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Is it /rɪˈpɒzɪt(ə)ri/ or \ri-ˈpä-zə-ˌtȯr-ē\?

I'm confused, I've seen it pronounced both ways and I'm not not sure if it's an American/British thing or do people just use different pronunciations on special occasions.

Merriam Webster only lists one pronunciation which it says is \ri-ˈpä-zə-ˌtȯr-ē\:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/repository

Macmillan Dictionary only lists one pronunciation which it says is /rɪˈpɒzɪt(ə)ri/:

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/pronunciation/british/repository

and the Google Translator lady is pronouncing it /rəˈpäzəˌtôrē/.

Which one is it? More importantly for me, which one is the one most commonly used in the domain of programming (that is, in relation to git repositories).

  • 5
    The URL to Macmillan Dictionary provides a big clue. – TaliesinMerlin Jul 20 at 14:32
  • Among other things it varies depending on how fast one is speaking. – Hot Licks Jul 20 at 20:12
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    For the computer programming context (git svn etc) 'repository' is often truncated to 'repo' pronounced with long e and long o. (In US 'repo' is also used as the truncation of 'reposession',, when a lender seizes personal-property collateral on a loan which wasn't repaid as required, commonly an automobile. Apparently the set of people working on largish computer programs and the set who fail to repay loans don't overlap enough for this to cause problematic ambiguity.) – dave_thompson_085 Jul 21 at 2:06
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I'm not not sure if it's an American/British thing

It is an American/British thing, although there also could be variation between individuals of either accent.

In general, British English speakers are more likely than American English speakers to elide a syllable in words ending in -ory (like repository) or -ary (like dictionary). When British English speakers don't elide the second-to-last syllable of words ending in -ory/-ary, they generally pronounce it with a reduced vowel (also known as schwa, and transcribed as /ə/). The same reduced vowel sound is found in either accent in the second-to-last syllable of surgery or of battery, when that word is pronounced with three syllables.

American English speakers are more likely than British English speakers to use a pronunciation with an unreduced vowel (what you wrote as "reposi-to-ree"). The syllable containing the unreduced vowel can be analyzed as having some stress, although not as much as the syllable with the "primary stress" of the word (in repository, that is the second syllable). This "minor" kind of stress has been called "tertiary stress". Tertiary stress usually isn't present when the immediately preceding syllable is stressed (tchrist left a comment listing some words like this, e.g. history, which in both accents typically has no stress of any kind on any syllable other than the first).

There is a question on ELL asking about why American English and British English differ in this way, but I don't think the reason is entirely clear: '-…ory' : Pronunciation difference between American and British English?

or do people just use different pronunciations on special occasions.

I haven't heard of people varying the number of syllables in the word repository based on the occasion. Some people might have what is called "free variation", where they use both forms more or less interchangeably. As far as I know, neither pronunciation is considered markedly informal, so I wouldn't worry about one or the other pronunciation being inappropriate for any situation. At most, using the less common pronunciation for your environment might sound unusual, but I don't think it would be a big issue.

  • Don’t the “reduced-by-one” syllable counts commonly heard in such words “prove” that it’s entirely their proparoxytonic (dactyllic?) stress pattern that’s responsible for the phenomenon you reference here and in your referenced ELL answer? Consider every, ivory, fiery, Faerie, theory, calorie, luxury, savory, ornery, memory, celery, salary, slavery, sensory, history, hickory, grocery, factory, century, battery, Gregory, treasury, illusory, porphyry, peremptory, embroidery, introductory. Note how this occurs not just in BrE but also in AmE for all or most of these words. – tchrist Jul 20 at 20:39
  • @tchrist: Which phenomenon do you mean? Schwa elision/syncope can operate on words stressed on the third-to-last (contraˈdictory) or fourth-to-last syllable (reˈpository), which produces forms stressed on the second-to-last (contraˈdict'ry) or third-to-last syllable (reˈposit'ry). Minor/tertiary stress on -ary or -ory usually only shows up in words where the primary stress is on the fourth-to-last syllable rather than the third-to-last syllable. But there are a few trisyllables ending in -ary that are often heard with unreduced vowels in American English: binary, primary, library. – sumelic Jul 20 at 20:58
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The word written ‹REPOSITORY› is most often (but not always) pronounced as one of:

  1. [ɹᵻˈpʰɒsᵻtɹi]
  2. [ɹɪˈpʰɑzᵻtʃɹi]
  3. [ɹəˈpʰɑzətʃɹi]
  4. [rᵻˈpʰɒsᵻtəri]
  5. [rᵻˈpʰɒsᵻtəri]
  6. [ɹᵻˈpʰɒsᵻˌtʰɔɹi]
  7. [ɹᵻˈpʰɑzᵻˌtʰɔɹi]
  8. [ɹəˈpʰɑzəˌtʰɔɹi]
  9. [ɹiˈpʰɔzəˌtʰoɹi]
  10. (other possibilities)

Notice that some of those (1–5) have one stress, but others (6–9) have two.

