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I once pronounced binoculars as

/baɪˈnɒk.jʊ.ləz/

and my friend told me that it is supposed to be pronounced as

/bɪˈnɒk.jʊ.ləz/

I didn't believe him as I was very sure that the prefix bi- is pronounced as

/baɪ-/

instead of

/bɪ-/

and so should the word binoculars

until I checked with the Cambridge dictionary, the Oxford dictionary, the MacMillan dictionary, the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and the Collins Cobuild dictionary. It turned out that my friend was correct.

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    Binocular, pronounced as /baɪˈnɒk.jʊ.ləz/, coined in 1738, is an adjective used to describe something relating to, used by, or involving both eyes at the same time. <binocular vision> It is an entirely different word. Thanks for informing me that! Interesting. So /baɪˈnɒk.jʊ.ləz/ does exist.
    – user19341
    Apr 2, 2012 at 10:21
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    Personally, I pronounce it baɪ, and so does everyone I know. This is very interesting +1
    – Bidella
    Apr 2, 2012 at 10:46
  • Cambridge dictionary does pronounce this as bai as an adjective
    – MaXi32
    Mar 2, 2022 at 1:37
  • By the way, don't be surprised if English spelling doesn't represent English pronunciation. Nobody's supervising and language changes. But English spelling was set by the Great Vowel Shift and other events, and doesn't work any more to represent Modern English. Like Windows, we're stuck with it -- too much installed base. Feb 3, 2023 at 15:28

1 Answer 1

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It comes down to the prefix. It isn't bi- but bin-.

Bi-ocular would be pronounced /baɪ-/ but binocular forces the lax /bɪ-/ sound

Updated to articulate what @Reg said below - it's around where the stress is - Bin is the stressed element of this word.

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    Binary comes from the same Latin bini, and yet is pronounced with an /aɪ/. This has nothing to do with the prefix, and everything to do with stress, as /aɪ/ very rarely occurs in unstressed syllables.
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 2, 2012 at 9:01
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    In general, only central vowels like shwa and some lax vowels may appear in unstressed English syllables. No diphthongs, no tense vowels; they require a stressed syllable. The proportion of central vowels, dropped consonants, and vocalic resonants increases the faster one speaks. Apr 2, 2012 at 16:56
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    Bipedally has four syllables, stress on the second, but the first syllable is /baɪ/. Regardless, I don't think there's going to be a real answer other than "people just pronounce it that way".
    – Stuart F
    Feb 2, 2023 at 18:32
  • Binoculars - Etymology: < Latin bīnī two each + -ocular (relating to the eyes). You may wish to ask why biscuit is /ˈbɪskɪt/, and bicycle is /ˈbʌɪsᵻkl/ not /bʌɪˈsʌɪk(ə)l/
    – Greybeard
    Feb 2, 2023 at 19:20

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