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Why are some words pronounced as though their letters were reversed?

For example, why is bible pronounced “buy-bel” and not “bib-lee”, or Favre pronounced “far-vuh” and not “fav-rah”?

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The best example I can think of is iron, which is usually pronounced (at least in the US) as though it were spelled iorn. Another is choir, which is pronounced kwy-or, i.e. with the i before the or. – Caleb Aug 8 '12 at 14:43
@Caleb No it isn’t. Iron is (sometimes) pronounced [ˈaɪɹ̩n]. – tchrist Aug 8 '12 at 14:48
@Caleb And there is no or in choir, which is pronounced [ˈkʰwaɪɹ̩]. – tchrist Aug 8 '12 at 14:50
@tchrist When you write them that way, they're not pronounceable at all! ;-) I take your point about syllabic consonants, and I think it's basically the right answer, but to us non-linguists it does seem like the letters are inverted. – Caleb Aug 8 '12 at 14:58
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Bible is not pronounced with “reversed letters”: the e is silent. Words like rhythm, acre, centre, bible, bottle, little, button all simply have syllabic consonants. For example:

  • bible [ˈbaɪbɫ̩]
  • little [ˈlɪtɫ̩]
  • Favre [ˈfɑvɹ̩]
  • acre [ˈeɪkɹ̩]
  • centre [sɛntɹ̩]
  • button [ˈbʌtn̩]
  • even [ˈiːvn̩]
  • awful [ˈɔːfɫ̩]
  • rhythm [ˈɹɪðm̩]

Those all have two syllables, and all without a vowel in the second syllable. The consonants are acting as the syllabic center, which makes them fundamentally vowel-behaving, normally called syllabic consonants.

If you are talking about why some people will (“mis‑”)pronounce words like cavalry as calvary, or for that matter croqueta as corqueta, please see metathesis.

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I think you're wrong on Favre -- it's always pronounced by sports commentators with the r before the v: Farve. I noted some other examples in my comment on the question. The OP's examples aren't good ones, but there are some words where letters seem to be pronounced out of order. – Caleb Aug 8 '12 at 14:49
So there are two pronunciations of "Favre"? One used by a famous athlete in the US, and one used by some random guy that tchrist knows. Interesting – JSBձոգչ Aug 8 '12 at 14:59
@tchrist Surely the most widely-known Favre is Brett Favre, the "NFL's All-Time Winningest Quarterback." Clearly, though, the pronunciation of his name is an exception. – Caleb Aug 8 '12 at 15:04
@Caleb Never heard of such a ho-hum him. I would rather die than submit to spectator sports: give me bread, not circuses. Spectating is not sporting. Plus I’ve had no television for 36 years, so don’t go in for such drivel. – tchrist Aug 8 '12 at 15:05
Favre is a Swiss-born painter and her name is pronounced /favr/. – Barrie England Aug 8 '12 at 15:16

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