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"Association" is pronounced as either

/əˌsəʊsiˈeɪʃ(ə)n/

Or

/əˌsoʊʃiˈeɪʃən/

What I am focusing on in this example is the middle sound /ʃ/ -sh- which is made with ⟨ci⟩. Something came to my mind that there might be a rule in English which says that If a word has different pronunciations, the one which is made by different letters (here ⟨ci⟩) is preferred to other pronunciations which use a sound made by fewer letters (here /s/ made by ⟨c⟩ alone).

There are similar rules in other languages; for example in Arabic, if two words are synonyms the one with more letters is the preferred choice.

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    There will probably be different frequency ratios in different regions / countries. To discover whether dictionaries show preferred pronunciations, one needs to consult dictionary prefaces etc. Dec 16, 2020 at 16:35
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    No, there is no rule. There can't be. English spelling doesn't represent English pronunciation anyway, and English pronunciation varies greatly from one place to another. The fact that English spelling is so unrepresentative hides the real variation in speech. It's not a matter of "accent" -- there are vast phonetic differences between Indian, Australian, Japanese, and American Englishes, for instance. And we won't even mention UK variations. Dec 16, 2020 at 17:03
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    I've never been consciously aware of any native speaker pronouncing it with S rather than SH (though as I wouldn't be expecting it, I might not notice anyway). My guess is it's the same as passion, social,... - words which imho no native speakers ever articulate with the S sound. It's just a "mistake" some learners might make. Especially, perhaps, Francophones, since the same word will often exist in French, but pronounced with S, not SH Dec 16, 2020 at 17:06
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    But both /əˌsosiˈeʃən/ and /əˌsoʃiˈeʃən/ are precisely the same length in counting the number of phonemic letters: both have 9 if you discount the 2 phonemic stress markers. Since 9 and 9 are equal to each other, your question is very confusing.
    – tchrist
    Dec 16, 2020 at 17:43
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    Some dictionaries list multiple pronunciations in order of their perceived popularity, but very often two different pronunciations are used by the same population, varying depending on context.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 16, 2020 at 18:25

2 Answers 2

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This is not determined by rule as there can't be really objective criteria to decide which pronunciation is absolutely preferable. The actual preference of a population as a whole can be determined through polling and the results communicated to users by means of notices in a pronunciation dictionary, and this is a feature of the "Longman Pronunciation Dictionary". It is a dictionary (for specialists) that treats thoroughly RP and General American. Here is a copy from that dictionary of two entries of the type you mention.

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This dictionary (2000 edition) gives poll results for other types of pronunciations; before buying a recent edition of it you should make sure that this practice of providing poll results has been preserved (there is a 2008 edition and possibly a more recent one).

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    This has possibly become Meta, but I don't think this is in ELU's list of general reference works. It's valuable. Dec 16, 2020 at 17:37
  • There is no more recent edition of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary than the 2008 one.
    – Nardog
    Dec 16, 2020 at 18:01
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The answer by LPH brings up one of the problems here. "Associate" is often given two different pronunciations, depending on the use.

"Associate" as a verb commonly gets the long-A "-ate", while the noun/adjective form gets the "-et" pronunciation.

And other words are apt to be pronounced differently depending on the emphasis being placed on them or the sounds of the surrounding words.

As usual, this is English, so there are no "rules".

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