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Why is the letter Y in 'by' pronounced 'bai' but in 'Tyrion' it's 'Tirion' and not 'Tairon'?

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    Because all vowels in English have multiple pronuncitions, and not all of them are easy to predict. (For example, the "i" in wind can be pronounced two ways, depending on whether you are talking about the breeze or putting your yarn into a ball.) In this case, the "y" in Tyrion is like the "y" in syrup. – J.R. Dec 10 '14 at 10:57
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    Uhmm, like Life and Live, right? – Franchesco Dec 10 '14 at 11:05
  • There are also some words that could be pronounced two ways even though it's written exactly the same. Either could be pronounced as "E-ther" and "I-ther". I also heard there are up to seven ways to pronounce the word tomato. – Santi Santichaivekin Dec 10 '14 at 11:05
  • @Franchesco Or like live and live, right? – klaar Jul 26 '18 at 6:32
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Both pronunciations of Y are correct and often found in English, because English is influenced by many different languages. Many of its words have decidedly different origins and pronunciations, but because English only has so many characters in its alphabet, different sounds inevitably get represented by the same letters sometimes.

Examples of /aɪ/ ("long I") pronunciations:

  • Spy
  • Cry
  • Lyre

Examples of /iː/ ("long E") pronunciations:

  • Ably
  • Funny
  • Fifty

In fact, Y can be pronounced other ways as well. For example, synonym pronounces Y as /ɪ/ ("short I", as in kit or lid).

As for by and Tyrion specifically, the pronunciations differ because the words have different etymologies. By comes from Old English, which is a West Germanic language 1, 2, while Tyrion (I assume, I don't know the thought process behind the writer of Game of Thrones) comes from Tyr which is North Germanic/Old Norse.

The two words are also structurally different. Tyrion has multiple syllables while by has only one; the Y in by is at the end, whereas in Tyrion it's not; etc. All of these things can influence pronunciation.

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