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I would pronounce recon-see-lee-a-shon, not recon-see-lie-a-shon. I've been working with the word more often and spell it wrong often, only to be reminded by spell checker.

Is this another one of those english oddities? Or are there more words that has a "lee" sound but a single "l" (followed by "i") spelling?

Or perhaps I going crazy.

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    I pronounce it "reck-un-sill-e-a-shun".
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 10, 2020 at 22:41
  • Well, ability is one such word. Liable is not. Syllabic stress comes into play: in reconciliation, the -a- is stressed, so the preceding syllable is reduced.
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 10, 2020 at 22:44
  • @AndrewLeach I would pronouce as a-bee-lee-tea, not a-bee-lie-tea - But stress of the -a- which affects the preceeding syllable is an interesting thought
    – Luffy
    Feb 10, 2020 at 22:49
  • I gave ability as an example of a word pronounced with short i vowels ("Are there more words...?") Yes: there are lots.
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 10, 2020 at 22:56
  • 1
    Ability is pronounced "uh-bil-i-tee", not "a-bee-lee-tea".
    – nnnnnn
    Feb 11, 2020 at 0:20

2 Answers 2

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Compare the pair "reconcile/reconciliation" with "divine/divinity". In both cases the fundamentally long vowel (which is vowel-shifted) of the last syllable in the first word gets shortened in the derivative noun when suffixes are added. Both the Great Vowel Shift and the Trisyllabic shortening rule, responsible for the shortening were active in Middle English. So we don't need a doubled consonant following the vowel to explain why the vowel of the noun is shortened.

I have no direct knowledge of the spelling history of these forms, but I am guessing that those responsible for the conventional spelling felt that using the artifice of doubling the letter after a short vowel was not necessary -- Trisyllabic shortening (a.k.a. laxing), shortening a vowel 3 syllables from the end of a word, was sufficient.

Also, doubling a consonant in such cases would tend to conceal the relationship between the noun and the form it is derived from.

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The spelling of reconciliation is based on etymology, not on English pronunciation

Reconciliation is spelled with one L because the corresponding word in French and Latin is spelled with one L. The Latin and French spellings with one L are older than the modern English pronunciation. Between these languages and English, and also within English, the pronunciation of this word has changed more over time than the spelling.

The pronunciation of the vowel in the third syllable

The pronunciation in modern English has a "short i" sound in the third syllable. In the IPA, we usually write this vowel as /ɪ/. The vowel /ɪ/ is different from the vowel in the word see. The vowel in see is usually written in the IPA as /i/ or /iː/. The whole word reconciliation can be transcribed in the IPA as something like /ˌrɛkənˌsɪliˈeɪʃən/.

The related verb reconcile has a different vowel in the third syllable: the "long i" sound, usually written in the IPA as /aɪ/ (a diphthong, that is, a gliding vowel sound).

The alternation between the long vowel or diphthong /aɪ/ in the third syllable of reconcile and the short vowel /ɪ/ in the third syllable of reconciliation is pretty regular, and is consistent with the spelling of both words. The pronunciation of a vowel letter in English is sometimes related to whether the vowel is followed by a double consonant letter; but not always, and not in a straightforward manner ("short vowels" can be found before single consonant letters in this and many other words).

The pronunciation of the vowel in the fourth syllable

The pronunciation of vowel letters in English is usually not related at all to the presence of a double consonant letter before the vowel letter, so the fact that we don't pronounce the fourth syllable as "lie" isn't affected by the fact that we spell it "reconciliation" rather than "reconcilliation".

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