might succeed in convincing some equally ignorant countrymen that their talk is 'what the civilized people speak', more than often they would just amuse their listeners by pronouncing a word with a 'h' as a word with a /x/, completely altering its meaning. For instance they would ask "Geef mij mijn goed, ik ga naar de gaven." (Give me my good, I'm going to the gifts) instead of "Geef mij mijn hoed, ik ga naar de haven." (Give me my hat, I'm going to the harbor).
  • The German words Streichholzschächtelchen (small box of matches), Eichhörnchen (squirrel), Fachhochschule (University of Applied Sciences) and Strickstrumpf (knitted sock) serve as shibboleths for distinguishing native speakers from foreigners, due to their many ch sounds and the large number of consonants.
  • In Mandarin Chinese, the sentence sì shì sì, shí shì shí, shísì shì shísì, sìshí shì sìshí (四是四,十是十,十四是十四,四十是四十; four is four, ten is ten, fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty) is used to distinguish between native speakers of northern varieties of Mandarin from northern China, and native speakers of other Chinese varieties from central and southern China, including Jianghuai Mandarin, Southwestern Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, Min Nan, and so forth, most of which lacks the retroflex consonant sh /ʂ/.
  • A Polish shibboleth is W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie (in Szczebrzeszyn the beetle skirls in the reed).
  • Estonian "Jüriöö ülestõus" (St. George's Night Uprising) includes many difficult vowels for foreigners, who are sometimes put to the test of pronouncing it.[24]
  • In Finnish, shibboleths include höyryjyrä /ˈhøyryˌjyræ/ (steam roller) and the loanword öljylamppu /ˈøljyˌlampːu/ (oil lamp).
  • In Quebec French, the phrase Je m'en câlisse (loosely: I don't give a fuck) is sometimes used as a shibboleth, distinguishing natives of France from Québécois.
  • The Mid and Northern Norwegian dialogue fragment "Æ e i a." "Æ e i a, æ å." ("I'm in A." "I'm in A, too." – proper Norwegian: "Jeg er i A." "Jeg er også i A." "A" refers either to the Norwegian naming of different classes of the same grade, or to the Labor Party) is near-impossible to reproduce for a non-Scandinavian, due to the use of the vowels Æ and Å. It is also very hard for a native speaker of another dialect to reproduce with the correct enunciations and pitch, often sounding grotesquely exaggerated.
  • Middle Norwegian dialects also use the phrase "Hannhund i bånd" (Male dog on a leash) as a shibboleth. The phrase is pronounced as "Hainnhoinn i bainn" in Middle Norway, which due to palatalization is difficult for speakers of other dialects to pronounce.
  • Northern Norwegians also sometimes use "Fersk fisk, rakfisk" [ˈfæʂk fesk ˈrakfesk] to distinguish between natives and "pretenders".
  • Korean (language) "ㄱ", and words involving them, are almost impossible to pronounce for non-natives. Thus, words involving the alphabet will translate into either g or k in English, first being weak accented, while latter is too much.
  • In Budapest, Hungary, many streets and localities were renamed during the time of the Communist regime. Some of those reverted to their original names or received completely new names after 1989. Especially in the nineties it used to be possible (and, to a lesser extent, it remains possible now) to recognize people who had lived in the city before 1950 (as they would use the old, original names and be over 50); people who moved into (or were born in) the city between 1950 and 1989 (they would use the Communist names); and people who were born after the mid-eighties or moved in after 1989, especially from farther away, as they would use the new, post-Communist names and would not even know the Communist ones. Referring to "Élmunkás tér" (approximately "Foreworker square"), now known as "Lehel tér" (named after the Hungarian chieftain Lehel), would just get a blank look from a newcomer. "Ferenciek tere" ("Square of the Franciscans") used to be known as "Felszabadulás tér" ("Square of Liberation") in the Communist era and was often abbreviated to "Felszab tér". This abbreviated form is still used in 2007 among Budapest dwellers in their thirties because it is much shorter to pronounce than "Ferenciek tere", but newcomers typically do not know what place is meant. Interestingly, in at least one case using the Communist name was what gave the visitor away: the square known both in pre-Communist and post-Communist times as "Oktogon" was officially called "November hetedike tér" ("Square of 7 November"), but this name never really caught on; thus, if someone called the square that, they probably did not know the city well and had gotten the name from a map. Similar examples could probably be found from other parts of the country.
  • Native speakers of the Indonesian language generally use Indonesian as the name for the Indonesian language in English, whereas non-Indonesians often name it Bahasa Indonesia or, worse Bahasa—being either redundant or plain wrong since the word bahasa means "language" in Indonesian.
  • In Latvia someone might put you to the test in pronouncing the Latvian language correctly with the term "Šaursliežu dzelzceļš" (narrow gauge railway).
  • In French, the place name "La Roche sur Foron" can be used to distinguish English speakers who have not mastered the French "R" sound.

