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As far as I know, the word "species" can pronounced either as spee-sheez or as spee-seez. I understand that neither of these is incorrect: they're just two different ways to say the same thing. I also know that the second one is pretty much only used in the US. Not being a speaker myself, I'd like to know: is this a regional variation, or is it just something that depends on the speaker?

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    It depends on the speaker. Those who have the most occasion to use the word (biologists, especially taxonomists) may well have their own in-group pronunciation, for all I know. Attend a biology conference and hang out in the bar with a tape recorder if you want to find out the truth. – John Lawler May 24 '13 at 2:31
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    As an Australian English speaker who has served time in a university biology department I can say that 'spee-seez' is far more common. British speakers may be more inclined to use the alternative, although with many bioligical terms (notably taxonomic nomenclature) it seems to be personal preference as to which of the numerous pronounciations to use. Having said all that, I would certainly pronounce specious as 'spee-shus', so there you go. – Stuart Allen Jun 5 '13 at 22:47
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    I say spee-seez, but I believe David Attenborough says spee-sheez. In fact, linguist David Crystal said in a video I watched one time that for a while he was annoyed by his child saying skeh-jool rather than sheh-jool for "schedule". For the record, I say skeh-jool. – Dog Lover May 24 '17 at 0:23
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The Received Pronunciation (which is the "British Standard", in a way, the one which is also exported) suggests the first one "spee-sheez". Source: Oxford English Dictionary

The US pronunciation accepts both. Source: Macmillan Dictionary

Probably the biologists would use the second one, as internationally there is more consensus on that variant. Also, it comes from ecclesiastical Latin, where the /spetʃies/ pronunciation was used.

There is more likely a professional/academical difference in pronunciation, than a geographical one, as the word is not everyday language.

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    The online OED (paywalled, unfortunately) lists FIVE different British pronunciations: (/ˈspiːʃɪz/, /ˈspiːʃiːz/, /ˈspiːsɪz/, /ˈspiːsiːz/, /ˈspiːʃɪiːz/); how are you determining which is RP? – 1006a Aug 16 '17 at 16:19
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It pretty much depends on the speaker, aside from the general factors you already mentioned. An older pronunciation that I don't think is used anymore was /ˈspiːʃiiːz/ ("speeshy-eez"); this stems from the same variation in syllabification that affects words like fascia (which can be pronounced /ˈfeɪʃiə/, /ˈfeɪʃə/, /ˈfæʃiə/, /ˈfæʃə/).

The pronunciation ending in /siːz/ (or in British English, sometimes /sɪz/), is a bit irregular from an etymological standpoint, although it actually doesn't have anything to do with Ecclesiastical Latin.

"-ies" was originally pronounced with two separate vowel sounds

In Latin, -ies was pronounced as two syllables. It is pronounced with two syllables in some English words, such as sanies ("sayny-eez") and paries ("pairy-eez").

However, in other words, such as rabies, scabies, and series, it is pronounced with a single vowel /iː/ (in British English, sometimes /ɪ/). This is actually an irregular correspondence between Latin and English pronunciation: the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says that the N.E.D. (1903) listed a trisyllabic pronunciation for rabies, and the N.E.D. (1912) listed /ˈsɪərɪiːz/ ("seery-eez") for series.

The OED still lists a trisyllabic pronunciation for caries, but all the other dictionaries I've checked give the two-syllable pronunciation.

simplification to a single vowel sound might be due to analogy?

I suspect that the pronunciation of these words has been affected by analogy, either with plural words that end in monosyllabic -ies such as cities, or simply with words where "ie" is used as a digraph to represent /iː/ (e.g. field, belief, chief). A re-analysis of rabies and scabies as plural forms seems somewhat likely since there are a number of other disease names in English that are morphologically plural (such as measles). Series also seems similar to a plural in meaning (some people, although I think mostly non-native speakers, back-form a singular serie).

That said, in "RP" British English plurals like prophecies generally are transcribed with a lax vowel (/ɪz/), so in British English pronunciations of rabies, scabies and the like with a tense vowel (/iːz/) do not actually necessarily sound like the plural forms of hypothetical singular forms "raby", "scaby".

in "-cies" words, this reanalysis affects the consonant used

In words like species, facies, superficies, it's actually pretty regular for the i to not be pronounced as a separate syllable, but we would still expect it to palatalize the preceding consonant, resulting in /ʃiːz/, due to the phenomenon of "yod coalescence" that gives us /ʃəl/ in special (as opposed to, e.g., /ri.əl~rɪ.əl/ in material). The pronunciations with unpalatalized monosyllabic "-cies" /siːz/ are irregular and would have to stem from some process of reanalysis, like the pronunciations of rabies, scabies and series that were mentioned above.

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As an American, I pronounce it similar to [spee-sheez]. However, the "sh" sound in species is different from how I pronounce the "sh" in most other words. I am not sure if this is normal or not for an American. I pronounce the "sh" in species with my tongue in the normal position for "s" with the back of my tongue near where it would be for saying the y sound.

I always pronounce the normal "sh" sound with my tongue between where it would be for saying an "s" and saying a "y".

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My undergrad is in Biology and I have worked in science and engineering for more than 40 years. I travel extensively within the Americas, Europe and China.

Here's my take.

I NEVER EVER say Spee-shees and I never will. To me, that pronunciation is fingernails on a blackboard. Uncultured. Seriously, I can't stand hearing it.

Spee-cees is what I say and over the course of my life I've said it A LOT.

My thought - and I have thought about it...

Someone, somewhere about ten or fifteen years ago - perhaps a broadcast newsperson of some kind - said "Spee-shees". Some dip-sh*t person heard it and thought to themself "Say, here's a way for me to demonstrate how VERY SUPERIOR I am because Spee-Shees sounds soooo much smarter. And that's me ... I are smart!"

Fast forward. Now the pox is pandemic. Every moron say Spee-shees and increasingly I hear even life-sciences professionals saying it that ugly way too. Sad. Yet another example of the Decline of Human Civilization.

The final insult is that David Attenborough - that's SIR David Attenborough (and the guy I wish I was) now says Spee-shees. However, his vocalization is a slightly less horrific as he does not emphasize the repellent 'SHee' part.

Citing various dictionaries doesn't settle anything. Dictionaries are actually pretty quick to accept common mal-pronounciations. (Hmmm. Dictionary sales maybe???)

Do your part.

FRIENDS DON'T LET FRIENDS SAY SPEE-SHEES !!!

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    So we know how you don't pronounce it but you don't say how you do and why. – KillingTime Apr 8 '19 at 17:21
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    @KillingTime well he says it's pronounced Spee-cees, but I'm still not convinced by this answer that it can't be regional accent that changes the pronunciation a bit. The answer names Sir David Attenborough as an example and he probably has said the word lots of times as well, just like the author of this answer claims to have done to make an authoritative argument. @george, I suggest you try to add authoritative sources to support your answer otherwise we're none the wiser as to who is correct (if one pronunciation is actually more correct). ;) – JJ for Transparency and Monica Apr 8 '19 at 18:51
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    An 1828 dictionary says speeshees. As does an 1892 one. It's not a new pronunciation. – Peter Shor Apr 8 '19 at 20:51

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