Wednesday, June 20, 2012

yog(h)urt

When people ask me what I like about living in England, I have usually said (in this order):
  1. the National Health Service
  2. the trains
  3. hearing about people's hobbies
Now, I know that 1 & 2 are not the best of their kind in the world, but you have to consider where I come from. Regarding (1), the NHS saved my life and made sure my child was delivered safely and never asked me to open my purse. I will be a fan for life.  On (2), in my last US town, the train came twice a week (and even then, it came several towns away). Now I don't own a car, I take the train every day, and I never want to go back to car-ownership again. But the magic is wearing off for (3). I was fascinated by hobbies that were new to me when I first came (Morris dancing, lawn bowls, trainspotting), but they are old to me now--and there are just as many interesting hobbies in the US (and, indeed, a lot of trainspotting).  So, I need a new number 3. And it's so obvious what it should be: yog(h)urt.

Let's do the linguistics first. This word comes to English from Turkish yoğurt, but English doesn't have the letter ğ or the sound that goes with it, so we had to figure out what to do with it. I'm relying on Wikipedia here, but it says that in some dialect(s) ğ is not pronounced as its own sound, but instead lengthens the preceding vowel. That would explain why it turns up as yaourt in French (and has also made appearances with that spelling in English). In another dialect(s?), ğ is pronounced as [ɰ], which is a velar approximant. So, it's like a [w], but without the lip-rounding. This is all to say that it's not a hard-g sound at all. Now, the word first appeared in English in the 17th century, so it's had a long time to be 'nativi{z/s}ed' and for people to assume it follows English spelling rules with the hard 'g' before 'u'. What I don't know is why there's ever an 'h' in it (Update: Mats in the comments section has the answer! Yay!). The h-less and h-ful spellings of the word have been present in English from the start. 

I see yoghurt more in the UK than in the US, though both Oxford and Collins list yogurt as the first choice (as do American dictionaries) and most brands spell it without the 'h'. (The pictured one here is an exception.)  My on-line grocer* mostly spells it yogurt, but sometimes puts the h in, even if the brand itself doesn't (but a search for either term brings up the same range of dairy products). The yogurt:yoghurt ratio is more than 1000:1 in the Corpus of Contemporary American English

I can't help but think that the relative popularity of the yoghurt spelling in the UK has something to do with how its pronunciation is evolving. This is one of those where if you think 'older' or 'more like the source language' means 'more correct', you'll have to give up on the belief that '(modern) British' means 'more correct'. (I'd rather you gave up on all of them, but in case you won't, I'm pointing out that you can't believe all of them at the same time.)  The OED records the pronunciation as: 
( /ˈjɒɡət/ , older /ˈjəʊɡʊət/ )

This is to say: a frequent, modern British pronunciation of the word has a first syllable that rhymes with dog (in the same dialect, at least. The [ɒ] vowel of British Received Pronunciation (RP) does not really exist in American English.) The older pronunciation there is the RP version of the /o/ vowel.  The American version of that vowel is closer to /o/, but tends to be lengthened with an off-glide.  If all of this is gibberish to you, then listen to the GOAL-vowel recordings for the [əʊ] sound and the LOT-vowel recording for the /ɒ/  at the British Library's very helpful guide to RP vowels.

Americans pronounce it more like the older pronunciation--except without that cent(e)ring of the vowel that RP does. And if you're still having a hard time imagining any of these sounds, listen to the first two pronunciations of yogurt at Forvo. The first is the modern British, the second American.  Actually, Forvo also has a Turkish pronunciation, the vowel of which doesn't directly correspond to any of the English ones (it's this one).

(This post was supposed to be a quick one. I am very bad at quick.)

So, back to my list. Yog(h)urt, no matter how you spell it or pronounce it, is a thing to love about England--and Europe, generally.  The question is: Why is American yog(h)urt so disgusting by comparison?  I am not the only one asking this question. I typed 'why is American yogurt' into Google, and it auto-completed with 'so bad'. I found the answer for what's different between American and other yog(h)urts at a blog dedicated to the question. But they copied this from somewhere else--its not clear where:
Q: What is the difference between European and American yogurt?
A: Indeed there is a difference. The difference is based on the dry matter and the ingredients. For European yogurts, there are actually two main types. Classical European yogurt, from the culture side, contains only two strains (of bacterial cultures), while mild European yogurt also contains other lactobacillus cultures such as acidophilus.
The difference between European and American yogurt starts exclusively with the selection of the starter cultures and continues with some technical or process development, e.g., homogenizing heat treatment, etc. There is also a big difference in the use of stabilizing ingredients and sweeteners. European yogurts use little of either of these, whereas American yogurts tend to be very sweet and contain a variety of stabilizers, European yogurts rely more on cultures and process for stabilization.
There are plenty of very sweet UK yog(h)urts, but it's the texture that really differs, and even the low- and no-fat versions are much less watery and sour than American versions. It's so much more pleasant--and I can't for the life of me understand why the runny, non-homogenized American ones continue to sell. While the internet tells me there's increasing demand for 'Greek' yog(h)urt in the US, no one over here seems to be clamo(u)ring for the American kind. I am not surprised.  

