Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've always been taught that a vowel before a double consonant following another vowel should have a short sound. Conversely, there are many situations where a vowel preceding a single consonant and vowel gets a long sound.

Short Sounds:

Mississippi    - All I's except the last get short sound
Communication  - First O gets short sound
Oppose         - First O gets short sound where second O gets long

Long Sound:

Ape            - A gets long sound
Popery         - O gets long sound
Oppose         - First O gets short sound where second O gets long

Yet, I hear people use a short O in "operator" when using the word. Is this the correct pronunciation?

share|improve this question
1  
Whether it is a short-o or long-o depends on another factor: syllabification. Operator: op-ra-tor; here, the first syllable rhymes with hop. So, you may ask how to syllabify English words? It is a complex question, which was tackled by many folks like Kahn, C-J. Bailey, etc. –  RainDoctor Aug 20 '12 at 22:24
add comment

3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Indeed, it is. 'Operator' is pronounced ˈɒpəreɪtə (IPA), with the o- sound of 'offense' or 'orange'.

Most spellings as we use them today were standardized in the late 18th century on a fairly arbitrary basis. Most choices were based in common transliteration habits, but others followed historical convention. In this case, 'operator' had been historically spelled with a single p thanks to its root the Latin 'operari', and so the habit stuck.

Edit: I'm aware our American cousins have some regional variations, but these accents evolved more recently.

share|improve this answer
    
I guess commonality will always trump phonetics. –  hydroparadise Aug 20 '12 at 17:08
4  
I have to disagree with the "offense"/"orange" comparison; for me the "o-" in "operator" is like the o in "hop", while "offense" starts with "aw" and "orange" is clearly an "or". –  Hellion Aug 20 '12 at 17:14
    
Southerners in the US tend towards "Awringe". –  hydroparadise Aug 20 '12 at 17:21
    
@Hellion I've heard both very often, and I suspect they're both originally eye-readings which have achieved broad idiolectal support across many dialects—*offense* through analogy with off, sustained by the accent shift, and orange through analogy with or. –  StoneyB Aug 20 '12 at 17:24
1  
@Mitch Fifty years ago I could have told you where a Southerner came from within fifty miles or so. Not any more; my ear's destroyed from living in Missouri, and I doubt that degree of regionalism prevails any more. –  StoneyB Aug 20 '12 at 19:27
show 5 more comments

In America, most dialects don't distinguish between RP /ɒ/ and /a/, so operator is normally pronounced with [a]:

['apəˌɹeiɾɚ]

Standard American is rhotic, with [ɹ] instead of [r] and final [ɚ] instead of [ə]; and the /t/ is reduced to a tap [ɾ] between a preceding stressed vowel [ei] and a following unstressed vowel [ɚ].

share|improve this answer
    
isn't the first vowel [ɑ]? I thought that vowel belongs to the LOT set. –  RainDoctor Aug 20 '12 at 22:19
1  
There's only one low back vowel in American English; I use "a" for it because it's on my keyboard. In any event, it is not the same vowel as the one in orange or offense, which is /ɔ/ for most Americans, at least East of the Mississippi. Except on the West Coast, where the two phonemes merge so that Don with /a/ and Dawn with /ɔ/ are homophonous. –  John Lawler Aug 20 '12 at 22:28
add comment

The phonetics rules of thumb can be useful, but there are always exceptions. This is one of them.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.