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Pronunciation of "Emmanuel" ("Immanuel") and "Israel"

It's that time of year again when singers ask me how I want for them to pronounce such words as "Israel" and "Emmanuel" (or "Immanuel"), and I scratch my head trying to remember what I've said before, as I can so often argue two or more distinctly different approaches!  I posted essentially the same question back in 2004, but perhaps there are others as well who might want to weigh in, and I'd be most grateful for multiple perspectives!  On the former, I vacillate between "Iz-rah-ehl" and "Iz-ray-ehl" (or should it begin with a long "E" sound??).  Concerning the latter word ("Emmanuel"), I distinctly recall a seminary professor saying that the "y" (dyphthong) often heard, initializing the third syllable ("nyoo"), is incorrect - So, in other words, something like: "Ih-mahn-noo-ehl", though some favor beginning the word with a long "E" sound, or "eh" sound.  I am primarily dealing with texts in English, as my Christmas Eve selections have been selected as a tribute to the late, incredibly great Sir David Willcocks, and his treasure trove of carol settings and descants, etc. Thoughts?
Replies (19): Threaded | Chronological
on December 4, 2015 1:08am
It depends what language you're singing in. For a Latin text 'Iz-rah-ehl' (or 'eez-') and 'Ih-mahn-noo-ehl' (or 'Eh-' if spelt 'Emm-') would be appropriate. More likely, you're talking about carols and hymns in English, in which case '-ray-' and '-man-yoo-' are correct.
Emmanuel (in an English text) could be controversial. In speech, Emmanuel and Immanuel are pronounced the same, with 'ih-' at the beginning. In singing, I personally prefer 'eh-' for 'Emm-', but I've noticed that most singers around me stick to 'ih-'.
on December 5, 2015 8:21am
Thanks so much, Stephen!
on December 8, 2015 8:29pm
I agree with Stephen--it depends on the context of the piece. However, it is not simply "up to the conductor" as some have suggested. We don't leave the pronunciation of other words up to simply whatever the conductor likes the sound of the best, do we? Why would we with these words?
  • If singing entirely in English, I suggest using the Anglicized pronunciation of both--[ɪzreɘl] and [ɘmænjuɘl], alternatively, (ihz-ray-ɘl) and (ih-man-yoo-ɘl).
  • If singing entirely in Latin using Italian/Roman diction, I suggest using [isrɑel] and [emɑnuel], alternatively, (ees-rah-ayl) and (ay-mahn-oo-ayl).
  • If singing a macaronic piece with Engish and Latin, BE CONSISTENT. If you sing the Latin with Italian/Roman diction, then ALL words in the Latin phrase should use that diction, not just some words with one or two that are Anglicized.
  • If singing an English piece that uses the word "Jesu," this is NOT a Latin word, and should never be pronounced [jezu] or (yay-zoo). In English music, it is pronounced [dʒizu / dʒizju] or (gee-zoo / gee-zyoo).
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 9, 2015 7:32am
Actually, it is up to the conductor/music director to make an informed decision for the group. Who else would make the decision for the group??? Maybe the conductor consults a diction coach or langauge expert, but the decision belongs ultimately the conductor. No one in this thread suggested that this process be simplified. There are several factors to consider and it was not suggested that the conductor just pick one out of thin air without any thought to it. Ryan Kelly says that it's not "up to the conductor" but then goes on to make suggestions in the post which don't have any sort of reference or any reasons for why one would be better than the other, aside from, what I can only guess is, personal preference or experience. There's nothing wrong with drawing on past experience and preferred style to make decisions, but why can't other conductors/directors follow a similar process when making a decision for his/her group?
Compositional style, time period, composer, performance space, audience, and, of course, original langauge are some of the important factors to consider when approaching a piece. In the context of English carols (the original post said that was the language in the majority of the pieces) "Israel" and "Emmanuel" have several pronunciation possibilities, which native English speakers would recognize as those words. Of course one wouldn't sing [ɪmænjuɛl] for "Emmanuel" in a Latin piece; it would sound out of place, as [ɪ], [æ], are not sounds found in Italianate Latin. Similarly, dipthongs such as [eɪ], [aɪ], [oʊ], (like the [eɪ] diphthong implied in the (ees-rah-ayl) and (ay-mahn-oo-ayl) suggestions above), do not traditionally exist in Itlianate/Roman/Church/Ecclessiastical Latin. If the conductor does instruct the group to pronounce diphthongs in Latin you will all consistently sound like a group of English speakers singing Latin, which may or may not be the goal, depending on the context or what you're conductor is going for. 
