Stein: Stine or Steen?

The Frankenstein thread prompts this question.

Some people pronounce “stein” in a name as “stine”, and some pronounce it as “steen”. In high school German class we learned that in German, the combination “ei” was pronounced as a long “I” (“aye” or “eye”) and the combination “ie” is pronounced like a long “E” (“eee”).

So if someone’s name is Feinstein, is it “Fine-stine” or “Fine-steen”? It seems to be pronounced both ways. Why?

IANAJ, but here is my understanding based on experience and conversations on this subject with card carrying Jews.

As a general rule of thumb, stein at the end of names is “steen”. Alone or at the beginning of names it is “stine.” However, as you note, there are exceptions, and the only true rule is to pronounce someone’s name the way they pronounce it.

William Safire did a column on this subject several years ago, with regard to Arthur Rubinstein. If the name is German, then -stein is usually pronounced “stine”. But if the name is Jewish, it can be pronounced “stine” or “steen” depending on a lot of factors, including the time and place the name originated. The only real rule is that the name should be pronounced the way the family pronounces it. Safire’s conclusion (IIRC) was that Rubinstein should be pronounced with a “steen.”

I think the “correct” pronunciation has little to do with the original language - it’s pronounced the way it is currently pronounced. But in the original, neither would be correct. The “steen” version has, to my knowledge, no basis in Yiddish. The “stine” version is closer to the original, which is actually pronounced similar to the “i” in pipe (as opposed to the “i” in pine). This pronunciation was itself done in certain countries (e.g. Poland, Hungary). In Lithuania and Russia, it would have been pronounced “stain”. (Also the “s” is actually an “sh”, but that’s another story).

Possibly more than you wanted to know, but there it is.

Hmmm…is this “two acceptable pronunciations” thing more common with Jewish names? Examples:

Levine can be pronounced “LeVeen” or “LeVine”

Levy can be pronounced “Leevy” or “Levvy.”

Weiner can be pronounced “Weener” or “Whiner.”


Is there any difference between the two, other than quantity? (I mean the /aj/ in “pipe” lasts for a shorter duration, because of being followed by an unvoiced consonant, while the /a:j/ in “pine” is held longer because of being followed by a voiced consonant.)

I guess I must have learned the Litvaker pronunciation of Yiddish, because to me the Yiddish “ei” is pronounced /ej/ as distinct from the /aj/ of German.

But for -stein names in America, I still use the German pronunciation. To me it’s always /stajn/ and never /sti:n/. When I was a kid and Kermit on Sesame Street introduced “Leonard /b@rnsti:n/” I said, “Hey, that’s wrong, it’s /b@rnsta:jn/!”

But then, he always called himself Kermit “thee” Frog, so don’t take him as any kind of authority on pronunciation.

Don’t forget that Holsteen cows originated in Holstine Germany. (My farmer in-laws are always having to correct my pronunciation of Holstein–I can’t help it: I have more Germans than cows in my family!)

I think they are two different sounds. In my area, this difference is also used in the pronunciation of the words “guy” and “buy” (there is one local radio host who pronounces “guy” to rhyme with “buy”, and I always find it grating).

The same reason applies to all; they are Americanized versions of Yiddish words, and different people modified them differently. (Also, the suffix “stone” is the same as “stein” - “shtayn” means stone in Yiddish).

Well, I can tell you from personal experience:

At least in my case (and my name is Germanic in origin), it is pronounced “stine.”

Zev Steinhardt

They rhyme around here–at least when I say them. How are they pronounced there, IzzyR?

Dr. Livingstein, I presume?


Hard to write it down. Start saying “pipe”, and stop before the final “p”. I rhymes with that. (The area I am referring to is the NY/NJ area. To make sure, now that you bring it up, I asked someone else in the office, who also pronounces it as I do).

Green Bean,

I should have clarified that I meant people with Jewish surnames.

Aw, I was just funnin’ with ya.

IzzyR–which does that rhyme with, “guy” or “buy”? They are the same around here (mid-Atlantic), along with “sty,” “lie,” “I,” and “bye.” Fie!

And, FYI, it is properly pronounced “Grine Bine”, tho it is spelt luxury yacht.

I have no idea how they could be different vowel qualities. Different quantities, yes, depending on voiced or unvoiced environments

But different vowels? To me they are one and the same. I am perplexed that they could be different for you. You could write it down using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which ought to be precise enough to distinguish the two sounds, if they really are two different sounds.

This is a job for sci.lang.




I anm not familiar with the IPA. But as far as I can tell, the i sound in high, fly etc. is the same sound as the a in far, but ending with a y instead of an r. This is not the same as the i in pipe or kite etc.

There’s even someone at my office whose last name is ‘Herr’,
and he’s very German looking, but he pronounces it like ‘her’ (the English pronoun). I’ve known Weiners who were
‘Weeners’ and Wieners who were ‘Winers’. Since Germans pronounce so many letters different from English speakers,
and have sounds that don’t even occur in English, (to be fair, so do we have many sounds that they don’t have),
getting English speakers to pronounce German names correctly is more trouble than it’s worth.

[slight hijack] This thread reminds me of this long ago thread on accents, in which BobT pointed out that the Cal drinking song “They Had to Carry Harry to the Ferry” only worked in California, where carry, Harry, and ferry all rhymed. As a native Californian, it took me a day and a half of singing the song before I finally figured out how those words could be made not to rhyme. [/slight hijack]

In my accent, the “i” in pipe and pine is identical, and “guy” rhymes with “buy”.