38

Why is the spelling of pronounce and pronunciation different? If one originally did not know the spelling of pronunciation, one would when hearing it verbally deduce its spelling to be pronounciation, which is the incorrect spelling.

Why is the difference in spelling so? Also, are the two words pronounced differently? (I think I am using the American pronunciation for pronunciation (pro-noun-ciation), but according to howjsay.com, it's pronounced as pro-nun-ciation. Is this just for British English or universally?)

19

pro-NOUN-ciation is universally wrong. Even the highly permissive Merriam-Webster dictionary marks it with an obelus (÷). Here is what they say about pronunciations marked with an obelus:

The obelus, or division sign, is placed before a pronunciation variant that occurs in educated speech but that is considered by some to be questionable or unacceptable. This symbol is used sparingly and primarily for variants that have been objected to over a period of time in print by commentators on usage, in schools by teachers, or in correspondence that has come to the Merriam-Webster editorial department. In most cases the objection is based on orthographic or etymological arguments. (source)

As for why the word pronounce has an O between the two N’s and pronunciation does not, it is unclear, but both words derive from French, pronunciation from pronunciation and pronounce from pronuncier. There is probably some variation in the way the different word stress affected how the words were spelled after being borrowed into English.

  • 3
    (The French is misspelled, it's prononcer and prononciation.) – Mat Sep 21 '13 at 17:15
  • @Mat You seem to have got that, where from? Can you give some useful leads to prononcer and prononciation? – Kris Dec 31 '13 at 6:16
  • 6
    @Mat, it should be prononcier, since we’re talking about Old French, not Modern French. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 31 '13 at 12:01
  • So it is "a pronunciation variant that occurs in educated speech". Not wrong. I'm a proud user of "proNOUNciation" myself. – Colin May 14 '17 at 2:26
14

Trisyllabic laxing is the reason for the pronunciation difference, which led to the spelling difference.

  • This is actually the most well informed answer. – null Mar 23 at 12:06
2

English words descended from Latin "nuntiare ('to announce')" are non-uniform. I've bolded the irregularities:

pronounce | pronunciation | pronounciation | pronouncement | x

announce | annunciation (archaic) | x | announcement |x

denounce | denunciation | x | x | x

renounce | renunciation | x | x | x

X | enunciation | x | x | enunciate

It is scarcely more defensible to say that "pronounciation" is wrong than to say that "enunciate" should be replaced by "enounce" or "announcement" by the more venerable "annunciation".

Contra the top answer, pro-NOUN-ciation is a fine pron(o)unciation, as it is common and easily-understood. It may be regretted by sticklers, but this is the way millions of native speakers say it.

The spelling "pronounciation", however, faces intractable stigma (spelling variants are generally tolerated less than pronunciation variants). It is best avoided in formal writing.

  • 1
    The second part of your answer is absolutely correct, but the first paragraph is misleading. The spelling is stigmatised, but so is the pronunciation. Both are exceedingly common and easily understood; that doesn't mean they're not stigmatised. The fact that M-W marks the pronunciation with an obelus is evidence that it is in fact stigmatised in the eyes of many people. Incidentally, you'll notice that in your ‘table’, -nounciation is the only form that does not exist at all as a primary form—unlike the other four, it exists only as a (stigmatised) variant. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 14 '17 at 19:50
  • The occurrence of the spelling "pronounciation" in published prose is negligible compared to the the spelling "pronunciation" books.google.com/ngrams/… – Colin May 14 '17 at 19:56
  • 1
    By contrast the pronunciation "pro-NOUN-ciation" is the primary form for millions of native English speakers. Yes, it is minorly stigmatized, but so are, e.g. many US Southern accents. I don't think it would be misleading to characterize Southern US variant pronunciations as "fine" however. – Colin May 14 '17 at 20:01
  • You cannot compare edited, published works with spontaneous speech. If you can find evidence that the spelling is negligible compared to the pronunciation in pre-studied speech (plays, newsreaders, etc.), that might be a reasonable comparison; but if you're comparing natural speech (the default), you should compare it to spontaneous writing (without autocorrect and spellcheckers, crucially). The spelling with an o is also primary to many people. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 14 '17 at 20:11
  • I'm not necessarily saying the pronunciation with an o isn't fine; I'm saying there's no real basis for saying that the pronunciation is fine and the spelling in contrast is stigmatised, juxtaposing fine and stigmatised and thereby implicitly saying that the pronunciation is not stigmatised and the spelling is not fine. Both are stigmatised and best avoided in formal contexts where stigmatisation may be an issue; and if you ask me, both are perfectly fine for informal purposes. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 14 '17 at 20:13
-1

Both words have different roots, as shown by etymonline. That could be the reason why they are spelled & pronounced differently.

pronunciation:

early 15c., "mode in which a word is pronounced," from L. pronuntiationem (nom. pronuntiatio) "act of speaking,"

pronounce:

early 14c., "to utter, declare officially," from O.Fr. pronuncier (late 13c.), from L.L. pronunciare, from L. pronuntiare "to proclaim, announce, pronounce," from pro- "forth, out, in public" (see pro-) + nuntiare "announce," from nuntius "messenger" (see nuncio).

As a side note, I have not encountered anyone using "pro-NOUN-ciation", but then again, I'm not from the US.

  • 9
    No, they are from the same root (pronuntio), but the longer word was adopted directly from Latin, as a learned word, but the shorter one came from French, where the vowel had already changed from the Latin original. – Colin Fine Nov 29 '10 at 17:18
  • Where's the o in either of the sources? How then are they 'different roots'? – Kris Dec 31 '13 at 6:12
  • @ColinFine That's not relevant, at least one of the claimed 'roots' should have had an o in it? Else where's the argument here? – Kris Dec 31 '13 at 6:13
  • BTW, the use of both in Both words have different ... is incorrect. – Kris Dec 31 '13 at 6:14
  • @Kris, etymonline apoears to have corrected and expanded these entries since 2010. They now have o’s in both words (both from Old French, neither directly from Latin). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 31 '13 at 12:07
-1

I find it easier to use the short u sound in the second syllable of pronunciation. We spell it the way we say it, of course. "Of course" ? Huh! ;-/

protected by Community Dec 31 '13 at 11:37

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