Saturday, June 09, 2018

Mutating Pronunciation

Michael, a truck driver from Traverse City, called in a question from Texas while he was on the road. “Why,” he wondered, “does the pronunciation of a word change over time?” He cited the word protein as an example. While the current common pronunciation is pro-teen, Michael remembers hearing it as pro-tee-in years ago.

Sometimes it’s simply imitation. Exposure to overheard conversation influences our pronunciation. Humans tend to try to fit into their environment; it’s a survival mechanism. If you hear the word business pronounced as biz-ness more frequently than biz-i-ness, or if you hear the word ration pronounced as ray-shun more frequently than rash-un, that will eventually become your pronunciation – unless you are fanatically individualistic.

And sometimes the mechanism is a bit more subtle, complex, and long-range. Ease of articulation can change pronunciation and even spelling over time. The prefix ad- (to or towards) is a good example. Uniform application would mean that every time ad- is used, the spelling and pronunciation remain unchanged – but that’s not the way it happens. The consonant that follows the prefix ad- can influence the spelling and pronunciation because of rapid and awkward changes in the interplay of tongue, teeth, lips, larynx, and palate.

AD- can become
·       A-  ascribe,
·      AB- abbreviate,
·      AC- acclaim,
·      AF-  affirm,
·      AG- aggrade,
·      AL- allege,
·      AN- announce,
·      AP-  approve,
·      AR - arrive,
·      AS-  assent,
·      AT-  attrition.

Other factors may also enter in, but imitation and ease of articulation are major factors in hastening changes in pronunciation.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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