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Wiktionary shows the pronunciation of moiety as /ˈmɔɪ.ə.ti/, which I think agrees with the audio versions at merriam-webster.com and howjsay.com. (Be warned that both those links produce audio when clicked.) Anyhow, from an 1832-vintage quotation for sense 1 at wiktionary (meaning half), I have the impression that at some times or places the word has been pronounced with 4 syllables instead of 3, and rhyming with society:

From New Holland the emu,
With his better moiety,
Has paid a visit to the Zoological Society.

Has its pronunciation changed since then? Or was this perhaps meant to be merely a half rhyme?

Edit: A half rhyme, or near rhyme, or imperfect rhyme, entails consonance on the final consonants of the words involved. Moiety (/ˈmɔɪ.ə.ti/) and society (/s@"saI.@.ti/) rise a little above that level, but not to the level of perfect rhyme, which according to wikipedia's rhyme article, entails having final stressed vowel and all following sounds identical. But /ɔɪ/ and /aI/ are not identical.

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It's perhaps worth noting that each stanza of the original poem has a different word rhyming with "Society," to include sobriety, anxiety, and variety. (That doesn't your question, I realize, but I think it's interesting and pertinent nonetheless). –  J.R. Jun 17 '12 at 21:37
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It's also possible the poet did not know how to pronounce the word and merely went by its spelling. –  Mark Beadles Jun 17 '12 at 23:20
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Daniel Jones (1917) gives 'mɔiəti and 'mɔiiti. John Walker (1791) has "moe1-e1-te1", where e1 stands for long "ee", as in me. –  Alex B. Jun 18 '12 at 0:09
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In 1832, the vowel /aɪ/ in society may still have been /ʌi/, which is somewhat closer to /ɔɪ/ than it is now, because the last bit of the Great Vowel Shift might still have been in progress (it's hard to tell exact dates from the Wikipedia article, especially since these undoubtedly varied greatly between dialects). So the near-rhyme might have been closer. –  Peter Shor Jun 18 '12 at 4:46
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Fascinatingly, the same poem's rhyme scheme demonstrates that "zoological" was already pronounced "zoo-ological", almost two decades before the word "zoo" was introduced. (Granted, the poem is very whimsical, so this could have been a joke rather than a reflection of the usual pronunciation; but still, it means the pronunciation must at least have existed.) –  ruakh Jun 20 '12 at 18:50

2 Answers 2

If the poet spoke a dialect with the loin-line merger, this would have been an exact rhyme. That is, the 'oi' diphthong in "moiety" would have been pronounced the same as the 'i' in "society". According to the linked webpage, this occurs in some dialects in Southern England, and may have been more widespread when the poem was written.

This book says that for some words, the loin/line merger was widespread in England in the last half of the 18th century, but "by the end of the century the merger was in retreat, if still acceptable; by the next century spellings like bile, jine were provincial stereotypes". So it's possible that a three-syllable moiety would have been an exact rhyme for society not that long before this poem was written. If this merger was widespread enough, or recent enough, that people were used to hearing it, the rhyme would have been reasonable even if the poet didn't use that pronunciation.

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In the 19th century, I would expect the "i" to have been printed with a diaeresis (moïety) if it were not part of the oi diphthong.

I see no reason to doubt that this was a poetic device.

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Tolerance72, perhaps you could spell out what ou mean by "this was a poetic device" and also add an explicit IPA form for the pronunciations you refer to, ie that of moïety and that which you think would follow upon a poetic device. –  jwpat7 Jul 3 '12 at 21:01

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