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In ESPN videos (1, 2), Boston Celtics was pronounced as /sel-tik/, but the dictionary says both /kel-tik/ and /sel-tik/ are acceptable pronunciations and clicking the sound icon on the dictionary website gives /kel-tik/.

Questions:

  • How did this word come to have two different but acceptable pronunciations?

  • Which pronunciation is more common? Does this depend on the country or area you live in?


Edit:

This is what I have found about the pronunciation of celts. To make it short, the pronunciation was originally /k/, but later changed to /s/. Then /k/ went into German, /s/ went into French and both went into English. For a long time it remained /s/ in English following the French convention, but recently /k/ gained ground again. However, /s/ is the most recognised form in names of sports teams.

This reveals some history about the pronunciation but still doesn't answer how this word is pronounced in modern English by native speakers. It gives me the illusion that /k/ is more common but /s/ should be used for sports teams. I'm not quite sure if this illusion is false.

  • 1
    Your sport team idea may be right. Glasgow Celtic soccer team is pronounced Seltic but the word Celtic used for ethnicity is Keltic. – Michael Harvey Aug 29 '18 at 11:22
  • @MichaelHarvey If so there would be a mystery about what makes Celtic sports teams special. – Cyker Aug 29 '18 at 11:38
  • What 'mystery'? Both Glasgow and Boston Celtic football team names are pronounced 'Seltic'. All sports teams are 'special' in the eyes of their fans. – Michael Harvey Aug 29 '18 at 12:06
  • @MichaelHarvey All right demystified by the last sentence :) – Cyker Aug 29 '18 at 12:24
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The relevant portion of the Wikipedia source you gave is:

The pronunciation with /s/ remained standard throughout the 19th to early 20th century, but /k/ gained ground during the later 20th century.

The Boston Celtics were formed in 1946 (and the Glasgow Celtics, as mentioned in a comment to the question, in 1891).

This was when the common pronunciation was still with /s/.

Although the common pronunciation for the word shifted to /k/ after that, the pronunciation of the team name remained.

  • Nice finding. I didn't really check when those teams were founded. Team names could become special terms and diverge from their origins, I guess. – Cyker Aug 29 '18 at 12:45
  • So was the name of the historical group of people living in Brittany, Wales, Scotland and Ireland pronounced "Selts" in the 19th century? – alephzero Aug 29 '18 at 20:56
  • @alephzero From what I can tell from the linked text, we pronounced it "Selts" from the time we started using it in the 17th century. (So, yes.) It's only become "Kelts" in the past 60 years or so. I think the actual natives of the area would have pronounced it "Kelts" when they referred to themselves in that way at all (it was a mixed group of people.) There seem to be linguistic roots for both pronunciations. – Jason Bassford Aug 29 '18 at 23:48

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