Humorous shibboleths

  • Olin seitsemän vuotta sedälläni kodossa renkinä (Finnish for "I spent seven years at my uncle's home as a servant"). This is to tease Eastern Tavastians, who pronounce 'd' as 'l'. It becomes Olin seitsemän vuotta selälläni kolossa renkinä, which means "I spent seven years a servant in a hole, lying on my back" – certain connotations of being a sex slave.
  • Kurri etsi jarrua murkkukasasta ("Kurri looked for a brake in the ant pile."). The Finnish phoneme rolled R [r] in general is considered a "shibboleth" between standard Finnish and various types of speech defects. Small children usually learn the phoneme /r/ last, using /l/ instead. Older children can trick them to say "kulli etsi Jallua mulkkukasasta", "The cock looked for a Jallu (porn magazine) in a pile of dicks."
  • West-Flanders: In West-Flemish native speakers are said to shun the Dutch "ch" /x/ (as in the Scottish 'Loch') Instead they pronounce both the Dutch 'g' and the 'ch' as a soft 'h'. In a continuing urban legend an unspecified pastor of some unspecified West Flemish church wants to impress his flock by celebrating mass in flawless 'civilized' ABN Dutch. His 'civilized' Dutch consists of pronouncing a 'ch' and 'g' correctly as /x/ (instead of the 'h' as West-Flemish dialect does). However to be absolutely sure, he also starts pronouncing the 'h' as /x/ even if he should keep pronouncing it as a 'h'. The effects are hilarious: Instead of praying for "De hele kerk" (the whole church) he ends up praying for "de gele kerk" (the yellow church) and the holy virgin ("de heilige maagd") becomes "de geilige maagd" (The virgin in heat). Finally he ends his sermon in asking what should be "de goede hulp van de Heer" (the good help of the Lord). Instead he asks for "de goede 'gulp van de geer" : the good trouser opening of the manure (see hypercorrection).
  • Germany: Oachkatzlschwoaf (tail of a squirrel) is used to tell true Bavarians and Austrians from non-natives, mostly northern Germans.
  • The German word "Streichholzschächtelchen" (small matchbox) is also used to jokingly identify non-native German speakers.
  • Switzerland: The word "Chuchichäschtli" is generally used to identifiy native Swiss German (dialect) speakers and to try members of the other national language communities (French-, Italian- and Romansh-speakers) or foreign nationals (especially Germans and Austrians). The word means "(small) kitchen cupboard" in diminutive-loving Swiss German dialect and contains three consecutive "ch" /x/ (as in the Scottish 'Loch') separated by vowels. The translation in standard German would be "Küchenschränkchen".

Shibboleths in occupational, sporting or other interest groups

Within some occupational groups and some social, cultural, sporting, or hobby-related groups, there are terms within the jargon of these groups which could be said to be shibboleths.

Shibboleths in computer security

Within the field of computer security, the word shibboleth is sometimes used with a different meaning than the usual meaning of verbal, linguistic differentiation. The general concept of shibboleth is to test something, and based on that response to take a particular course of action. This principle is frequently used in computer security. The most commonly seen usage is logging on to a computer with a password. If the correct password is entered, the user is logged on; if an incorrect password is entered, the user can go no further. Creating this facility on a web site means that it has been 'shibbolized'.

Shibboleths in computing culture include the following:

  • People with first-hand experience in software development mostly use code, email, and software as non-count nouns. Others tend to pluralize as codes,[25] emails, or sometimes "softwares".[citation needed] The term warez was originally a clipped form of softwares.
  • Computer software hobbyists and hackers may refer to their work as programming or coding, while others in salaried positions may refer to their job as software development or software engineering. Both major alternatives carry negative connotations to some members of opposing groups and their associates. (The debate centers on the level of complexity that should be implied to people who do not have the skills or time to evaluate for themselves.)
  • The spelling of the Perl programming language is occasionally used as a shibboleth; the all-uppercase spelling PERL (as if it were an acronym) is often considered incorrect. (Sometimes, a further distinction between "Perl" (the language) and "perl" (the interpreter for the language) is made.) See also the naming of Perl.
  • The use of hacker as a complimentary term as opposed to its mainstream media pejorative definition.
  • Network Neutrality is used by internet activists and netizens to describe a basic functioning principle of the Internet. Meanwhile those with political ties referencing network neutrality use the term in reference to legislation that would enforce network neutrality.

