Spelling pronunciation

Spelling pronunciation

A spelling pronunciation is a pronunciation that, instead of reflecting the way the word was pronounced by previous generations of speakers, is a rendering in sound of the word's spelling. Spelling pronunciations compete, often effectively, with the older traditional pronunciation.

Examples of English words with common spelling pronunciations

*"often", pronounced with IPA|/t/, though the pronunciation without it is more prevalent. Older dictionaries do not even list the pronunciation with /t/, though the 2nd edition of the OED does (and the first ed. notes the pronunciation, with the comment that it is prevalent in the south of England and "often used in singing"; see the "Dictionary of American Regional English" for contemporaneous citations discussing the status of the competing pronunciations)
*"clothes" was historically pronounced the same way as the verb "close" ("Whenas in silks my Julia goes/.../The liquefaction of her clothes" --Herrick), but many speakers now insert a IPA|/ð/
*"salmon", occasionally pronounced with IPA|/l/
*"falcon" is now invariably pronounced with IPA|/l/; the old pronunciation was 'fawkin' cf. French "faucon" and the older English spellings "faucon" and "fawcon". The family name "Faulkner" is still usually pronounced without the l
*"comptroller", often pronounced with IPA|/mp/; accepted pronunciation is "controller" (the "mp" spelling is based on the mistaken idea that the word has something to do with "comp"("u")"tare" "count, compute"; in fact it comes from "contre-roll" "file copy", the verb and its agent noun meaning "compare originals and file copies")
*"ye" the article, pronounced as if spelled with a Y instead of the printers' mark for the letter thorn
*taking the "insular flat-topped "g" of northern scripts as a -"z"- in names like "Mackenzie, Menzies, Dalziel" (in the last with the value of /y/ originally)
*"tortilla" and other words from Spanish with the double-L pronounced as IPA|/l/ instead of IPA|/j/ (the latter being the closest approximation to the sound in Spanish); similarly the Italian sourced "maraschino" (cherry) with IPA|/ʃ/ instead of IPA|/sk/
*"victuals" "vittles" whose -"c"- (for a consonant lost long before the word was borrowed from French) was reintroduced on etymological grounds, and sometimes pronounced with IPA|/kt/
*The pronunciation of "waistcoat" as spelled is now more common than the previous pronunciation "weskit"
*"conduit", historically pronounced IPA|/ˈkɒndɪt/ or IPA|/ˈkʌndɪt/, is now nearly always IPA|/ˈkɒndjuːɪt/ (or IPA|/ˈkɑndwɪt/ in the United States)
*"medicine", historically pronounced with two syllables but now quite often with three (some speakers use two when they mean medicaments and three when they mean medical knowledge; three syllables is standard in the USA)
*"figure" originally rhymed with "bigger" (and still does in the Received Pronunciation); in America the approved pronunciation follows the etymological spelling (copied from Latin "figūra")
*"trait" ("traict"), has a complicated history: a 15th cent. borrowing from French, it came to be normally pronounced IPA|/treɪ/ in 19th century Britain, by imitation of the current French pronunciation; IPA|/treɪt/ is gaining in Britain, though, and was always standard in the USA
*"Bartholomew" formerly pronounced IPA|/ˈbartəlmi/ now IPA|/barˈθɑləmju/. (The current standard pronunciation makes hash of the meter of the folk-song "Bartholomew Fair".) Similarly "Anthony" (< Lat. "Antonius"), now (in USA) IPA|/ˈænθəni/
*Probably to be included in this general category are the place-names whose traditional ("old fashioned") pronunciations have been displaced by ones influenced by the spelling: "St. Louis", formerly IPA|/sænt luwi/ now IPA|/seɪnt luɪs/, "Papillion" (Nebraska), formerly IPA|/pæpijoʊ/ now IPA|/pəpiljən/, "Los Angeles" formerly IPA|/lɔs æŋglɪs/ now IPA|/lɑs ændʒələs/, "Beatrice" (Nebraska) formerly and still somewhat currently IPA|/biˈjætrəs/, now IPA|/ˈbijətrəs/

pelling pronunciation vs. analogical pronunciation

In some cases, we cannot tell if a pronunciation is a true spelling pronunciation. The alternative is that a word is being pronounced "analogically", in essence as the "sum of its parts". Thus, "forehead" is commonly pronounced as a sequence of "fore" plus "head", instead of the historically earlier "forrid"; and "waistcoat" is commonly pronounced as a sequence of "waist" and "coat", instead of the historically earlier "weskit".

