I-oh-wah Pronunciation Guide

Nov 13, 2014

A new Iowa pronunciation guide has been launched; an online service where you can hear how locals pronounce their cities and towns. It’s the brainchild of a classical music producer on the radio, and Rick Fredericksen has his story.

Is it (EE-lee) or (EE-leye). (Less Hills), or (Luss Hills).  For announcers on the radio, this is treacherous territory.

"When you mispronounce an Iowa place name you’re likely to get a phone call or email from someone who knows how to say it right.”

Barney Sherman is one of the classical music voices on Iowa Public Radio. He also edits the new online guide for correctly pronouncing places in Iowa.

“It started when I was working in Iowa City at KSUI/WSUI,  I found, as every radio producer does, there were a lot of Iowa place names that are pronounced differently than a naive person might guess from looking at the spelling.”

His list of places had the pronunciation spelled phonetically; other staff members contributed, and it became an in-house guide for newscasters and announcers. Now, Sherman has taken it a step further, giving the dictionary a voice.

(Guide) “Camanche, Camanche.”

Sherman says the online guide is not just for broadcasters.

(Romney) “So many friends in Ames today.” (Obama) “Hello Dubuque.”

“And also media. Every four years we get candidates and national media coming here and they want to say it right and I had a feeling they would be using it as well.”

(Hillary Clinton) “Hello Iowa.”

As a native Chicagoan, Sherman noticed that Iowans say “Iowa” differently; sometimes two syllables and sometimes three. Cities and towns can have multiple pronunciations.

(Guide) "Quasqueton, or Quasqueton.”

According to the online editor, the final authority is the residents who live there.

“I called people in the chamber of commerce, the public library, city hall and asked them how they said it, what they hear other people in their town saying, and that for me is what I’m seeking to actually capture in this dictionary, so not proscribing the official definitive way to say the name but capturing what people actually say.”

Sherman is also updating IPR’s classical music guide; this piece was written one of the most mispronounced composers, Einojuhani Rautavaara, from Finland. The classical dictionary, with more than 30,000 entries, was compiled by an ambitious volunteer at WOI Radio, former ISU professor Charles Black. It has become more of a bible than a dictionary for announcers and classical music fans around the world.

“There’s a lot of new names that have emerged in classical music in the intervening decade and this also will be I hope a collective undertaking, and I think that was in some way that was a sort of model for the Iowa pronunciation guide in the sense that an online pronouncing dictionary can be really helpful to people.”

The Iowa pronunciation guide is just getting started, but thousands of Iowans have already reached out on Facebook or online; Sherman encourages users of both dictionaries to suggest modifications and new entries. They can be found at the bottom of our home page: iowapublicradio.org. I’m Rick Fredericksen, Iowa Public Radio News.