Even the suggestions for English pronunciation [ɪzreəl] and [əmænjuəl]have several variations because of the schwa (usually represented as [ə], not [ɘ]). The schwa [ə], especially in singing, is more a place holder for a neutral sound than an indication of one specific sound (see Kathryn LaBouff's book on Singing English or the lesser known Yale Marshall's book "Singing Fluent American Vowels" for a detailed examination of the schwa in sung English). The actual sound of the schwa changes from language to language, and can have variations even within one language. In French, the schwa for singing leans more towards [œ]. In German, the schwa leans more towards [ɛ] or [ɪ]. In English the schwa [ə] can lean towards several different sounds, such as [ɪ], [ɛ], [ʌ], [o], or [ʊ] (depending on the context) that a native speaker will hear as authentic. [əˈmænjuəl] pronounced as [ɪˈmænjuɛl], [ɛˈmænjuɛl], [ʌˈmænjuɛl], and some other variations, would be heard by a native English speaker as "Emmanuel." If all the singers in a chorus automatically sing the same pronunciation of this word, you are one lucky conductor. Many professional ensembles work at the level where they figure out these sounds very quickly on their own during rehearsal, but, in my experience, when working with a volunteer chorus on important words that have several accepted pronunciations a little more guidance and experimentation are usually necessary. In this case the conductor needs to make a decision for the group. These decisions create unified instructions and goals for the singers, and, if done well, an enjoyable experience for the listener. 
on December 9, 2015 12:19pm
Daniel, I did not say it was "not up to the conductor. I said, it was "not SIMPLY up to the conductor." You offer a straw man argument suggesting something I did not say.
You write,
Ryan Kelly... goes on to make suggestions in the post which don't have any sort of reference or any reasons for why one would be better than the other...
If I need researched footnotes to prove on ChoralNet that changing dialect in the middle of the piece is usually inappropriate and not simply my opinion, then this is a pointless discussion. I did give reasons. I wrote "it depends on the context of the piece," and went on draw a connection between "if singing in English, sing English" and "if singing in Roman Latin, sing Roman Latin." I think those reasons stand on their own.
You write,
Of course one wouldn't sing [ɪmænjuɛl] for "Emmanuel" in a Latin piece; it would sound out of place, as [ɪ], [æ], are not sounds found in Italianate Latin.
LOL - "Of course?" As in, "use common sense?" This is exactly my point! There are people here arguing that this pronunciation WOULD be appropriate as long as they thought it prettier. Anthony wrote,
I prefer IZ-RAH-EL...Better sound and much less work.
Assuming we are still talking about singing an English piece with the word Israel in it, Anthony suggests a pronunciation that is neither Latin nor one that is Anglicized...because he thinks it sounds better.
I completely agree that the schwa does not have one defined sound, that it is influenced by dialect, by the consonants and vowels that surround it, etc. And of course, the conductor decides what exact vowel to request from his singers. But the conductor should not begin SIMPLY, I say again, with whatever they like.
P.s.  Yes, I copied and pasted the incorrect schwa symbol for my first response...thank you for the correction.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 10, 2015 4:33am
My apologies for misunderstanding your intention. I do believe we're on the same page with regards to making an informed decision and to being consistent within the piece. The original post was asking for pronunciation suggestions for those words in the context of English carols. While some have acknowledge there are multiple options for each word in English, and some have indicated their preferences for the Latin pronunciations, no one here in this thread has suggested that the Latin and English pronunciations be interchangable. Nor has anyone suggested changing pronunciation mid-piece. (There may be "vowel modication" in specific phrases that a conductor requests, but that would be an attempt to make the chosen pronunciation more understandable.)  Anthony's suggestion of IZ-RAH-EL [ɪzrɑɛl] may be close to the Latin [isrɑɛl], but I do believe the average English speaker would understand it to mean "Israel" without any effort. If the choir sounds good and the audience experiences the word as "Israel", then why not?
I apologize again if I wasn't clear; when I said there were no references or reasons presented for your suggestions, I was referring to the actual suggestions for pronunciation that were put forth.
I was curious about the Latin pronunciation suggestions. It appears they are, intentionally or not, indicating a diphthong in places where they do not traditionally exist (ees-rah-ayl) and (ay-mahn-oo-ayl). Perhaps that's not what was intended, but, if those transcriptions were to be given to the average American volunteer singer, I would imagine the result would be [isrɑl] and [ˈmɑnul], which sounds neither Ecclesistical (church) nor Italianate. So I was curious as to where you got that information.
Schwa symbol aside, the English pronunciations you provide are not incorrect, but they are not more correct than some others that have been posted, both here and in other resources. Aside from singing an accepted English pronunciation in an English language piece, what makes those suggestions more appropriate than the others? Detailed references are not required, but with so many accepted possiblities, I was curious to know more about what made you select the pronunciations you did. Was it in a book? Was it effective in a specific recording? Do the groups you work with respond well to those specific pronunciations? 
I do believe making these decisions in an informed way is important, but it is also important to keep in mind what Larry said. 
I doubt that the language police will be sitting in the concert hall and even if they are........who cares? Have a good concert.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 4, 2015 7:12am
In my opinion, for words that have more than one pronuciation that is generally accepted by native speakers, the director needs to take several factors into consideration and make a choice. Very often, there isn't a right or wrong; there's what's effective in a specific context. Which pronunciation sounds authentic (your audience will understand it to mean the word you intend) and makes your choir sound good? 
