Please don't say it rhymes with "penis"
May 22, 2009 8:45 AM   Subscribe

How do you pronounce the last name of Emmanuel Levinas?

The Wikipedia entry indicates that the accent is on the middle syllable, but it specifies that that's the "French pronunciation," so I'm not sure if we Yanks ought to pronounce it differently.

I've heard it said:
and, then, just this week, I heard someone pronounce it
And I really hope that's not it. I just don't want the guy's name to rhyme with "penis".

Anyone know for sure?
posted by AngerBoy to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
American here, I pronounce it leh-VINE-us.
I know a scholar who works on him professionally, Canadian with some UK and German connections, and she pronounces it LEH-vee-noss.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:53 AM on May 22, 2009

I've always heard it pronounced "levy-NOSS" or "levy-NAH" which I think Wikipedia is supporting, though I'm a little hazy on interpreting IPA pronunciation code.
posted by ga$money at 8:56 AM on May 22, 2009

I'm almost certain it was the last one; he lived most of his life in France, and would have preferred the French pronunciation. That's how I've heard it from the few French philosophy professors I've had.

As far as it rhyming with “penis,” funny story: at the school I went to, St. John's College, Shlomo Pines once came to give a lecture. (Great Hebrew name.) The teacher who gave his introduction, apparently wanting to be polite, pronounced his last name like the evergreen trees. But when Shlomo took the podium, he looked down with a smile and said, “thank you very much, but it's okay to pronounce my name correctly: PEE-nus. That's PEE-nus. Go ahead and say it if you want to; it's not a dirty word.”

The whole room busted up laughing for a full minute. The ensuing lecture on the origins of Islamic philosophy among the Mutakallimun sects during the ninth century was very interesting, but for some reason I don't remember much beyond the introduction.
posted by koeselitz at 8:58 AM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @koeselitz:
Great story. I've got a similar one -
When I was in school, we studied Pines's translation of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed. At the end of the class session before we were to begin learning the Guide, the professor dismissed us with this reminder:
"I'll see you next week, and please everyone, don't forget to bring your Pines."

(It loses something in print, but it was hilarious.)
posted by AngerBoy at 9:03 AM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here is his name being pronounced in French around 0:35. I think I heard leh-veen-us.
posted by Pants! at 9:15 AM on May 22, 2009

I've heard it pronounced the first way by the three or four professors I've had who have spoken of him.
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:17 AM on May 22, 2009

Best answer: It's pronounced as if it were spelled Lévinas (though the accent aigu is not written), in other words just as Wikipedia says, [leviˈna(s)] or lay-vee-NAHSS if you anglicize it. (I've always pronounced the final -s, as does the speaker in the clip Pants! provides.) "LEH-vee-noss" is an acceptable anglicized form (though I'd expect to hear it more from Brits, who tend to move French stress to the first syllable more than Yanks); "leh-VINE-us" and "leh-VEEN-us" are just ignorant.
posted by languagehat at 10:28 AM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure I can distinguish between the first and second (i.e., whether the stress is on first or last syllable) but I have never heard it pronounced so it rhymes with penis, nor so that the last "s" is silent, and I've heard it pronounced by a large number of people (including Simon Critchley & Robert Bernasconi, as well as many other published philosophers who discuss Levinas).

It seems like the stress is pretty even, to me, possibly heavier on the first, so LEH-vee-nas, but I'd be fine calling it levy-NOSS too. But le-VEE-nis or le-VI-nus or levy-NAH I don't recall.

This is at least an accepted way to pronounce it, even if it turns out there is a more technically "correct" way (could be like pronouncing "Sartre" the french way, seen as kind of pretentious, so plenty of philosophers just say "Sart" or something).
posted by mdn at 10:43 AM on May 22, 2009

I interviewed Emmanuel Levinas at his flat in Paris just over 20 years ago as part of the research for my (never finished) dissertation on his work. I said "leh-vee-noss" with the three syllables being accented almost equally strongly, and he didn't seem to mind (he corrected me on several other points, though, over the course of our time together). Like mdn, I would say that le-VEE-nis and le-VI-nus are certainly wrong.
posted by muhonnin at 1:14 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I said Leh VEE nuhs and Seyla Benhabib corrected me: "LEH vee nuhs." I think she knows.
posted by gum at 12:02 AM on May 23, 2009

« Older Am I offering a fair wage to freelance bloggers?   |   Who drew these????!? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.