Before I go, here's a link to a piece I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education's Lingua Franca blog. It balances out all this living-in-England-loving with a little something-I-miss-about-America.


 * Wait! Wait! Shopping for your groceries on-line and having them delivered! That's what really deserves to be number 3 on my list of reasons to love living in England--though it didn't really exist when I moved here. Still, yog(h)urt is definitely top-10 material.

46 comments:

Alan Walker said...

The -H- spelling seems to be strongly dominant here in Australia. The Age newspaper site gives 1148 hits for that variant, but only 51 for yogurt. This is confirmed by an unscientific survey of the contents of my fridge and the indexes of a couple of popular Australian cookbooks (Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer).

Yoghurt is also the first version given in the Australian Oxford and Macquarie dictionaries (and the New Zealand Oxford too). These Australian dictionaries offer both the pronunciations you described as having been used in Britain, but I doubt if I've ever heard an Australian say the word in the modern British way - with the first syllable rhyming with dog.

John Burgess said...

A trend you're missing by being in Blighty is the new popularity of what's called "Greek yog(h)urt". This is very thick, thick enough indeed to hold up the proverbial spoon.

All manufacturers have their versions including 'plain', something that was often hard to find in the past.

Yog(h)urt is relatively new in the States. It didn't really get here (outside of ethnic homes) until the 1930s, with Colombo and the '50s with Danone. To make it appealing, it was turned into a dessert, essentially.

The popularity of Mediterranean cooking introduced it to new generations who have pushed the market back toward the original.

Libby said...

I'm no expert on the foreign yogurt, so I'll have to take word on that one, but as long as you live nearish a city you can buy groceries online and get them delivered in the US. I'm guessing it was the near a city that was a sticking point for you. Personally it's not something I do unless the weather is really bad, as I'm all about late night impulse grocery shopping (1am is obviously the perfect time to shop).

but they are old to me now--and there are just as many interesting hobbies in the US (and, indeed a lot of trainspotting).
I think you mean railfans (features one of the most fabulous mustaches outside of Austin).

Thomas Winwood said...

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume the H in yoghurt is the same H as in ghetto and ghost - inserted by Dutch typesetters because their own G was softening like butter in the sun.

vp said...

You paint with an awfully broad brush when you criticize "American yogurt".

This native Brit would quite happily consume Trader Joes Organic Lowfat Yogurt every day for the rest of his life, and hasn't found anything in Britain to compare.

Adrian Morgan said...

Australia serves as a counterpoint to your pronunciation/spelling connection: the dominant spelling here is "yoghurt" (haven't done a survey of supermarket brands) and yet we never use the dog-rhyming pronunciation.

(I see Alan Walker has already made this point.)

kathi said...

The pronunciation discussion was way over my head, but I so agree with you about American yogurt. We lived in Germany for a long time and loved the yogurt there. American yogurt has a gelatinous quality that is quite nasty. I do love the Greek yogurts that are available here now though.

John Cowan said...

Online grocery shopping? Bah. I pick up the phone, tell a friendly voice that I'm John, tell him what I want (with the exception of fresh meat, poultry, or fish), and I get it delivered within five minutes. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If they don't have what I want (which hardly ever happens), they'll send the delivery guy to their other store to get it for me there, which adds maybe ten more minutes to the delay. They don't complain about making four or five deliveries a day, either.

The only reason I actually ever go to a supermarket (there are four within easy walking distance) is to save money, and even they deliver.

Mats said...

The gh spelling is because at the time Turkish was written in Arabic script, in which the modern letter ğ was usually written غ. This letter is usually transcribed as gh, for example in Maghreb, Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

I live in an urban area of about 160,000 in the United states. (4 towns, but they are so close they've merged into one essentially). Recently, there was a story talking about why so many yogurt shops were coming to town. 8 have opened in the last 18 months, with 6 more on the way!

But as I dislike both Yogurt (compared to ice-cream) and have trouble with lactose, I'll never know. Wifey loves to buy plain yogurt and mix smoothies from it.

