I used to have quite a bit of trouble spelling the word pronunciation because it's a long word, and because the way I pronounce it misleads me — I say "pro-noun-ciation" instead of "pro-nun-ciation". What would a phoneticist say I was doing when I change the quality of the vowel?

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    Do Americans in general pronounce it like you? (I don't think so) If not, and there's no general use like that, isn't this a bit localized? – Mitch Jun 8 '11 at 22:19
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    @Mitch - It's neither a general American pronunciation nor a regional one; it is, however, a common error - common enough that saying something like "Pardon my mispronounciation" is a fairly common, humorous way to acknowledge that you've just (for instance) mangled someone's name. Everyone knows it's wrong; I've never met anyone who intentionally said "pronounciation" except in a humorous context... but it does seem to be a fairly common error; I would estimate that it's said (accidentally) perhaps 3-5% of the times that "pronunciation" is intended. Do only USAites make this mistake? – MT_Head Jun 8 '11 at 23:34
  • I don't recall noticing this mistake in British speakers but as a spelling error it's very common. In fact, I almost always have to stop at the second n and correct myself when typing this word. – z7sg Ѫ Jun 8 '11 at 23:55
  • I most definitely have noticed this mistake in British speakers, both in how it is spelled and pronounced. I have no idea how common it is though. Oddly I don't know how common it is in Australia either even though that's where I'm from. – hippietrail Jun 9 '11 at 1:09
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    @MT_Head It's not a speech error, but rather the primary pronunciation for many native English speakers. – Colin May 15 '17 at 1:34

This is not a phonologically-defined vowel change, unless you have a list of words with a similar phonological pattern.

Instead, what you are doing with pro-nounc-iation is maintaining the structure of the stem, pronounce, instead of allowing it to undergo a vowel reduction ([aʊ] -> [ʌ]). (Incidentally, the vowel reduction occurs in the first place because that syllable, which is stressed in the verb pronounce becomes unstressed in the word pronunciation; of course, we aren't recreating this reduction every time we pronounce the word — the reduction became "set" in that word in the lexicon at some point in time.)

In any case, keeping the stem constant as you are doing could be considered a form of leveling. That is, you are regularizing the stem analogically, thus keeping the stem constant across different derivational forms.

  • I agree with your answer: this is leveling that maintains the stem. But I disagree when you say the rest of us aren't recreating the reduction every time we pronounce the word. I'm pretty sure I would do the same [aʊ] -> [ʌ] reduction for nonce words with -ation suffix, such as razlound->razlundation, spennouct->spennuctation – krubo Jun 10 '11 at 1:35
  • @krubo: Even if you would do that, it certainly doesn't mean that the word pronunciation isn't lexicalized. – Kosmonaut Jun 10 '11 at 2:04
  • The second syllable of "pronunciation" does not have a reduced vowel for me; I am pretty sure it doesn't for most people. It has secondary stress. The vowel change is a separate phenomenon from reduction, like the shift between "serene" and "serenity." – herisson Jul 2 '16 at 6:43
  • @sumelic: You are right. Looking at this five years later I am not sure what I was thinking! – Kosmonaut Jul 5 '16 at 13:15

I believe this is called analogy: because a similar word in similar circumstances is pronounced with ou, some speakers will pronounce the u in pronunciation likewise, and its sound may eventually change completely. See Wikipedia on analogy in linguistics. Variation (often by contraction) and analogy are the great opposing forces that continually mould our language into new forms.


Depending on the scale of the change, it could be considered a vowel shift:

A vowel shift is a systematic sound change in the pronunciation of the vowel sounds of a language.

The specific vowel shift that hits home for me is the Northern cities vowel shift:

  • Raising and tensing of /æ/
  • Fronting of /ɑ/
  • Lowering of /ɔ/
  • Backing and lowering of /ɛ/
  • Backing of /ʌ/
  • Lowering and backing of /ɪ/

Notice that there are specific terms used to describe the individual changes. Moving from "nun" to "noun" would probably line up with this description and therefore receive the term "backing":

Backing of /ʌ/ — The movement of /ʌ/ toward [ɔ]. /ʌ/ is the "short u" vowel, as in cut. People with the shift pronounce cut so that it sounds more like caught to people without the shift.

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    This isn't a vowel shift if it happens with one word — it should occur with lots of words in similar contexts. It clearly looks like a morphological issue (i.e. stem alternation, or lack thereof) and not a phonological one. – Kosmonaut Jun 9 '11 at 0:00
  • @Kosmonaut, perhaps your comment should be an independent answer? It seems to me to be quite a reasonable explanation. – jyc23 Jun 9 '11 at 0:07
  • @jyc23: Actually I just finished composing my answer :) – Kosmonaut Jun 9 '11 at 0:18
  • @Kosmonaut: Without more information, it wouldn't be possible to tell if this is happening to other words around Billare. But yeah, very good point. – MrHen Jun 9 '11 at 0:56

There may be

  • general population phonetic reasons (vowel shifting)
  • cultural reasons (just people around you say it that way)
  • a folk etymology may be influencing you, that is, knowing that the longer word 'pronunciation' is possibly a derivative of 'pronounce', you (and your surroundings) also pronounce the derived word 'pronounce-iation'

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