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Words such as onomatopoeia and pharmacopoeia incorporate the Greek suffix -poeia, meaning to make or to prepare. Wiktionary's provided etymology for onomatopoeia reads:

From Ancient Greek ὀνοματοποιία (onomatopoiia)

I'm curious to know how the Greek onomatopoiia is/was pronounced and if the -poeia suffix in the English equivalent has always been pronounced /piːə/.

Also, are there any words in English that have simplified -poeia to -pia or similar?

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I'm not old enough to know how the Ancient Greeks pronounced ὀνοματοποιία, and I don't know anyone who is :-( – Andrew Leach Dec 3 '12 at 17:49
@AndrewLeach If Google Translate is any guide, ὀνοματοποιία has survived into modern Greek too :) – coleopterist Dec 3 '12 at 17:58
How the Greeks pronounce Greek words isn't a question about English - however, the answer is easily found, e.g. in Wiktionary. – Mark Beadles Dec 3 '12 at 17:58
@MarkBeadles Thank you. I missed that reference. I disagree that it isn't a question about English when you are comparing pronunciations of virtually identically spelt words and from the looks of it, words which are still in use in the source language; cf. questions on the the pronunciation of loan words on ELU. There's also the question of when the word made it across into English. Also, simply because the root of the word resides in Ancient Greek does not imply that it was imported from then or there. – coleopterist Dec 3 '12 at 18:00
@JohnLawler In American English, it's /'anə'maɾə'pʰiyə/. In BrE, the first syllable is definitely a short "o" sound, among other changes. – Andrew Leach Dec 3 '12 at 18:20
up vote 7 down vote accepted

OED gives

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌɒnəmatəˈpiːə/ , U.S. /ˈˌɑnəˌmɑdəˈpiə/ , /ˈˌɑnəˌmædəˈpiə/ Inflections: Plural onomatopoeias, unchanged.

Etymology: < classical Latin onomatopoeia the making of words < Hellenistic Greek ὀνοματοποιία < ancient Greek ὀνοματο- onomato- comb. form + -ποιία -poeia comb. form. Compare Middle French, French onomatopée imitative formation of a word (1585), a word formed in this way (1768; 1665 as omomatopeia : compare sense 1b), Italian onomatopea (1560; a1498 as onomatopia), Old Occitan onomothopeya (c1330), Spanish onomatopeya (1450 as onomatopeia).

N.E.D. (1903) gives the pronunciation as (onǫ:mătopī·yă, ǫ:nŏmă-) /əʊˌnɒmətəʊˈpiːjə/ /ˌɒnəʊmæt-/ .

First use in English was:

1553 T. Wilson Arte of Rhetorique iii. f. 92v, A worde makinge called of the Grecians Onomatopeia is when we make wordes of oure owne mynde, suche as be deriued from the nature of thinges.

They don't give any pronunciation history farther back than 1903.

It's instructive that Late Latin and the Romance languages usually pronounced this word's ending with an /e/ instead of an /i/:

  • Latin onomatopoeia /-peia/ from earlier /-pojia/
  • French onomatopée /-pe:/
  • Italian onomatopea /-pea/ but also onomatopia /-pia/
  • Old Occitan onomothopeya /-peja/
  • Spanish onomatopeya & onomatopeia /-peja/

While the Greek underwent a vowel shift of the ending to Modern Greek /-pi'ía/. This reminded me of English's own Great Vowel Shift (GVS). If the first use in English was as far back as 1553, then the vowel may have been subject to the GVS. In particular:

Middle English [ɛː] raised to [eː] and then to modern English [iː] (as in beak).
Middle English [eː] raised to Modern English [iː] (as in feet).

The above would result in an original /-peja/ becoming the modern /pija/. So, it seems possible that the original English borrowing from Latin/Greek had an /e/ and that it has changed to /i/ since then.

This is detective work and reasoning, not citation, so take it for what it's worth.

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+1 And another for 'This is detective work and reasoning, not citation, so take it for what it's worth.' – Kris Dec 4 '12 at 5:24

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