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As one pronounces 'pre' and 'face' as is done for these as individual words, how come when they form the word 'preface' the pronunciation is so different?

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Why should it be the same? – siride May 30 '13 at 3:22
Why should it be different? :-) I'm already guessing, but I could be wrong, that the pronunciation of 'preface' might have followed, since long ago, the French word, while the separate words pre and face have had a different origin/history or evolution? – Jaccuse May 30 '13 at 4:02
Pre- isn't an English word, by the way, it's a prefix. – Bradd Szonye May 30 '13 at 4:18
What about surface -- you didn't ask! – Kris May 30 '13 at 6:07
@Kris: Right, - and this one might not fit as did preface in a cultural/religious context... – Jaccuse May 30 '13 at 6:12

Preface is derived from Old French preface “opening part of sung devotions,” ultimately from Medieval Latin prefatia. It is not derived from the English word face – that's from Old French face and Latin facies “appearance, form, figure.”

That said, even if they were etymologically related, English stems sometimes change pronunciation when you change the word stress (as often happens when adding affixes or changing the part of speech). For example, office has very different vowels from official.

Edit: For a more thorough explanation of this phenomenon, you can read about stress and vowel reduction in English. In words like preface and surface, the stress is on the first syllable, which reduces the vowel of face to a schwa.

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So? Whence the əs /is? – Kris May 30 '13 at 6:09
Thanks for the answer! – Jaccuse May 30 '13 at 6:13
@Kris I moved my comment about vowel reduction and schwa into the answer, as that explains why face changes pronunciation when it falls in an unstressed syllable. – Bradd Szonye May 30 '13 at 6:31

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