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I would think Franz Liszt's surname would be pronounced "least" or "leasht," but according to this, it is pronounced "list." Is that true? If so, why?

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    Not related to German language.
    – c.p.
    Jan 24, 2023 at 15:22

3 Answers 3

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The name is pronounced as the German word "List" which comes very close to the English word "list".

To understand it, you have to know that Franz Liszt was an Austrian-Hungarian composer. In Hungarian his name is Liszt Ferenc. In Hungarian "sz" is pronounced similarly as the German "ß", and in fact in former times the modern German letter "ß" was written as "sz". And up to now in "ß" is pronounced as "s - z" ("ess- tsett") when one pronounces the individual letters.

His father was Adam Liszt whose name is also spelled as Adam List which is of German origin. His professional career took place in the Kingdom of Hungary (see Wikipedia) which was part of the Austrian empire. In Hungarian the letter "s" is pronounced as the English "sh", and this explains the spelling with "sz": Adam Liszt wanted his name to be pronounced reasonably correctly.

Here you can listen to the German pronunciation and Hungarian pronunciation.

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  • How about the vowel? OP guessed it should be 'ee' not 'tin"
    – minseong
    Nov 21, 2021 at 18:25
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    @theonlygusti: I think "least" would be spelled liest in German. That's actually a word, the third person singular of lesen.
    – RDBury
    Nov 21, 2021 at 20:11
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    pronounced similarly as the German "ß": Why complicate things? Hungarian sz and German ß are both pronounced identically to English s.
    – TonyK
    Nov 23, 2021 at 22:08
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Yes, true. It's a name. It's pronounced as the person who bears it wants to see it pronounced.

Further, it follows the usual way a 'i' is pronounced in German when followed by a consonant: short like the 'i' in the English 'list'. The sz is a rare and antique way to denote the ß character when the ß is not available - but the ß actually is a ligature letter for the combination sz - either way, it is pronounced as the 's' in the English 'list', too.

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    The sz in Liszt's name is not an alternative way of denoting ß, but stemming from Hungarian: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sz_(digraph)#Hungarian Nov 22, 2021 at 10:50
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    @jonathan.scholbach In this special case, it's rather a Hungarian transcription of the German name "List" (That Liszt's father brought to Hungary).
    – tofro
    Nov 24, 2021 at 8:59
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    @jonathan.scholbach if you look up the history of how the letter ß came into being: it is a ligature. Hence also its name. The fact that in modern German you may not replace an ß wit sz anymore does not change history. Also the actual choice of List to change the spelling of his name to keep its pronounciation in a predominantly Hungarian society does not change pronounciation rules - and that's all I elaborate on. Nov 24, 2021 at 9:04
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"Least" and "list" are good approximations, because the vowel in Liszt sounds similar to the one in "least" but it is short like the one in "list".

least /liːst/

list /lɪst/

Liszt /list/

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    "least" has a long i, but Franz Liszt is pronounced with a short i. At least for me as a German, the two do not sound very similar.
    – Jan
    Nov 22, 2021 at 8:44
  • @Jan I've always heard it pronounced with a long i. That's however mainly by Austrians...
    – jwenting
    Nov 22, 2021 at 11:14
  • @jwenting this guy pronounces Liszt with a short i (about 48 seconds into the podcast). But then he is probably not Austrian.
    – Jan
    Nov 22, 2021 at 11:50
  • The Hungarian pronunciation is exactly as @g.kertesz says: it is a short vowel, but with the quality of the English long vowel in least. Scots English pronounces least this way. (By the way, liszt means flour in Hungarian; but this is not the origin of the name Liszt.)
    – TonyK
    Nov 23, 2021 at 22:10
  • @jwenting: I am Austrian and I am dealing a lot with classical music (I am singing in a well known Austrian concert choir). I never ever have heard someone pronounce the name Liszt with a long [iː]. This would make no sense, because in German two or more consonants at the end of a syllable always indicate a short pronunciation of the vowel before, also in Austrian German. (Exceptions exist but are rare.) I only have heard a boy (a member of Wiener Sängerknaben) who pronounced s and z separately ([lɪst͡st]) before he was corrected. Jan 25, 2023 at 11:37

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