I've just heard Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, at 10:13 here (about a quarter of the way through Prime Minister's Questions, UK Parliament, Thurs 27 Oct) saying...

Amnesty International SAYS, and I quote, [blah blah, wot they sed]

Apologies to anyone who can't access the video (it's a BBC link, which I suppose gets tricky if you're not a license payer), but obviously the point is he clearly says SAYS (/seɪz/), not SEZ (/sɛz/).

As it happens, while saying those words Corbyn is constantly looking down on what are presumably pre-written notes/quotes, so I'm inclined to suppose it's actually just a one-off enunciation error (because sometimes reading and talking is like walking and chewing gum! :)

But seriously, does anyone talk like that today if they're not distracted by orthography?

I don't want to get bogged down in how non-native speakers affect things. I'm only really asking if there might perhaps be a surviving "dialectal pocket" of some kind (assuming the orthography represents an original pronunciation). Or could it be an "emergent usage", reflecting the general tendency to "regularise" irregular verbs?

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    Can't access that video, but I have heard "says" pronounced a number of different ways, by people who don't have a Midwestern US accent (the only "proper" accent there is). Some Brits seem to pronounce it oddly, as do some Eurasians. – Hot Licks Oct 28 '16 at 0:27
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    I certainly hear it, and not only from people reading aloud. But my inclination is to say it is northern - and Jeremy Corbyn certainly isn't a northerner. It is not something I would expect to hear from a sophisticated speaker - more from a child or young person reading aloud - but not only from such as them. – WS2 Oct 28 '16 at 0:28
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    How about "says" – does it sound like "sez" or "sayes"? It appears to be an open issue: theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/oct/28/… – user66974 Oct 28 '16 at 6:01
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    ...and note the past tense is not (or at least not any longer) spelled sayed but said. So in that case, the spelling change followed the pronunciation change. – GEdgar Oct 28 '16 at 14:42
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    I've heard the unusual pronunciation used for emphasis (in England) – Chris H Oct 28 '16 at 17:13

The following extract from Grammophobia (2008) seems to suggests that "says" pronounced /seiz/ can still be heard:

  • Q: I hear BBC correspondents pronounce “says” with a long “a” to rhyme with “prays.” Why do Americans pronounce it like “sez” instead of like “pays,” “lays,” and other “ays” word that come to mind. Is it just a quirk of English?

  • A: The third-person singular of the verb “say” should be pronounced “sez” on both sides of the Atlantic, according to American and British dictionaries. But pompous broadcasting twits, especially across the pond, have never let standard pronunciations get in the way of on-air affectations.

According to the following extract from Wise Words /seiz/ used to be the standard pronounciation of "says" which was gradually replaced by the shorter /sɛz/. The former appears to have survived as a non-standard dialectal form:

  • As the linguist Fidelholtz wrote back in 1975 — ‘Frequent words can do exceptional things’. The verb to 'say' is a good example of a mundane verb that is used a lot and that does exceptional things. ‘I say, you say, we say, they say’. There’s nothing peculiar here. It’s the so-called third person form that is the problem — this is where the verb falls out of kilter. In Standard English this is pronounced as ‘he/she/it sez’, and not ‘he/she/it says’. So it’s the shortened version ‘sez’ that is standard; the full form ‘says’ is now considered non-standard, dialectal.

  • The pronunciation shift from ‘says’ to ‘sez’ must have occurred some time ago — writers were already commenting on it as far back as the mid 1600s. Frequency has to be the trigger for the change here. I can think of no other explanation. The ‘he/she/it’ forms of verbs are used more often than other forms. And so the repetition of ‘says’ will have the effect of streamlining the way we articulate it. In other words, we know what we’re doing; we’ve done it so often, so we make short-cuts.

  • As in anything we do automatically, we get more efficient, faster and we decrease the size of whatever gestures are involved. In the case of speech, the transition between the sounds becomes more fluent — longer ‘says’ reduces to ‘sez’. You can see this also in the pronunciation of the form said, pronounced, in Standard English at least, with the same short vowel and not as you’d expect from the spelling (and as it was once pronounced) — ‘said’. Again you can imagine the regularity with which we produce phrases like ‘he said’/‘she said’/’it said’. Because we say it so often, we opt for a shorter route.


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    Wow I can't believe that when I first read this question I thought to myself, long says is just too hard to say, of course no one says it. But then prays, pays, lays... – Unrelated Oct 28 '16 at 13:47
  • @Unrelated one of the preachers at speakers corner, that uses the pseudonym "bob the builder" on youtube, says it long, and others do too (perhaps mirroring him). – barlop Mar 22 '18 at 13:41

I say 'says' and I say it all the time. I don't want to say 'sez' when 'says' is perfectly acceptable and also a correct form of this word.

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    Please edit this to tell us which variety/accent of English you speak. – curiousdannii Apr 13 '18 at 6:10
  • Can you also add IPA pronunciation? Part of the problem with pronunciation is that regular English spelling is not very reliable. – Mitch Apr 13 '18 at 11:40

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