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I know that the pronunciation of academy can be broken down into: a-cad-emy with the stress on cad

While that of academic can be broken down into ac-a-dem-ic with the stress on the dem

Sometime I wonder why academy is not broken down into ac-a-de-my and pronouncing it with the stress on a

The first page of the google search results didn't yield anything useful, hence posting here to get some ideas :)

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    Have you tried pronouncing them the same?
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 25, 2017 at 0:55
  • English pronunciation (as opposed to pronounce-iation) is rather fluid among related words.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 25, 2017 at 1:41
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    It's a feature of the morphology. The -ic/-ical derivational suffix has the effect of shifting the word stress one syllable later: aCAdemy/acaDEMic, PHOneme/phoNEMic, aSTROnomy/astroNOMical, SYMphony/symPHONic, etc. Feb 25, 2017 at 1:47
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    @JohnLawler It is, although this one has a long tale running back to when we borrowed or inherited them from Latin (via French) and ultimately to Greek if I’m not mistaken. Romance languages with phonemic stress stress these just as we do—where the Romans once had a long vowel. Also, these are all rather Greek to me: aNATomy/anaTOMic, auTONomy/autoNOMic, buREACracy/bureauCRATic, biOLogy/bioLOGic, eCONomy/ecoNOMic, gasTRONomy/gasTRONomic, HIStory/hisTORic, homoeOPathy/homoeoPATHic, parAMeter/paraMETric, phoTOGr aphy/photoGRAPHic, SYNthesis/synTHETic, taxONomy/taxoNOMic, zoOLogy/zoöLOGic.
    – tchrist
    Feb 25, 2017 at 2:35
  • Say "academic", but replace the "ic" sound with the "y" sound. Say it several times, fairly rapidly. What happens? Now imagine saying it about a million times.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 25, 2017 at 3:18

1 Answer 1

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Stress on words like "academy" has historically been somewhat variable. We see two conflicting tendencies: one favoring stressing the first (fourth-to-last) syllable, and one favoring stressing the third-to-last syllable. It's not quite clear why, but the third-to-last pronunciation won out. You can see references to the other pronunciation in Nares (1784) and Elphinston (1786). A similar variation exists today for the word "antimony"—Americans usually pronounce it with stress on the first, and Brits on the second syllable.

"Academic" is easier to explain, at least one one level. As John Lawler mentioned in the comments, there is a strong tendency towards pronouncing words containing the suffix "-ic" with the stress on the immediately preceding syllable (and a slightly weaker, but still strong tendency to shorten any vowel but "long u" in this position). I describe the only exceptions I know of in the following answer: Words pronounced with stress patterns like in "politics", "lunatics", etc.?

However, explaining the origin of this tendency/rule is difficult.

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    Are you sure? Fourth to the last syllable is not a normal stress pattern in English. Third, second, or last is normal.
    – tchrist
    Feb 25, 2017 at 3:07
  • Ok, it looks like we're talking about different things here. So a word like controversy the Brits stress on the second syllable as con-TRO-ver-sy, and Americans stress on both the first AND THIRD syllables as CON-tro-VER-sy. Not just on the first syllable alone. That way there's only a one-syllable unstressed gap between stressed syllables. We can go two as well, but I thought you were suggesting we go three, and that very nearly never happens in English. It's like musical beats: everything is in twos or threes. We don't like more than that before we get a stronger beat again.
    – tchrist
    Feb 25, 2017 at 4:01
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    @tchrist: In fact, Walker does show secondary stress on the penult of the pronunciation of "academy", although this may not occur for him in all words with primary stress on the pre-antepenult: he gives the vowel of "money" in the penult of testimony, which could indicate vowel reduction (which would be incompatible with secondary stress).
    – herisson
    Feb 25, 2017 at 4:11

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