I would say this approach is needed for pronunciation of these two words. Just because big name conductor/choir did it one way does not mean it's the right choice for you and your group. With these two words there are so many accepted pronunciations. While there are pronunciations that no English speaker would recognize as those words, it would be difficult to argue that one of the numerous accepted pronunciations is the most correct in all contexts. Each pronunciations will have a different effect on the sound of your choir and the experience of your audience. A question along similar lines -  will the pronunciation used bring the average listener into the experience of the piece or will it distract and remove the listener? 
If your choir sings [ɪzraɪɛl], [ɪzreɪɛl] or [ɪzrɑɛl] an American audience will probably understand it to mean "Israel." Similarly, [i/ɪmɑnjuɛl], [i/ɪmænjuɛl] would probably be heard as "Emmanuel." Those are definitely not the only options. Perhaps collect all the variations from this forum, and take 2 minutes in rehearsal to sing "Born is the King of Israel" a few time with the different possibilities. See/hear which one works best, then stick with that one. 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on December 5, 2015 8:22am
Thanks so much, Daniel!
on December 7, 2015 7:24am
Slighty off topic, but maybe of interest, the form found in the original Bibliotheque Nationale manuscript of the hymn Veni veni ... (which is the source of all subsequent versions) is Emanuel. So if you see some scores using that form, it's not a mistake, but if anything is more authentic. 
on December 8, 2015 11:26am
When there are pronunciation choices for a word, I go for that which will produce the best sound. For me that means open vowels rather than closed consonants. With Emannuel consider IH vs. EEE for example. Moving on from there, I end up with EEE---MAH---NYU --- EL. Likewise, Israel becomes III---Z---RAH---EL.
BTW -- I have no fear of asking my singers to sing diphthongs and triphthongs.  : )
on December 9, 2015 6:03am
I prefer IZ-RAH-EL, making sure that the middle syllable doesn't turn into RYE (as in bread or whiskey), which can lead to the third syllable becoming YELL. I deal with the same problem with the word highest. The problem results from excessive mouth movement. The AH is fromed by dropped (relaxed) jaw and tongue lying flat with tip touching lower teeth. The transition to EH is made by raising the middle of the tongue a little bit, with no jaw movement ar all. Better sound and much less work.
on December 9, 2015 7:55am
Adding a glottal stop before the E of "EL" can also prevent singers from sounding a "YELL."
on December 9, 2015 9:19am
With respect, I would still say this is arbitrary based on preference. You are basically advocating changing dialect in the middle of the piece. If you are consistent with this "better sound" approach and sing "Hahv yourself a Merry Little Christmahs," then I'd understand. But if one is using American or British English diction in an English piece, then the word Israel should not change to Latin dialect!
on December 9, 2015 7:39pm
Actually, I don't believe it matters that much which pronunciation you use. Most audiences have heard both and no one will approach you after the performance and call you to task for using the "wrong" pronunciation. I doubt that the language police will be sitting in the concert hall and even if they are........who cares? Have a good concert.
on December 9, 2015 9:16pm
Larry Thompson writes:
"I don't believe it matters that much which pronunciation you use. Most audiences have heard both and no one will approach you after the performance and call you to task for using the "wrong" pronunciation. I doubt that the language police will be sitting in the concert hall and even if they are........who cares?"
To which I respond:
Of course the only reason for the decisions we make is what the audience and critics will think. (And, to anticipate any irony deficit, I must add that that comment is ironic.)
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
on December 10, 2015 12:34am
And we haven't even started on Adonai in verse 5 of 'O come, o come . . .'!
on December 11, 2015 9:11am
Ryan, I understand and appreciate your comment. Over the years I've found myself training choirs with no prior training in basic technique. Some singers hadn't yet discovered that singing is not just talking on pitch. A few remember being taught early on to use exaggerated, even grotesque, facial positions that resulted in maximum face and jaw muscle tension, not to mention unlovely vowels. And there was the occasional prima donna (or more often the prim' oumo, truth be told) who simply sang the choral part as a solo. In those situations I had to resort to teaching the basic "continental" vowels with relaxed jaw and facial muscles and minimum use of lips, especially for O and OO, in vowel formation. This in order to produce a singile uniform vowel sound,  instead of the mish-mash of varied vowels that results in a sort of super-schwa. Fine-tuning came once the basics were in place.  
on December 12, 2015 9:02pm
Yes, avoiding "the mish mash of varied vowels" is the main thing!  The rest is of far lesser consequence in my view.  Giving due consideration to the pronunciation common to the language of the text, most directors will likely want what sounds best to them.  Most will resist letting "academics" diminish the sound.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 13, 2015 7:36pm
Just a note about authenticity:  Both the words are from Hebrew.
In Hebrew, Israel is pronounced yis-ra-el, all soft vowels.
Emanuel is pronounced ee-ma-noo-el (second and last syllables soft vowels.)
For what it's worth.
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