Shibboleths in sport

  • While the term "innings" is used in both cricket and baseball, in baseball it is treated solely as a plural form, with the singular form "inning". In cricket, "innings" is both a singular and a plural. Thus, a batter (baseball) has an at-bat during an inning, whereas a batsman (cricket) has an innings. It is therefore easy to spot someone talking about one of these sports if they have more experience talking about the other.
  • In the United States spelunking community, use of the words "spelunker" or "spelunking" is seen as an indicator of inexperience or ignorance. The word "caver" is preferred to "spelunker" and "caving" is preferred to "spelunking". The phrase "cavers rescue spelunkers" is commonly used to illustrate the difference[citation needed].
  • The name of Scottish football team Hibernian F.C. is frequently shortened by football fans in general to "Hibs" (pronounced to rhyme with "bibs"), but local fans of the club itself are more likely to refer to the team with the nickname "Hibees" (pronounced "High-bees").
  • In Spanish, most association football team names are commonly preceded by the corresponding article (e.g. "el Real Madrid", "el Pachuca", "la Liga Deportiva Universitaria"). In Argentina, however, this practice is never used. Saying "el River" or "el Vélez" identifies the speaker as non-Argentine.
  • Also, British English speakers will almost always treat team names as plural (ex. "Manchester United are the reigning Premier League Champions"). However, American English speakers vary in their pluralization of the names, typically depending on whether or not the nickname is included (for example "The Dallas Mavericks are the most recent NBA Champions" but "Dallas is the most recent NBA champion").
  • The Boston Celtics of the NBA have their nickname pronounced "sell-ticks" (a pronunciation also used by Glasgow's Celtic FC) as opposed to the conventional pronunciation of the word as kell-ticks.

Shibboleths in fandom

  • Within science fiction fandom, especially among older members of organised fandom, the use of the term "sci-fi" is often regarded as being at least faintly derogatory. As such, sf is far more commonly met as an abbreviation of science fiction within fannish circles.[26]


  1. ^ [Dutch_Phonology#Consonants "Dutch Phonology"]. Wikipedia. Dutch_Phonology#Consonants. 
  2. ^ [French_phonology#ref_2 "French Phonology"]. Wikipedia. French_phonology#ref_2. 
  3. ^ Phil Lee, The rough guide to Bruges & Ghent, pp. 22–3, 
  4. ^ McNamara, Timothy; Carsten Roever (2006). Language testing: the social dimension. John Wiley and Sons. p. 153. ISBN 9781405155434. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ McLaughlin, John J. (September 2006). "The shadow of Trujillo.". VIEWPOINT – racism fuels political violence in Dominican Republic. National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 2007-12-22. 
  7. ^ Chronicles of London; Oxford University Press, 1905; ed. C. L. Kingsford; p. 15
  8. ^ Heikki Ylikangas, Tie Tampereelle, ref. at
  9. ^ Shahmuratian. Sumgait Tragedy, Interview with Vanya Bazyan, p. 159
  10. ^ Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1965
  11. ^ Asimov on Chemistry. Isaac Asimov. Doubleday 1974. ISBN 978-0385041003
  12. ^
  13. ^ Union Club Mysteries by Isaac Asimov. ISBN 978-0449215838
  14. ^ John D. Barrow, Pi in the Sky, Penguin 1993, p. 26
  15. ^ Dactylonomy, Laputan Logic
  16. ^ Ilka Ludwig (2007), Identification of New Zealand English and Australian English based on stereotypical accent markers, p. 22, 
  17. ^ Laurie Bauer, Paul Warren (2008), New Zealand English: phonology, ISBN 978-3-11-019637-5 
  18. ^ "[1]", Collins English Dictionary.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Language Log: Life in these, uh, this United States, retrieved July 3, 2011
  23. ^
  24. ^ Estonian Tongue-Twisters
  25. ^ "code". Jargon File. Retrieved 2006-12-01. 
  26. ^ "Thoughts on Sci-Fi", Science Fiction Writers of America.

See also

  • Language Analysis for the Determination of Origin

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