Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"AUgusteen" or "A-GUST-in?"

For centuries scholars have been trying to figure how the great Bishop of Hippo's name should correctly be pronounced. I, of course, pronounce it the correct way: "AUgusteen," with the accent on the first syllable and a long "e" sound at the end of the name. Several of my colleagues on the theology side of the aisle insist that the correct pronunciation should be "A-GUST-in" with the accent on the second syllable and the last syllable pronounced as the word "in."

I remember a professor in seminary that used to pronounce the name the way my theology colleagues pronounce it and then he would add, "or "AU-gus-teen" for those who are intellectually challenged!" (I'm not sure those were the exact words but it was something to that effect). With a professor that insistent on a particular pronunciation, I wonder why I chose the alternative, although I could have been in the category he described who used the "AU-gus-teen" pronunciation.

On my final exam in my Reformation class last week, I decided to put my students to the test. An identification question on the test read: "The Correct Pronunciation of the name “Augustine.” The students were then required to explain to me the correct way to pronounce the name. Interestingly, not a single student disagreed with my pronunciation!

I also decided to consult my dissertation advisor, Dr. Bill Pitts, of Baylor University because I figured that he would surely know the right pronunciation. He also agreed with me. He indicated that: (1) the most practical reason for the accent being on the first syllable of the name is to prevent confusion with the "Augustan" age of Roman literature, the era of Emperor Augustus Caesar when the finest of Roman literature flourished; and (2) during the 18th century in England the best writers modeled themselves after the "Augustan" writers in classical antiquity. Consequently, the 18th century is called the "Augustan" period in English Literature. So, Dr. Pitts concludes: "unless one is willing to ignore a huge branch of humanities—namely, literature—it is best to reserve that pronunciation for these two eras of enormously productive literature while using the traditional pronunciation for our most influential theologian."

That settles it for me! I shared all that with my theologian friends and even that won't convince them. I'm open for suggestions!