There’s a lot of consternation in town these days, about where to put a new elementary school.
But the earliest skirmishes are now over, and they do indeed seem to have decided one critical question: that a certain park — of the people, by the people, for the people — shall not perish from the earth.
Personally, I’m relieved. Not because I had a strong opinion about a school being situated at Bialek Park, but for a different reason altogether. For a newbie like me, the most vexing question of the entire school-location debate was the same question that has troubled me since the very first time I looked at a map of Ipswich, or drove past the intersection of Linebrook Road and Washington:
HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE “BIALEK”?
I realize this is no problem for folks who have lived here a hundred years. Bialek Park has been here forever. “Everybody” knows how to pronounce it. I’ve read that the park is named for the beloved John Bialek, who served on the Board of Selectmen and Recreation Committee, among other official bodies, co-founded Ipswich Little League, and founded Ipswich Youth Hockey, then died an untimely death in 1977. I’ve also read that his widow Sophie died, at 91, in 2007. The many loving accounts of the Bialeks’ contributions to the Town of Ipswich make me truly wish I had known them.
But as a practical matter, they came and went before I arrived in Ipswich — and, sad to say, none of these news accounts came with a pronunciation key.
The awkward fact is, if you’ve moved to Ipswich sometime in the past century, you have not necessarily heard this name pronounced out loud. You have seen and noted the name of the park, yes; but you have not necessarily said the name aloud, or used it in everyday conversation. You may have said, “Let’s take the kids to the park.” But you have not likely said, “Let’s take the kids to the park that starts with the letter B followed by what appears to be three syllables.” You just stick it in your brain, and it’s there, without pronunciation. Like “misled,” which I once thought was pronounced “myzled,” and said it that way, in my head, for years.
The other awkward fact is that more and more newcomers are moving to Ipswich, and they’re as ignorant as I am. Many newbies are willing to just wing it. They say “Bialek” whatever way they think is right. So there are people in town saying it all different kinds of ways, and you have no way of knowing whether the pronunciation you’re hearing is the authentic pronunciation or some garbled concoction thoughtlessly invented by some insensitive outsidah.
When I lived in Chicago, there was little or no park pronunciation problem. If you were taking your kid to the park, it was Grant Park or Lincoln Park. Two Presidents. Pick one. We did not name a park for Eisenhower because it was too hard to spell. But Ipswich chose Bialek. Mr. Bialek was clearly a treasure to the Town of Ipswich; but from my vantage point as a newcomer, all I can say is, “Sorry! I don’t know how to pronounce your name.”
In fact, if we apply the standard rules of English pronunciation to the letters in this name — BIALEK — there are at least 24 different ways to say it. Among them:
- bee-AH-leck — rhymes with “we FROLIC”
- bye-AL-eck — sounds like “buy ALEC”
- BEE-uh-leck — rhymes with “SEE the Neck”
- bye-AY-leck — sounds like “buy ALE, lick”
- bee-AL-eck — sounds like “be ALEC”
- BYE-uh-leck — rhymes with “BUY the Neck”
- bye-ALL-eck — rhymes with “why FROLIC”
- bee-AY-leck — sounds like “be ALE, lick”
Of course it is possible that my newfound friends here in Ipswich will think me foolish for such cluelessness. But I recently spent 8 days vacationing in the far northern reaches of Maine, and I came to the conclusion up there that the unpronouncibility of place names is directly related to the stagnation of civilization.
To inform my ignorance, please send a pronunciation key to Bialek@DougBrendel.com. Until then, mum’s the word.
Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook, an easy-to-spell street. Follow him at this misspelled blog site Outsidah.com by clicking on the Follow button right now.