In virtually every position in this word, many possible pronunciations are possible. Precisely which one of those it may be in any given dialect, accent, speaker, register, and utterance depends on many more factors than can be adequately explained in the space allotted for answers here.

Here, though, is a tentative synopsis; it is not meant to be complete but merely demonstrative:

  • This word’s written ‹R› is any of [ɹ ⁓ ɻ ⁓ ɻʷ ⁓ r] here, with the lastmost really appearing only in Scotland amongst native speakers.
  • This word’s written ‹E› is any of [i ⁓ ɪ ⁓ ᵻ ⁓ ə] here.
  • This word’s written ‹P› is always [pʰ] here because it is at the onset of a stressed syllable.
  • This word’s written ‹O› is any of [ɔ ⁓ ɒ ⁓ ɑ] here.
  • This word’s written ‹S› is either of [s ⁓ z] here.
  • This word’s written ‹I› is any of [ɪ ⁓ ᵻ ⁓ ə] here.
  • This word’s written ‹T› is either of [t ⁓ tʰ] here, with the aspirated version occurring in those speakers who use any stress at all for this syllable.
  • This word’s written ‹O› is any of [o ⁓ ɔ ⁓ ə] or nothing at all here, sometimes written [∅].
  • This word’s written ‹R› is any of [ɹ ⁓ ɻ ⁓ r] here, again with the final sound possible “only” in Scotland.
  • This word’s written ‹Y› is any of [i ⁓ ᵻ ⁓ ə] here.

You might think that that mapping just given of one letter mapping to many possible sounds would be enough, but it isn't. Not only do letters and sounds enjoy no one-to-one mapping in English, they even lack a one-to-many mapping. One letter can represent one of many possible sounds, or no sound at all, sometimes groups of letters together can represent groups of sounds that cannot be decomposed into any simple relationship. For example, sometimes the complex consonant cluster [tʃɻʷ] appears, particularly in some North American and Irish speakers who use a pronunciation of just four syllables and a single stress rather than a pronunciation of five syllables with two stresses.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 20 at 20:47
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    Were 4 and 5 intended to be different from one another? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 20 at 23:28
  • It would be helpful for such an answer to add a link to a key to the pronunciation code being used. – Xanne Jul 23 at 21:32
3

"reposi-tree" is British; "reposi-to-ree" is American.

One big clue is the origin of the dictionary you're using. Merriam-Webster is an American reference dictionary ("About Us," Merriam-Webster), so its pronunciations tend to be American. Macmillan has an American and a British listing, and each has a distinct pronunciation:

(American) /rɪˈpɑzəˌtɔri/

(British) /rɪˈpɒzɪt(ə)ri/

The difference is in the vowel - /(ə)/ denotes an optional schwa, or unemphasized vowel, so (it-ree) or (it-er-ee) are both possible in British English. /ɔ/ denotes the (o) sound you're describing; in American English the extra vowel/syllable is more common. That said, experience may vary based on the local dialect or one's idiolect; dictionaries represent common usage, not universal usage.

  • 2
    I’m afraid I must disagree with your final assertion about Americans being unable to have a tetrasyllabic pronunciation here. When you show just one “correct” way for the entire UK (and maybe Ireland) and just one ”correct” way for all of America (and maybe Canada), this represents no more than an air-brushed and hand-waved, platonically simplified version of ever-messy reality: a great many North Americans say [ɻʷɪˈpʰɑzətʃɻi] for this word, and no few have rounded [ɒ] instead there in the second syllable, particularly in the northeast of the continent, including western Pennsylvania. – tchrist Jul 20 at 15:36
  • Done, thanks! I didn't mean to sound so absolute in my answer. – TaliesinMerlin Jul 20 at 16:45
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    @TaliesinMerlin Every absolute can be refined to exceptions. You have to stop somewhere. I don't think I've ever heard Americans use the 'tree' version, and only that from Brits. I'm surprised that some Americans/Canadians say 'tree' but sure. I don't know British varieties that well so maybe some say 'tore ree'. But you're just saying what the dictionaries say, AmE:'tore ree', BrE: 'tree'. – Mitch Jul 20 at 17:01

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