My editor informed me that, if I use any diaeresis marks at all, then I must be consistent! I consistently use a diaeresis mark in coördinator and coöperation.

The periodical, Popular Educator (c 1890) had this to say:

“The Diæresis: [#] 77. The diæresis shows that the letter over which it is placed is to be pronounced separately; as, Creätor, zoönomia, aërial … “

I agree with, zo-onomia; and I can understand, Cre-ator, but a-erial?

The Encarta Dictionary (c 2000) shows the pronunciation of (aerial) as áiree əl.

Is it just my accent, or is there a hiatus in aerial?

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    The Webster's 1892 International Dictionary clearly shows a hiatus in the word aerial. I believe the predominant pronunciation has changed since then. – Peter Shor Mar 1 '13 at 21:16
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    If you look up aërial in the 1892 Webster's International dictionary (linked in my above comment) it did then have four syllables: ay EE ri al (/eɪˈi.rɪ.əl/). – Peter Shor Mar 1 '13 at 21:24
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    @Dan, because, unlike the "ea" in "Creator" (which looks like "greater") and the "oo" in "cooperation" (which looks like "cooper") the ending "ia" looks like it would form two syllables naturally, as in radial, incendiary, affiliate, abbreviate, bias and hiatus. That's my guess. – J.R. Mar 1 '13 at 21:29
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    If you want to talk to English speaking people in 1892, by all means insert a hiatus. If you're speaking colloquial English, don't be silly. – John Lawler Mar 2 '13 at 20:30
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    Are you using the diaeresis to explain how to pronounce these words in your text? Because if you are simply writing normal text you would not use a diaeresis at all in these words. Cooperative is often written as one word, or hyphenated - see The Co-operative Bank. – Mynamite Mar 3 '13 at 20:15

This may just be my Australian accent, but I would pronounce that word as: "Air-ree-(schwa)l".

I don't hear any hiatuses.

  • 1
    That's the way everybody else in the world pronounces it too, as far as I know. Dictionaries from 1892 show an archaic pronunciation with four syllables. – Peter Shor Mar 6 '13 at 15:34

The root aer- used to be pronounced with a hiatus, but this seems to have become mostly archaic. Peter Shor mentioned this in some comments with a link to the Webster's 1892 International Dictionary, which shows the pronunciation of aërial as /eɪˈi.ri.əl/.

I don't know for sure why the pronunciation changed to have /ɛər/. Here's some speculation. It looks like in most words, the "a" was stressed and the "e" was unstressed: for example, the pronunciation for aëroplane is given as /ˈeɪ.ər.oʊ.pleɪn/~/ˈeɪ.ər.ə.pleɪn/. It's fairly easy for /eɪ.ər/ and /ɛər/ to interchange. We see this sort of variation in the words prayer and mayor, for example (although this is not quite the same situation; in these words the monosyllabic pronunciations are actually quite old and may be partly based on sound changes that occurred in French). If we look at other vowels, we can find similar examples of coalescence that definitely occurred in English, such as the pronunciation of drawer as /drɔːr/ and the pronunciation of theory as /ˈθɪəri/.

This type of "smoothing" change wouldn't normally affect a word like aërial where aër- was pronounced as /eɪˈi.r/ rather than as /ˈeɪ.ər/. The /eɪˈir/ pronunciation seems to have been replaced by analogy with words like aeroplane (where smoothed /ˈeɪ.ər/ was reinterpreted as a single syllable /ɛər/). It seems likely the pronunciation of the related noun air as /ɛər/ also influenced this development.

If we look at entries for aerial in modern online dictionaries, we can see the pronunciation /eɪˈi.ri.əl/ is not quite dead: it's still listed by the American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, and Dictionary.com (which is based on the Random House Dictionary). But it's clearly not the main pronunciation: all of these dictionaries list /ˈɛər.i.əl/ as the first pronunciation for the adjective and the only pronunciation for the noun, and in many other dictionaries this is the only pronunciation listed for both parts of speech.

Another word spelled with "ae" that "should" have hiatus, but that has developed an alternative pronunciation is aeneous, from Latin aēneus/ahēneus. The Oxford English dictionary indicates that it may be pronounced with hiatus between the a and e, in accordance with the etymology (UK /eɪˈiːnɪəs/, US /eɪˈiniəs/) or it may be pronounced as if the ae came from a Latin diphthong (UK /ˈiːnɪəs/, US /ˈiniəs/). Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage Dictionary only mention the pronunciation with hiatus, and Collins only mentions the spelling pronunciation with ae = /iː/.

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