After the recent release of the Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition DLC, Lords of the West, we received a lot of feedback on the new Britons campaign — especially on the pronunciation of the English towns and cities that it features.

Names like Worcester and Gloucester appear to be mispronounced? Before we jump to that conclusion, let’s dive into history. Age of Empires II is a historical game, after all!

The origins of England

In a time long gone, England used to be part of the Roman Empire. Many Romans came to the area and settled in the places now known as Leicester, Worcester, Gloucester, Winchester or even the most famous Manchester. That “-c(h)ester” suffix originally comes from Latin castrum (plural, castra) and means encampment or camp — so they’re basically places where the Romans originally set up camps. Palatalized “ċ” in dominant Anglo-Saxon dialects took on the “ch” sound that is still preserved in some of these names and their spellings today.

Map of Roman Britain

Evolving pronunciation

So, why do we no longer pronounce the names the way they’re written? Why is Worcester pronounced as “Wooster” nowadays? Why is Gloucester “Glosster” and Leicester “Lesster”? That’s because languages are not static, they’re alive and they evolve. If you watch television from the ’50s, you’ll hear a vastly different way of speaking and even pronouncing some words. The ’50s are not that long ago, so imagine how much can change over 500 or even 1000 years! 

This linguistic evolution of the “-c(h)ester” suffix is basically what happened during the 17-19th centuries. Let’s take a look at Worcester. First, the “ch” sound softened, which turned “wur-ches-ter” more into “wur-ses-ter” /wʉ˞’sestɝ/. Then, the “ses” turned first into a geminated “s”, “wur-ss-ter” /wɝ’sːtɝ/ and was further simplified to a normal “s” “wurs-ter”: /’wʉ˞s.tɝ/. Finally as English dialects in Britain and the Eastern USA became non-rhotic, a final set of vowel shifts occurred alongside the loss of the “r”, yielding /’wʊs.tə/ “wuss-tuh”.

Because the story of Edward Longshanks takes place in the 13th century, this evolution within the English language had yet to take place, so the place names in the campaign use authentic medieval pronunciations. 

Although this definitely throws off a lot of modern native English speakers, it’s a nice historical nugget. We hope you enjoy the first Briton campaign in Age of Empires II!