18

Before looking this word up, I have always rhymed it with cake i.e. /ɑːˈkeɪk/. But when I looked it up, it was actually /ɑː(r)ˈkeɪɪk/ with the sequence of a similar vowel repeated consecutively: -ɪɪ-

I find it rather strange and while looking up its etymology, I found nothing convincing. Here is what Wikitionary has to say:

From archaism (“ancient or obsolete phrase or expression”) or from French archaïque, ultimately from Ancient Greek ἀρχαϊκός

But none of its roots have -ɪɪ-. Is this sequence of the same vowel repeated consecutively unique to "archaic"? How did it come about?

10
39

The standard pronunciation in British English is really /ɑːˈkeɪ ik/ (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary), and there is no alternative. The splitting of the digraph into two phonemes is understandable as a remnant of the initial pronunciation intended to preserve the French ([aʀkaik]); in the French pronunciation /ai/ is not a diphthong, but two separate sounds.

The sequence /-ɪ.ɪ-/ is also found in other words:

  • voltaic, hebraic, mosaic (French), prosaic (French)
18
  • 8
    @Lambie It is not irrelevant at all: in Am E there is an r sound for the digraph "ar" in "archaic". – LPH Apr 6 at 16:54
  • 12
    @LPH: I can't believe that you used "lead" as a guide to pronunciation! Is it the lead that rhymes with dead, or the lead that rhymes with bead? – TonyK Apr 6 at 18:13
  • 8
    Right, you are mentioning it. :) I think the issue is with the aic, and both BrE and AmE pronounce that the same way is all I am saying. – Lambie Apr 6 at 18:14
  • 6
    fyi, "ai" is a single sound in French, so we use a tréma to cause the two vowels to be pronounced independently: archaïque. More well known are "naïve" and "Noël". – ikegami Apr 6 at 19:49
  • 32
    @TonyK: LPH didn't mean the "lead" that rhymes with "read", but the "lead" that rhymes with "read". – Eric Duminil Apr 7 at 10:54
17

In English, there's a phoneme commonly called "long A" (because it evolved from what used to be a lengthened /a:/). This part's pretty uncontroversial: it's the phoneme in the middle of "face".

However, linguists have different views on how to transcribe this sound. It's often pronounced as a diphthong, so some people write it as /eɪ/, /ei/, or /ej/; other people just write it as /e/ for simplicity, and say it's fundamentally a single unit. This mostly comes down to a transcription convention. One standard way to talk about it (in a purely English context), without committing to any particular transcription, is "FACE" or "the FACE vowel".

In the word "archaic", the underlying phonemes in question are this "long A" (the FACE vowel) followed by "short I" (the KIT vowel). Some people transcribe this as /eɪ.ɪ/ or the like. But for me, I certainly don't pronounce the same vowel twice in a row: the off-glide of FACE is higher than the vowel in KIT. So I prefer to transcribe it instead as /ejɪ/, to emphasize this height difference.

The same sequence appears in a lot of words, when a suffix starting with KIT is attached to a root ending in FACE: others have mentioned "mosaic" and its ilk, but it also shows up in "laying" and so on.

P.S. As for how it happened: note the diaeresis in the Greek ἀρχαϊκός, indicating two separate vowels /a.i/ with a syllable break between them. When it was eventually borrowed into English (via Latin and French), this was how it was pronounced; later sound changes turned /a/ into /ej/ and /i/ into /ɪ/.

2
  • 4
    This answer best addresses the part of the question “But none of its roots have -ɪɪ-. Is this sequence of the same vowel repeated consecutively unique to ‘archaic’?” There really isn’t a sequence of two [ɪ] vowels; the fact that the IPA contains consecutive ɪ’s is an artefact of the “transcription convention” used to represent the vowel “long A.” – Steve Kass Apr 8 at 16:06
  • Personally, I think using /ej/ implies that you have the /j/ consonant, so would sound like A-yick. I think it's a situation where you need that syllable break to make it clear that the /j/ is just the offglide of a diphthong, making it /ej.ɪ/ – trlkly Apr 9 at 14:04
5

This should be a comment, but it wont let me make a comment. In elementary American english grammar rules, a vowel followed by another vowel, or a vowel followed by a consonant by another vowel is a long vowel. pronounce it as three syllables: ar + cha (long a) + ic (short i). which is indicated in the pronunciation representation "-keIIk" spelling (same vowel-vowel rule). The a in the middle syllable is long because it is immediately followed by another vowel.

1
  • 4
    Yes, but "ai" is usually pronounced as a single vowel (the diphthong /ej/). Here, it isn't, and that is what's causing the confusion. – No Name Apr 7 at 19:17
4

Just to be clear. The base Greek Word is αρχη, pronounced archi - but the 'ch' is like a guttural 'h', meaning beginning or origin. The adjectives formed from it are αρχαιος (pronounced archayos) and αρχαyϊκος (with the 'i' separately pronounced). They differ slightly in meaning. The former means ancient or old; the latter has the overtone of 'out of date', particularly in the sense of the use of an antique form of a language for some sort of literary effect ('archaïsing'). Matters are all the trickier because the mediaeval scholars had some pretty strange ways of pronouncing the ancient Greek, as did I as a school boy. The authentic pronunciation of the original words (which differed regionally, just as English does) was only fully established in the latter third of the last century.

3
  • 6
    You have a Latin "y" mixed in with the Greek letters in αρχαyϊκος. – Ben Crowell Apr 6 at 19:44
  • @BenCrowell Yes, it was a crude attempt to convey how it would be pronounced! – Tuffy Apr 6 at 19:46
  • 13
    The pronuncation of the Greek original is (almost) irrelevant - and, by the way, in Classical Greek, χ was an aspirated /k/, not a "guttural h". That is a later development. – Colin Fine Apr 6 at 20:20

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.