Anyhow, she finds little different between Greek yogurt and other kinds of plain yogurt save the price.

Anonymous said...

Uh same anonymous as above.

also we've had online grcoery delivery for like 6 years here and it's done by all the grocery chains. It's cool that you can do it there but it hardly seems something to like about the country specifically. Unless the service is exceptional or something.

lynneguist said...

First, thanks Mats for the answer about the gh! I'm going to mention it in the post.

The Trader Joe's yog(h)urt is something that's mentioned on the websites asking where to find Euro-style yog(h)urt. So, yes, that is an exception, but a recent one and of very limited accessibility. It's not the default for yog(h)urt.

Frozen yog(h)urt is a different beast. The American frozen yog(h)urt bears very little resemblance to the general unfrozen stuff there. I wonder whether it is made with the homogeni{z/s}ation processes used in Europe.

And as for internet grocery shopping in the US: I have seen it, it doesn't compare, in part because it's very limited in scope. You can't get it where I'm from. I love it in the UK for the same reason I love the trains--and the rest of the public (BrE) transport/(AmE) transit system. It means I never have to miss not having a car. And I never have to take time out to go shopping--I add things to the list on my phone, chose a delivery time when I'd be home anyway and the food shows up. I occasionally go to a supermarket for 'fun', but I never have to lug anything heavy up the very big hill to our house.

Chris said...

I was born and raised in Marblehead, Mass. but moved around for a while 1974-1994, when I transplanted myself to London.

When I was a kid, there was no yogurt around. Then, a dairy store in town started carrying it, but spelled it "yahourt". I have never seen that spelling anywhere else and Googling it doesn't produce any meaningful results.

I agree with numbers 1 and 2, by the way. I gather that your 3, grocery shopping online, is now available in the US. My 3 is "crumpets".

lynneguist said...

Crumpets. You're right. That's the new number 3!

Roger Owen Green said...

I find the Greek yogurt that has become popular in the US in recent years to be less sweet than the usual US yogurt.

BTW, LOVE your #1 and #2 on the list. Wish the US had better health care and better trains.

Shae said...

I can buy international foods at Jungle Jim's here in Cincinnati, OH. So please recommend brand names of some of these British yog(h)urts so that I can run out and try them!

Shae said...

Someone mentioned that yogurt in the US was introduced as a dessert rather than a traditional food and I think that's a good point.

I'd argue that yogurt in the US is also perceived as a "diet" food. I wonder if that's another factor in the difference of taste. I've noticed that Greek-style yogurt here tastes better and is also a lot more caloric.

lynneguist said...

Yog(h)urt is considered a 'healthy' food here too, and as I said in the post, it's generally very sweet in England (though it is often less so on the contnient). The difference is 100% texture. I'd _want_ to eat UK yog(h)urt for dessert (in fact, it was doing so that encouraged this post). I can't imagine wanting to do so with American yog(h)urt--except the frozen kind, which (as I've said) is a completely different kettle of fermented milk product.

Marc Leavitt said...

I've been shopping on line for the past several years, after serious back surgery made "real" shopping difficult. It's been a godsend; the only thing missing is the aesthetic pleasure of visiting the store in person. One point about yog(h)urt: when I ordered groceries recently and typed in the "h" spelling, the computer came up empty. Isn't it strange that the UK has had NHS since the end of World War II with great success, and we, in the US, have turned health care into a major political issue? Trains fall into the same category.

ichheissederek said...

An interesting tangent - As I'm sure you're aware, German nouns can be one of 3 genders. When you ask Germans the gender of "Joghurt," you will get people who say it is any one of the 3. Based on my experience, it's usually der (masc) or das (neut), but some will also say it's the feminine die.

Libby said...

Yog(h)urt is relatively new in the States. It didn't really get here (outside of ethnic homes) until the 1930s, with Colombo and the '50s with Danone. To make it appealing, it was turned into a dessert, essentially.

Speaking of Danone, what's up with the Danone/Dannon spelling difference between everywhere else and the US? Also, since it is a French company why would the yog(h)urt culture be so different? Especially since Danone was one of the first entrants into the yogurt market in the US?

I never noticed a difference in the texture (and I spent an entire childhood building up an expertice in Dannon fruit on the bottom yogurt) between US and Canadian yogurt, though Danone is spelled Danone over yonder.

vp said...

@lynneguist

I remember store-purchased yog(h)urt being pretty unpleasant when I was growing up in the UK (70s-80s).

