2

As an American, I noticed Fluorine and Iodine, though clearly sharing the same ending (and this was corroborated by etymonline.com; both contain the same chemical suffix) sounded different. Fluorine has an ending that sounds like "een", and Iodine has an ending that sounds like "ine" should sound if you say it aloud. Bromine, Chlorine, and Astatine also have an "een" ending, so clearly Iodine is an outlier. I then went on en.wiktionary.org to check it out, and it turns out the British pronounce it correctly, whereas the Americans do not. I searched all my usual sources and some more, but nothing could explain this difference. Any help?

4
  • If you know nothing about any of the other terms and you encounter "iodine" for the first time, how would you pronounce it? Consider how you pronounce the word "dine". – Hot Licks Jan 4 '17 at 3:26
  • And where do they say EEohdeen? ;-) – Drew Jan 4 '17 at 5:18
  • 1
    Consider that "iodine" is/was a common antiseptic, and at one time a bottle of "tincture of iodine" was in virtually every medicine cabinet in the US. But the common person had no cause to ever encounter fluorine and bromine, and only a vague familiarity with chlorine. As to astatine, I had to look it up. – Hot Licks Jan 4 '17 at 22:48
  • 1
    Good point; iodine probably has passed into colloquial English by now, while all the others are mainly used scientifically – etymologynerd.com Jan 6 '17 at 17:12
5

I don't think there is any good explanation.

I checked this in Fowler (originally 1926; re-published 2009). He writes that iodine, bromine, chlorine and fluorine were at the time all given with /ɪn/ as the main pronunciation in the OED, with /aɪ/ as an allowed alternative. He also thinks that "iodine" generally had /aɪ/ in popular usage at his time, unlike the other three.

Apparently the prevalence of different pronunciations has shifted since his time. As you note, the pronunciation with /iː/ seems to be common in modern British English (the OED now lists it first). In general, words ending in the suffix -ine have very variable pronunciation, unrelated to any etymological distinctions (e.g. divine, bovine vs. marine vs. genuine). It's somewhat comparable to the variability in the pronunciation of -ile. Although some, such as John Walker, have attempted to prescribe /ɪl~l̩/ vs. /aɪl/ on the basis of Latin vowel length, it seems quite arbitrary to use this as a criterion of correct pronunciation today, especially since /aɪ/ is actually stigmatized in the pronunciation of the word genuine which is from Latin genuīnus (and as far as I know, /aɪ/ is unheard of in doctrine, from Latin doctrīna).

Another oddity is that "machine", which in Latin had a short vowel in the second syllable and was stressed on the first vowel (māchina), is in modern English pronounced with stressed /iːn/ in the last syllable due to coming through French. (This word doesn't have the same suffix as the other -ine words, but it ends in the same letters.)

2
  • In Middle French where we got the word from, machine had three syllables not two; its stress pattern is unclear because I’m not certain when French lost phonemic stress. However, other Western Romance languages have máquina (ES,PT,Gal), màquina (Cat), macchina (IT) — all stressed on the first of their three faithful syllables. I am quite suspicious of the notion that French advanced the stress syllable by one before it lost stress altogether. – tchrist Jan 5 '17 at 4:00
  • @tchrist: Well, I don't think "machine" was a natural development from Latin "machina", it was probably a learned borrowing. As far as I know, Latin /k/ or /kʰ/ didn't normally develop to French "ch" before "i", and Latin short unstressed "i" was usually dropped in French in positions like this (compare ordre < ordinem, femme < feminam, homme < hominem). So it wouldn't surprise me if the stress was placed in a different place from in Latin. – herisson Jan 5 '17 at 4:09

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.