Could you let me know how to pronounce “1/12” properly ?

  • 1
    Are you talking about a fraction or a date or something else? – Matt E. Эллен Dec 17 '13 at 16:38
  • Are you asking whether 'twelfth' rhymes with 'health', 'shelf', or neither? In some dialects, all three of these words rhyme. (And in any dialect, the words certainly come close enough to rhyming for poetry.) – Peter Shor Dec 17 '13 at 17:00
  • possible duplicate of How do you pronounce "fifths"? – Mitch Dec 17 '13 at 18:43
  • Since it's not clear what the context is, or whether you're taking about the fraction, my reply will be that I pronounce is ounce. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 17 '13 at 19:06
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I’d’ve been more apt to say inch, but I must not deal in precious metals as much as you appear to. – tchrist Dec 18 '13 at 13:10

One phenomenon of Fast Speech Rules in English
(besides centralization of unstressed vowels to shwa),
is reduction of consonant clusters. This is especially clear
when the ordinal number "-th" /-θ/ suffix is added to a cardinal number
that already ends in a consonant or -- especially -- a cluster of consonants.

These are 6 /sɪks/ and 12 /twɛlv/,
which are officially sposta turn into the ordinals /sɪksθ/ and /twɛlfθ/
(with automatic devoicing of /v/ to /f/, preceding voiceless /θ/
but this devoicing often goes to completion, deleting the /f/ altogether),
so frequently they get elided to /sɪks:/ or /twɛlθ/,
especially if they're contracted with a pronoun, which is very frequent with ordinals:

  • /ðə'sɪkswənɪz'mayn/ 'The sixth one is mine'
  • /ðə'twɛlθwənɪz'mayn/ 'The twelfth one is mine'

This is compounded, and even more complex, when adding the noun plural "-s" {-Z₁}
suffix to an ordinal number, which is one way we're sposta mark rational numbers:

  • /wən'sɪksθ/ '¹/₆; one-sixth'         /wən'twɛlfθ/ '¹/₁₂; one-twelfth'
  • /fayv'sɪksθs/ '⁵/₆; five-sixths'         /fayv'twɛlfθs/ '⁵/₁₂; five-twelfths'

That's officially. But in fact clusters like /ksθs/ and /lfθs/ are way too many
consonants in a row for an English speaker to pronounce
at the end of a word, at least at normal speaking rates,
unless one is enunciating very carefully.

So we tend to shorten ordinals in practice, almost always by deleting the /θ/,
leaving /fayv'twɛlfs/ and /fayv'sɪkss/ (with a definite long [s:] in "sixths").

  • Hi, Prof! What am I missing - why do you want the odd line breaks in this post? – Marthaª Dec 17 '13 at 20:05
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    I have no idea what you're missing. There is no objective standard for "odd" in this group, particularly where typography is concerned. Consequently, what's odd to you may not be odd to everyone. I do my own editing, thanks; I'm grateful for correction of obvious toyps, but not otherwise. I typed it that way because that's the way I would say the sentences; I'm trying to talk about pronunciation in print here, and the closer it gets to real talk, the better chance I have of fooling my audience into hearing instead of seeing. – John Lawler Dec 17 '13 at 20:20
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    I too looked at this answer and was puzzled by the odd text flow. Unusual line breaks are, to my mind, the exclusive domain of poetry. It's pretty—I'm going to say eccentric —to use line breaks in the middle of prose as a form of punctuation, regardless of the prose's topic. I'm not going to change it, but I will go on record as giving a thumbs down to the idea of testing out this kind of textual innovation on the site. – nohat Dec 17 '13 at 22:00
  • 1
    Well, it's your thumb. – John Lawler Dec 18 '13 at 0:39
  • Is sposta an Italian grammar related word or short for supposed to ? – mplungjan Dec 18 '13 at 8:27

Whenever you put the words "pronounce" and "properly" together for English, you need to specify a dialect. Many words are pronouced differently in the various different English dialects.

I'm not real good with phonetic spelling, but in mine (American Midland) we'd say roughly "One twelth"

  • 2
    Unless it is the 12th of Jan or or the 1st of Dec ;) – mplungjan Dec 17 '13 at 16:03
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    Where's the "f" sound? 12th is "twelfth" and I have always heard it pronounced exactly that way (US, Midwest) – Kristina Lopez Dec 17 '13 at 16:33
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    In my experience, the "f" is more likely to become silent if the speaker's had a few drinks. ;) – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Dec 17 '13 at 18:08
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    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner, and if that's the case, they are more concerned with being able to say the word "fifth". Lol – Kristina Lopez Dec 17 '13 at 18:23
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    @KristinaLopez - Actually, I don't really pronounce the interior "f" in fifth either (sounds essentially like "fith"). Never caused me trouble ordering drinks around here. :-) – T.E.D. Dec 18 '13 at 1:02

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