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I am interested in the pronunciation of the name "Dirichlet" as in the mathematician Johann Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet. Specifically, I am interested in whether the final "t" is silent. I have heard the name pronounced by many different mathematicians and almost always the "t" is silent. That might seem to settle the question, but if you do some searching, you will find evidence that the name derives from the French "de Richelette." That suggests that the "t" is not silent. Moreover, Dirichlet himself was German, and in German, a final "t" is typically not silent.

The "right" answer to this question may just be to follow the common practice in the mathematical and scientific community, but there are two questions that I would like to know the answer to.

  1. Are there Germans living today whose last name is "Dirichlet," and if so, how do they pronounce their own name?

  2. Do we have any linguistic evidence for how "Dirichlet" would likely have been pronounced in mid-19th century Germany?

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    I don't see how the German Wikipedia article does not satisfy your curiosity. Also note that your questions have no bearing on how to pronounce the name of the mathematician. Names are personal: Their bearer has the final say in how they are pronounced. For instance, look at the brothers Dohnanyi (Klaus and Christoph): One of them prefers the Hungarian pronunciation, the other the German one, and that is how they are known. – David Vogt Dec 20 '18 at 18:46
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    The wikipedia article shows the pronounciation, which is french, So the "t" is not pronounced. – Javatasse Dec 20 '18 at 19:14
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    Nitpicking: Dirichlet was actually born French. – tofro Dec 20 '18 at 19:49
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    The Wikipedia article cites a source that claims he pronounced his name "Dirikläh". – David Vogt Dec 20 '18 at 20:59
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    The book chapter seems to be available in PDF form here. Unfortunately, the authors do not cite a source for their claim! – David Vogt Dec 21 '18 at 9:42
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Wikipedia says there are two possible pronunciations for »Lejeune Dirichlet« (last name of Johann Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet):

  • [ləˈʒœn diʀiˈkleː]
  • [ləˈʒœn diʀiˈʃleː]

I do not speak french, so i have no idea if one of them (or even both) are correct french pronunciations.

If you would apply German rules only, you would get one of those:

  • [leˈjɔɪ̯nə diʀiçˈleːt]
  • [leˈjɔɪ̯nə diʀiçˈleː]

(You also might end up with a different stressing of the syllables in the first part: [ˈlejɔɪ̯nə], but this is not the topic of this question.)

The first part of his last name (Lejeune) is so far away from patterns for German words, and so typical french, that almost every German native speaker will use a french pronunciation for it. So I think only less than 1 % of German native speakers will say [leˈjɔɪ̯nə], and almost everybody will use the correct french pronunciation, even those who don't speak french (like me).

The second part looks a little more German (although of course it definitely has a french origin), but still doesn't match exactly the usual patterns for German words.

This would match perfect:

Dirichlett [diʀiçˈlɛt]

Because ∙ett (with double t) at the end of a word (fett, Brett, Bett, ...) is a typical German ending with a short and stressed [ɛ] and a clearly hearable unvoiced [t].

But ∙let at the end of a word is rare, and you find it only in foreign words and loanwords like Athlet, obsolet, Pamphlet, Outlet, Fillet, Couplet, where the last two examples are pronounces with a silent t (i.e without a [t]-sound) and the others with a hearable t. So, for Dirichlet it is unclear how to pronounce it if you try to pronounce it in a German way.

I often did read the name of the famous mathematician, but I never ever did hear it (and as said before: I have no idea about rules for french pronunciation). So I would have pronounced it this way:

  • [diʀiçˈleː]
    [di] as in »direkt«
    [ʀiç] as in »Richter«
    [leː] as in »Fillet«

This means, I would have pronounced:

  • with [ç] for »ch« instead of [k] or [ʃ] (which obviously is wrong, as I know since my researches for this answer)
  • without a [t] at the end

  • Are there Germans living today whose last name is "Dirichlet," and if so, how do they pronounce their own name?

I used some search engines that are specialized to find names of persons, but I did not find a single person with this name in Germany or Austria.


  • Do we have any linguistic evidence for how "Dirichlet" would likely have been pronounced in mid-19th century Germany?

Modern German is full of English foreign words and loanword, but most of them was included into German Language after WW II. This is, because in this period of time German had very intense contact with English language.

But German also is full of french loanwords (like Chef, Frisör, Büro, Affäre, Budget, Café, Cousin, ...) which all became part of German language in 19th century or even before.

So at least in upper class society, French and French pronunciation was much more part of daily life for German native speakers than today. And this makes me believe, that at least among scholarly persons the french pronunciation of Dirichlet was standard in mid-19th century Germany.

  • The pronounciations mentioned in Wikipedia are indeed the possible french pronounciations. Since Dirichlet was born in Düren when it was part of the French Empire and his grandfather was from Belgium it is very likely that he pronounced his name in french. He was probably also rather fluent in french since he worked with other famous mathematicians in Paris. Lastly since Lejeune sound very odd in german there is a strong drive to keep the french pronounciation. – Javatasse Dec 21 '18 at 22:32
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According to Brockhaus in Text und Bild (2005), the pronunciation of Dirichlet in Johann Peter Gustav Dirichlet (actually Lejeune-Dirichlet) is [diri'kle]; i.e. the “t” is silent.

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Brockhaus 1894-96 gives as pronounciation -ischleh.

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