Analogy in this sense (also known as "recomposition") can be confused with reanalysis. For example, "inmost" comes from Old English "innemest", which contained the ordinary superlative suffix "-est". The later switch to "in" + "most" was due to reanalysis of -mest as -most (and led to the creation of a whole family of words of relational meaning: "northernmost, outermost, uppermost", etc. "Foremost" is unusual in this group in having much the same history as inmost, being from OE" fyremest", superlative of the word giving modern English "former").

Opinions about spelling pronunciation

Spelling pronunciations give rise to varied opinions. Often those who retain the old pronunciation consider the spelling pronunciation to be a mark of ignorance or insecurity. Those who use a spelling pronunciation may not be aware that it is one, and consider the historically authentic version to be slovenly, since it "slurs over" a letter. Conversely, the users of some careless, but not historically deep-rooted, pronunciations such as "Febuary" (for "February") may regard the historically (and phonetically) authentic version as a pedantic spelling pronunciation.

Fowler reports that in his day there was a conscious movement among schoolteachers and others encouraging people to abandon anomalous traditional pronunciations and "speak as you spell".

Others would argue that this trend, though understandable from a socio-psychological point of view, is, from a strictly linguistic perspective, irrational, since writing was invented to represent the sounds of the language and not vice versa. According to this belief, there is no good reason to "speak as one spells", but there are many good reasons to "spell as one speaks", i.e. to reform the orthography of a language whenever it does not render its pronunciation clearly and unambiguously – which is the task of a writing system. How easy such a reform would be in practice is of course quite another matter.

A different variety of spelling pronunciations are phonetic adaptations, i.e. pronunciations of the written form of foreign words within the frame of the phonematic system of the language that accepts them: an example of this process is "garage" ( [ga'ʀa:ʒ] in French) sometimes pronounced as ['gæɹɪʤ] in English. Such adaptations are quite natural, and often preferred by speech-conscious and careful speakers.

pelling pronunciations in children and foreigners

Children who read a great deal often produce spelling pronunciations, since they have no way of knowing, other than the spelling, how the rare words they encounter are correctly pronounced. Thoughtful parents usually try to correct such children's errors gently. But as this can never extend to every instance, and there are many words which one reads far more often than one hears, what is a spelling pronunciation in one generation often becomes standard in the next.

Well-read second language learners are likewise vulnerable to producing spelling pronunciations.

In other languages

In French, the first vowel in "oignon" (onion) is, anomalously, IPA|/o/, where general principles would lead one to expect IPA| [wa] . The reason is that the spelling of this word is a holdover from the 17th century, when "i" was invariably inserted before "gn": "montagne" was spelled "montaigne", but pronounced in the same way as today. However, there are provincial school-teachers who insist on pronouncing "oignon" with a IPA| [wa] Fact|date=May 2008. (The French Academy has recently (1975) decreed an official change in spelling to "ognon.")

When English "club" was first borrowed into French, the approved pronunciation was /klab/, as being a reasonable approximation of the English. Now the standard is /klyb/ (Littré, though Larousse and Oxford prefer /klœb/), on the basis of the spelling. Similarly, "shampooing" "product for washing the hair" at the time of borrowing was IPA|/ʃɑ̃puiŋ/; now it's IPA|/ʃɑ̃pwε̃/

In Hebrew there is a vowel called "patach genuvah", consisting of an "a" sign placed underneath a final guttural but pronounced before it: an example is "ruach", which looks as if it ought to be *"rucha". Where the final consonant is a sounded "he" (h), many speakers do indeed place the vowel after it, mistakenly pronouncing "Eloah" (God) as "Eloha" and "gavoah" (high) as "gavoha". Other examples of spelling pronunciations are the Sephardic "kal" and "tsahorayim": see Sephardic Hebrew language.


*See the index entries under "spelling pronunciation" from Leonard Bloomfield, "Language" (originally published 1933; current edition 1984, University of Chicago Press, Chicago; ISBN 81-208-1195-X).
*Most of the etymologies and spelling histories above are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary.

ee also

*Folk etymology
*Spelling reform

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