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Why is it that "appreciate" is pronounced as though it were "appreshiate?"

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    It isn't, at least around here (western US). – jamesqf Feb 19 '16 at 23:50
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    @jamesqf: how do you pronounce it? "a-PREE-see-eight"? – herisson Feb 19 '16 at 23:54
  • The penultimate syllable is typically pronounced (in the US) as either "she" or "see", or possibly somewhere in-between. Even a given speaker may not be consistent, varying with the context and the speed/casualness of speech. – Hot Licks Jan 2 '17 at 2:02
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    Are you asking why the 'c' is pronounced as a 'sh' and not a 's' or ar you asking why it isn't pronounced as a hard 'c', that is closer to a 'k'? – BoldBen Apr 2 at 18:27
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In general, English words spelled with "ci", "ti" or "si" before a vowel letter are often pronounced with a "sh" sound /ʃ/ rather than a "s" sound /s/. This phenomenon is called "palatalization," and it is described in the answers to the following questions:

The answers I linked to above mostly discuss words like social /ˈsoʊʃəl/ and initial /ɪˈnɪʃəl/ where there is no distinct "i" sound after the /ʃ/. However, there are also some words where "ti" or "ci" before a vowel letter is pronounced as /ʃi/, the combination of the "sh" consonant and a short unstressed "ee" sound (in some older British dialects, the sound used in words like this was more like "ih"). This includes words like associate (v.) /əˈsoʊʃieɪt/, appreciate /əˈpriːʃieɪt/, and initiate (v) /ɪˈnɪʃieɪt/.

It seems that this pronunciation is used for words ending in -iate, as well as further derivatives of these such as words ending in -iation. More generally, a pronunciation with /ʃi/ often seems to be possible when the following vowel letter represents an "unreduced" vowel sound like /eɪ/, /oʊ/ (ratio), /ɒ~ɑ/ (preciosity), /ɛ/ (conscientious), or /æ/ (partiality).

For some of these words, a pronunciation with /si/ is also possible; you should check a dictionary to see if that is the case for any particular word. For example, the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary lists an alternate pronunciation with /si/ for associate, but not for appreciate or initiate.

Another reason to check the dictionary: some words with similar spellings are never pronounced with /ʃ/, such as pronunciation and calcium, for which the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary lists only the pronunciation with /si/.

By the way, this kind of palatalization can also affect many other words such as those spelled with "ce" (ocean); it generally occurs in words spelled with t, c, ss, s, or z or before i or e followed by another vowel letter (a non-exhaustive list of possible environments for palatalization: "ia", "ie", "io", "iu", "ea"), resulting in pronunciations with fricatives like /ʃ/ or /ʒ/.

When "t" comes after the letter "s", it doesn't palatalize to /ʃ/ but to /tʃ/ (as in "Christianity" /krɪstʃiˈænɪti/). This rule also applies to words ending in -stion, like "question" /kwɛstʃən/.

Another, slightly different kind of palatalization occurs in words spelled with ss, s, z, t, or d before unstressed "long u" (often in the ending "-ure"), resulting in pronunciations with fricatives like /ʃ/ or /ʒ/ or affricates like /tʃ/ or /dʒ/.

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  • In retrospect, the oddest example of pronouncing a 'c' as 'sh' in my experience is the way people in southeast Texas (where I grew up) pronounced 'grocery': as a two-syllable word with a long 'o' in the (stressed) first syllable and a long 'e' in the second syllable, as if the word were spelled 'groash-ree'. Compare that to the pronunciation of 'groceries' by Jerry Reed (who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia) at 0:57–1:00 of his song 'Amos Moses', where there is at least a hint of a mushy 's' sound in the word. – Sven Yargs Aug 21 '19 at 17:39
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    @SvenYargs, that's exactly the pronunciation I grew up with in DeKalb, IL (right on the isogloss bundle separating Northern from Midlands). /'groʃristor/ three syllables. – John Lawler Jul 26 at 19:24
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Take a look at this video. It seems that you can also pronunce it as in "see".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y55l-3pnV7s

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