I wonder how much of the the difference you perceive between US and UK yogurts is actually due to either
* living in a more urban/cosmopolitan part of the UK than of the US
* living more recently in the UK than in the US (on the assumption that yogurt standards have recently improved in both countries)

vp said...

@ichheissederei:

what's up with the Danone/Dannon spelling difference between everywhere else and the US?

From Wikipedia:

The original company bearing the corporate name was founded in 1919 by Isaac Carasso in Barcelona as a small factory producing yoghurt. The factory was named Danone, a Catalan diminutive of the name of his first son, Daniel Carasso.

Ten years later, the company moved from Spain to neighboring France, and the first French factory was built. During the German occupation of France during World War II, Daniel moved the company to New York to avoid persecution as a result of his Jewish faith. In the United States, Daniel partnered with the Swiss-born Spaniard Joe Metzger and changed the brand name to Dannon to sound more American.

lynneguist said...

vp: I have had American yog(h)urt within the last year. And just about every year between now and when I moved to the UK. It is not my imagination that they are different--and this is why there are so many internet discussions of the differences between American & European yog(h)urts.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

When I (BrE) was growing up, it was always spelt "yoghourt" and was not widely eaten. Yoghurt with added fruit "came in" in the late 1960s. I then moved to France for a few years where it was ubiquitous (and "petit suisse", a fruit-flavoured soft cheese which you also ate with a spoon as a dessert - yum!); when I moved back to the UK, you could get chocolate- and coffee-flavoured yoghurt (also yum!), and some fruit-flavoured varieties.

But you can get disgusting yoghurt here, too - full of aspartame and artificial flavours. And I'm sure they've changed the thickener in many fruit yoghurts in recent years - they are not nearly as nice as they used to be!

Re the pronunciation: I've always pronounced the first syllable to rhyme with "dog", although I have heard it pronounced with a long "o". As for the "gh" in the middle, I've always given it a hard "g", but of course, that particular letter combination in Northern Ireland appears to drop the "g" (actually it's one of those voiced things, like "loch"), as in towns like Maghera or Agheydowey.

Strawberryyog said...

This is marvellous marvellous stuff. The writing I mean. And the yoghurt too, of course. :)

Anonymous said...

Nobody has mentioned French-style "set" yoghurt (not set as with gelatine, but softly solid rather than semi-liquid). I developed a taste for it during a year I spent in Lausanne in the '70s. Most UK supermarket chains now sell a version of it, usually in the same selection of flavours, unfortunately.
In Switzerland, all yoghurt was "set". Vanilla- or chocolate- flavoured cost 5 centimes more than plain, and fruit-flavoured another 5 centimes more.

Kate (Derby, UK)

eyagli said...

Here comes two distinct accounts on "yoghurt": (i) types of yoghurt and (ii) pronunciation of yoghurt.

(i) types of yoghurt
There are different kinds of yoghurt in Turkey depending on (i) ratio of fat in milk and (ii) its pasteurization. In regard to (i), there are all fat, fat, semi-skimmed, skimmed .etc yoghurts. Concerning (ii), there are short and long lived yoghurts. And also there are lots of yoghurts. We can make an exhaustive list on types of yoghurts but it makes you sleep. Thus, eating and listing types of yoghurts are dangerous.

In regard to (ii - pronunciation), as you have stated, the letter "ğ" lenghtens the sound of the vowel preceding it. However, it also remains silent between two vowels. In literary translation, the letter "ğ" is named as "soft g" and it lacks corresponding "consonantal" sound in standard Turkish. Further, it is pronounced as a voiced velar fricative in some dialects of Turkish.

When a suffix follows "ğ":
1. it becomes inaudible:
ex: geldiğin (that you come): [geldi:n]
2. with surrounding front vowels, it is pronounced as palatal glide:
ex: düğün (wedding): [düjün]

David Crosbie said...

Like Mrs Redboots, I didn't taste yoghurt until the late '60s. I'd seen it in Greece, and I'd vaguely heard of it, but I'd never seen the stuff in a British shop.

More to the point, the milkman didn't carry it on his float. I suspect the greater variety in dairy goods from that time was due to changed shopping habits. I first discovered yoghurt in the food department of a department store. Most people first discovered it in supermarkets.

I don't think anybody has mentioned live yoghurts. I remember when they could be found outside health-food shops, but I haven't seen them for some time. They must still exist — how else could you operate a yoghurt-maker?

