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I often hear native English speakers pronouncing "multi-" as ['mʌltaɪ] (mul-tie), however all the dictionaries are saying that the only way to pronounce it is ['mʌltɪ] (mul-ty). Example words: multitasking, multimedia.

What is the right or more often used pronunciation? Does it differ in British/American English? Does it depend on context?

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  • Isn’t this a general reference question?
    – tchrist
    Feb 26, 2012 at 15:02
  • I am reminded of this question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/52604
    – GEdgar
    Feb 26, 2012 at 20:32
  • I appreciate all the answer. But as per the pronunciation I need to know that is this pronunciation of a particular zone in America or it is common term use in US- English.
    – S.P Singh
    Jun 4, 2013 at 10:31
  • This is not a pronunciation (like nukular, warsh, or keeng) which is common in one region of the U.S., but which might be ridiculed if you use it in another region. Jun 4, 2013 at 11:14
  • That means it is common word and It is frequently used in US - english. So we can use it in our regular communication.
    – S.P Singh
    Jun 4, 2013 at 11:53

4 Answers 4

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The prefix comes from a plural form of the Latin quantifier multus 'many'. As with other Latin plurals ending in -ī, the English pronunciations vary.

The Latin /ī/ was pronounced in Middle English as long /i:/ (as in Modern English seen), but the Great Vowel Shift (GVS), which turned Middle into Modern English, moved all the ME long vowels up a step on the vowel chart.

That meant that words like mice and house (/mi:s/ and /hu:s/ in ME), which were already at the top of the chart, couldn't go any further. So, to make room for ME /e:/ and /o:/ (as in seen and soon) at the top, they fell off and became diphthongs. In particular, ME high front /i:/ became ModE /ai/ , while ME high back /u:/ became ModE /au/.

Which is why mice and house are now pronounced /mais/ and /haus/. This means that multi- can be pronounced as in Latin or Middle English as /ˈməlti-/, or in post-GVS fashion as /ˈməltai-/.

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    Rather than coming from the Latin plural form multī, it seems that multi- came from the Latin combining form multĭ-. The OED says " < classical Latin multi-, combining form ... of multus much, many". I think the use of /aɪ/ is from analogy with the traditional English pronunciation of Latin words ending in -i like alumni etc., but it isn't exactly the same phenomenon.
    – herisson
    Apr 26, 2018 at 17:51
  • I wonder, if one bases one's pronunciation of multi on the Latin root, should the u not e pronounced as such, i.e. not "malti" but, so to write, "moolti", i.e. "mooltee* (but with short vowels)? Jun 1, 2018 at 15:59
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    @Christian Geiselmann Professor Lawler has explained where the divergence in pronunciation occurred. What one should do is what 98% of other English speakers do today, not what foreign nationals over a millenium ago did. This can normally be found in dictionaries, but, where there still acceptable variants, a more specialised analysis (as requested in your new question) is valid. Jun 1, 2018 at 17:01
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The answer to this question, depends on which form of English is spoken. As a British person, I have not heard anyone British say "mul-tie". It is always "mul-tee". I have only ever heard Americans say "mul-tie". So yes, it does differ in British and American English.

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  • Britain has a tradition of knowing and valuing classical languages. The United States of America... umph... may have other priorities. Therefore their neglicence of historical pronunciation. Jun 1, 2018 at 16:01
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Yes, the Oxford English Dictionary lists /ˈməltaɪ/ as a U.S. pronunciation. When consulting "all the dictionaries", that is a good one to include.

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  • Notice the OED also includes a note about what happens when the second syllable gets reduced.
    – tchrist
    Feb 26, 2012 at 15:01
  • Slava said "all the dictionaries", not merely "all the free dictionaries".
    – GEdgar
    Feb 26, 2012 at 18:05
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    OK, I admit that saying "all dictionaries" was a false generalization. What I actually meant was "all dictionaries I could easily get access to". Feb 27, 2012 at 21:40
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Both are correct. mul-tie is how most Americans pronounce it. They also tend to say an-tie for anti- and se-mie for semi-.

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    I think I disagree, but I'm not sure what pronunciations you are indicating. Perhaps you could show them in IPA, for less ambiguity. See eg bbc lessons for guides to IPA sounds and notations. Mar 9, 2012 at 5:11

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