5

When speaking the phrase grocery store aisle, I leave the s in aisle silent. Are there any regional variations of English in which the s is not silent?

3
  • 2
    Interesting comment here:etymonline.com/index.php?term=aisle
    – mplungjan
    Oct 7, 2014 at 13:00
  • 2
    I can add that I've never heard the "s" pronounced in my region (the US - specifically the Northeast - major metropolitan areas + New England).
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 7, 2014 at 13:02
  • 1
    No, I certainly know of nowhere in Britain where the s would be pronounced, in aisle, isle or island.
    – WS2
    Oct 7, 2014 at 13:44

1 Answer 1

5

OED lists a large number of forms — probably unsurprisingly since it's a Middle English word:

Pronunciation: Brit. /ʌɪl/ , U.S. /aɪl/
Forms:
α. ME eile, ME eill, ME ele, ME elle, ME hele, ME ill, ME ille, ME–15 eyle, ME–15 yele, ME–15 yle, ME–18 ile, 15 heyell, 15 yell, 15 ylle, 18– hile (Eng. regional (south-west. and Isle of Wight)); Sc. pre-17 eyll, pre-17 iile, pre-17 iill, pre-17 ile, pre-17 iyle, pre-17 iyll, pre-17 yell, pre-17 yill, pre-17 yle, pre-17 yll; N. E. D. (1884) also records a form lME eille, lME ylle.
β. lME ilde, lME jlde, 15 ȝelde, 15 yeld, 15 yld.
γ. 15 oyle, 15 (Sc.) 16– aisle, 15–17 ayle, 16 oylle, 17–18 aile.
δ. 15– isle (now nonstandard).

The only form which has an s originated in the 17th century, and that's the form which has survived (apart from the "nonstandard" isle).

Regarding the -s-, OED has

The γ. forms show alteration after Middle French, French aile wing, etc. The modern standard spelling aisle, which was hesitatingly admitted by Johnson (1755), probably shows an alteration of ayle after the δ. forms, rather than being in any way directly influenced by the rare Middle French, French †aisle.

Thus there is only one form of the word in its history which includes an -s- and that may have been influenced by the French aile. OED comments "In Middle French and early modern French spellings with medial -s- this is a purely graphic device serving to indicate the open quality of the vowel."

The word itself derives from Anglo-Norman ele, eele, eile "wing of a church" (late 12th cent. or earlier), according to OED, which is directly related to the French aile.

Accordingly, it seems reasonable to say that the -s- in aisle has never been pronounced.

1
  • It appeared to me from glancing at the OED that the s comes rather later than the 15th century suggested by Etymonline (see @mplungian comment). the first example with both an a and an s is 1789.
    – WS2
    Oct 7, 2014 at 13:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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