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Actually my grandmother used to buy it in Soho in the late 1950s/early 1960s, but it was considered very rich and rare and Not Suitable for Small Girls. I remember it was natural yoghurt, and I do remember my mother stirring Ribena into hers to help it down. I was surprised when I first went to France to discover that natural yoghurt there was eaten with sugar, having always eaten mine plain.

Most natural yoghurt, even today, is "live" and will propagate if stirred into milk at the requisite temperature.

ella said...

my mum, who grew up near Brighton in the 50's and 60's, speaks of getting yoghurt from the milk float, but my grandmother had also picked up strange foreign eating habits from having lived in Asia just after the War and made her own as well.

Thiers said...

Great discussion.

My wife and I (NZers) both use the 'dog' sound perhaps because yoghurt first became part of our diet when living in London in the 70s. Both pronunciations and spellings occur here but I couldn't say whether one or other is predominant.

Anonymous said...

If I used the "dog" sound as we pronounce it in Philly, I'd be saying yaw-gurt! :)

holly said...

I use a long 'o' and a hard 'g', and tend to spell it with an 'h', but I've had arguments with spellcheckers on that matter.

I really liked yoghurt in Germany when I lived there. The greek yoghurts are a bit thick for my taste. I am not a fan of the major brands in the US (gelatine + high fructose corn syrup - in yoghurt?!), but there are a lot of natural brands that are really quite good.

jastrow said...

The traditional French spelling is yoghourt (or yogourt in the 1990 rectified spelling), pronounced/jɔ.ɡuʁt/ or /jɔ.ɡuʁ/. It isn't used very often though, most people preferring the simpler yaourt indeed.

Yoghurt was a staple at home (I'm French); my father made it himself in a handmade contraption. Most people I know eat the plain variety, sugar-free or not. Yoghurt with fruit bits or fruit puree tends to be for children. Even a humble grocery store will offer half a dozen varieties. In bigger supermarket yoghurts take up whole aisles, and they come in the most bewildering flavours, including crème brûlée or apple tart.

Joel said...

In Canada it's yogourt! Works in French or English!

Dru said...

I'm English. I'd never heard any other pronunciation than the 'rhyme with dog' 'yŏggət' one until I heard Australians say yoaggət.

I'd normally spell it with an 'h', though the 500 gm tub of Sainsbury's yoghurt in the refrigerator has no 'h', and nor does the kit in the kitchen for making it yourself.

Yoghurt was rather little known, and exotic, until it suddenly became popular sometime around the end of the sixties. Very quickly after that, the dessert ones flavoured with fruit etc also appeared. I though, don't think plain yoghurt is really a dessert. It goes well with curry, stews etc, and also to thicken soup.

Provided you've got the right sort of thermometer and flask, it's easy to make yoghurt using a bought one as a starter, but it's less trouble to buy it.

detroitmom2devonmum said...

Oh yes, having your groceries delivered should have made your top three!

Anonymous said...

Hey, so did the blog die? I just started reading it. Is it usual for the author to go so many weeks without writing anything?

Picky said...

Dear Anonymous

Yes. Ms Murphy is a busy academic, and, poor soul, a mother. She blogs when she can. When she can, it's worth reading. Patience.

punkychewster said...

this is great! I just found this site and i'm having a good laugh! I was brought up on the (British) English education system and i'm currently living in the US. My diction is becoming so Americanized, my spelling even more atrocious (oh those missing 'u's!!!) . But one thing that never changes is the way I say 'can't'.

The other day I ordered two jugs of beer and my dear American friends sniggered. I have since then learnt to place an order for a pitcher.

I hope you continue updating this site. I will be reading!

Strawberryyog said...

I would just like to say how very, very happy this post made me. :)

Strawberryyog said...

I would just like to say how very, very happy this post made me. :)

Julietdh said...

Best British yogurt brands in order of deliciousness:
Yeo Valley (pronounced Yo!)
Rachel's Organic
Onken

garry said...

An interesting ­tangent - As I'm sure you're aware, German nouns can be one of 3 genders. When you ask Germans the gender of "Joghurt," you will get people who say it is any one of the 3. Based on my experience, it's usually der (masc) or das (neut), but some will also say it's the feminine die.

like.no.other said...

Online grocery shopping? Bah. I pick up the phone, tell a friendly voice that I'm John, tell him what I want (with the exception of fresh meat, poultry, or fish), and I get it delivered within five minutes. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If they don't have what I want (which hardly ever happens), they'll send the delivery guy to their other store to get it for me there, which adds maybe ten more minutes to the delay. They don't complain about making four or five deliveries a day, either.

The only reason I actually ever go to a supermarket (there are four within easy walking distance) is to save money, and even they deliver.­