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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?

  • Isn’t this a general reference question? – tchrist Feb 26 '12 at 15:02
  • I am reminded of this question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/52604 – GEdgar Feb 26 '12 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. – shiv.mymail Jun 4 '13 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. – Peter Shor Jun 4 '13 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. – shiv.mymail Jun 4 '13 at 11:53
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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-/.

  • 1
    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. – sumelic Apr 26 '18 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)? – Christian Geiselmann Jun 1 '18 at 15:59
  • @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. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 1 '18 at 17:01
5

Yes, the Oxford English Dictionary lists /ˈməltaɪ/ as a U.S. pronunciation. When consulting "all the dictionaries", that is a good one to include.

  • Notice the OED also includes a note about what happens when the second syllable gets reduced. – tchrist Feb 26 '12 at 15:01
  • Slava said "all the dictionaries", not merely "all the free dictionaries". – GEdgar Feb 26 '12 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". – Viachaslau Tysianchuk Feb 27 '12 at 21:40
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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.

  • 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. – Christian Geiselmann Jun 1 '18 at 16:01
4

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. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Mar 9 '12 at 5:11

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