Follow up on SciFi.SE Pronunciation of teatime: in my answer I argue that "teh-ah" as spelled out once in a discworld novel is a pronunciation-spelling.

It is essentially not clear why tea /ti:/ is spelled and pronounced the way it is to begin with.

According to one comment by @Tetsujin (below), tee-ah may be heard from South-Yorkshire.

What is the phonological process behind it?

  • 1
    You quote Discworld incorrectly. One character affects a pronunciation of teatime, but tea is always pronounced normally.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 8:46
  • I’m voting to close this question because it is based on a misreading of a novel.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 8:47
  • @Chenmunka - The question can stand independently of the novel-quote, though, can it not? Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 11:33
  • There are some, very few, English speaking people with a speech impediment which adds an aspirated morpheme to some syllables. For example, fat-head becomes fat-tuh-head in their hap-uh-less mispronunciations.
    – user97231
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 12:48
  • There are many English names (like Kean in New Jersey and Berkeley in England) that have pronunciations which you would not guess from their spellings. The joke is that Teatime is one of these. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 16:25

1 Answer 1


No, tea has only ever been monosyllabic. It never had /tɛ/. It was usually /te/ but sometimes /ti/, which is where it’s ended up today.

The word tea got to English in the mid-17th century, which places it after Middle English and the Great Vowel Shift so nothing funny was going on here (like deed, dead, meet, meat shows).

Behind its paywall, the OED says:

The form te (thé) was brought into Europe by the Dutch, probably from the Malay at Bantam (if not from Formosa, where the Fuhkien or Amoy form was used). The original English pronunciation /teː/, sometimes indicated by spelling tay, is found in rhymes down to 1762, and remains in many dialects; but the current /tiː/ is found already in the 17th cent., shown in rhymes and by the spelling tee.

Moreover, during the early centuries it was spelled all kinds of different ways, depending on who was writing it:

  • 1600s (1800s) tay, tey
  • 1600s té, thé, the
  • 1600s–1700s tee, thea
  • 1600s– tea

While you shouldn’t try to read too much into the spelling, it never had one that would have indicated a disyllabic [ˈtʰɛjə] pronunciation. It never had the DRESS vowel /ɛ/, just /e/ or /i/ depending.

  • 1
    There is a dialectic use of tee-ah in South Yorkshire, though even there it's rare. Its users are the same ones who would say boo-its for boots. [I used to work with people who actually spoke like that.]
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 9:20
  • The Great Vowel Shift was still winding down in the mid-17th century — the English vowels hadn't quite reached their modern values yet. But I don't think that had much to do with the pronunciation or spelling of tea. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 12:04
  • On the risk of beating a dead horse, my reference to the spelling of ‹ea› was not directed at /ɛ/ so much as /i/ as was already apparent from context, though I do reckon having heard dead as something like deh-ad in American rap. I'm sorry if my prior invocation of German Tee /te:/ has led you to clarify the basics. The fact is that English tee and tea are confusing from my point of view, as I say, it is the “bain” of my existence.
    – vectory
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 16:42

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