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How is the prefix "quasi-" pronounced?

Are there any situations (e.g. depending on the word it prefixes or is part of) in which it would be pronounced differently?

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    In Br. Eng. it's always kwo-zee, but I've no doubt lots of Americans will say kway-zai, if only to be contrary. – FumbleFingers Jun 11 '12 at 14:50
  • Canadians pronounce it kwo-zee, but I can't promise I haven't heard kwo-zai pronounced north of the border. I've never heard kway-zai. – JAM Jun 11 '12 at 15:00
  • In the US, is often pronounced differently in Quasimodo. Also see (warning: pronounces the word on entry) howjsay.com; hover mouse over pink word to repeat audio. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jun 11 '12 at 16:15
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    @FumbleFingers: Always? I pronounce it /ˈkweɪzʌɪ/ ('kwayz-eye'), which happens to be one the pronunciations the OED gives. – Barrie England Jun 11 '12 at 17:50
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    @Barrie England: I must stand corrected then. Obviously you're at least as "english" as me - more so, on the basis of names. I hear both, but I've always assumed the /ˈkweɪzʌɪ/ version is American-influenced. – FumbleFingers Jun 11 '12 at 18:14
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Here's what I found in the LPD3, CPD17, and ODP (some irrelevant information omitted):

The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (Wells 2008)

principal variant: ˈkweɪzaɪ

other variants: ˈkweɪs-, ˈkwɑːz-, ˈkwæz-, -i

The Cambridge Pronouncing Dictionary (Roach, Hartman, and Setter 2006):

UK: kweɪzaɪ, kwɑː-, -saɪ, -zi

US: kweɪsaɪ, -zaɪ; kwɑːzi, -si

Note: quasi- takes secondary stress on the first syllable, eg. quasi-stellar /ˌkweɪzaɪˈstelə/, US /-saɪˈstelɚ/

The Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English (Upton, Kretzschmar, and Konopka 2003):

BR ˈkweɪzʌɪ, ˈkwɑːzi

AM ˈkwɑzi, ˈkweɪˌzaɪ

It's interesting to see how its pronunciation changed with time. For example, the eleventh edition of the Everyman's Pronouncing Dictionary (by Daniel Jones, 1956) gives the following:

quasi kwɑːzi [old-fashioned ˈkweisai]

However, in one of the earlier editions of the same dictionary - it was published under the title "An English Pronouncing Dictionary" in 1919 - there is only one variant listed:

quasi ˈkweisai

Now, I'm not a big fan of prescriptivism but here's what the Pocket Fowler's (2008) says:

"The recommended pronunciation is kway-ziy rather than kwah-zi."

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I'm an American English speaker who uses this prefix on a daily basis (I'm a mathematician). I, and everyone else I know, say "kwah-zee".

3

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈkweɪzʌɪ/ , /ˈkwɑːzi/ , U.S. /ˈkwɑzi/ , /ˈkweɪˌzaɪ/

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/156102?rskey=82uZim&result=1#eid

I am not sure I am totally convinced by the OED on this one, though. I am British, but I thought /ˈkwɑzi/ was the normal pronunciation and it is the one I habitually use.

  • 1
    There are many Latin words that have a more heavily Englishized pronunciation that used to be traditional in the U.K., alongside a newer Europeanized pronunciation. I suspect the OED is simply behind the times on this word; probably a hundred years ago you'd have had no difficulty finding British speakers who pronounced it /ˈkweɪzʌɪ/. – ruakh Jun 11 '12 at 15:06
  • @ruakh: what's the Latin pronunciation? – Mitch Jun 11 '12 at 15:17
  • @Mitch: In Classical Latin, I think it would have been something like /ˈkʷaːsiː/. – ruakh Jun 11 '12 at 15:44
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I think that pronunciations with /eɪ/ and/or /aɪ/ are never used, or at least are extremely rare, for Quasimodo/quasimodo. The OED gives the pronunciation of Quasimodo in Quasimodo Sunday as "Brit. /ˌkwɒzɪˈməʊdəʊ/, /ˌkwɑːzɪˈməʊdəʊ/, /ˌkwazɪˈməʊdəʊ/, U.S. /ˌkwɑziˈmoʊˌdoʊ/".

Other than that, I can't think of any particular words or phrases that are associated with a particular pronunciation of quasi(-). The existence of variation in the pronunciation of this word (or prefix) can be "explained" somewhat by its etymology, and by the existence of different traditions or systems for pronouncing words from Latin.

Etymology

From what I can gather, quasi was not used as a prefix in Latin, but as a grammatical word (Lewis and Short categorize it as an adverb).

Lewis and Short give the pronunciation as "quăsĭ", which corresponds to IPA /kwasi/ (or /kʷasi/) with a short vowel in both syllables. The vowel in the second syllable seems to have originally been long, as in the related word (L&S reference an old spelling QVASEI, with "EI", a digraph that was used in certain time periods in Latin to represent a long /iː/ sound) but was shortened somehow, probably by the process of "iambic shortening" (called "brevis brevians" in Latin).

English pronunciation of vowels in words from Latin

There are many English words or prefixes from Latin whose pronunciations have been adjusted: for example, the Latin prefix sub- is pronounced as /sʌb/ (or when unstressed, /səb/) even though the Classical Latin pronunciation of sub(-) is reconstructed as /sʊb/.

Latin vowel length was rarely directly relevant to English pronunciation of vowels in the "traditional English pronunciation of Latin". Rather, English speakers have often followed rules for "vowel length" based on the position of stress and the sounds that surround the vowel.

The A in "quasi"

For A, the relevant traditional "rule" is that a stressed vowel in the second-to-last syllable of a Latin word is pronounced as "long" when it is followed by only a single consonant letter. I think this rule is the source of the English pronunciations of quasi(-) that start with /kweɪ/.

However, this "rule" has many exceptions, because of conflicting tendencies that have been more or less strong at different times. Factors like influence from French or a desire to use pronunciations that are "closer" to the Latin original have established variation between /eɪ/, /æ/ and /ɑː/ in some words spelled with "a" in the second-to-last syllable. For example, the first A in data can take any of these three pronunciations; the word drama is almost always pronounced with /ɑː/ in modern English, and status is often pronounced with /æ/ in American English.

Another rule that might have relevance here, although I'm not sure, is the historical rounding of "short a" to yield /ɒ/ (the "short o" sound) in place of /æ/ (the "short a" sound) after the rounded glide /w/. We see this for example in the words quality and quantity, which are pronounced with /ɒ/. Even though it seems that dictionaries don't tend to list pronunciations with /ɒ/ for quasi- in British English, the UK-based FumbleFingers left a comment saying that he pronounces it as "kwo-zee", and I found comments on a post at John Wells's phonetic blog that indicate that other British English speakers may pronounce it that way.

Most American English speakers have merged /ɒ/ into /ɑ/ in this kind of context, so in American English the pronunciation /kwɑ/ could be analyzed as containing a "short o" sound rather than a "broad a" sound.

The I in "quasi"

It's hard to say exactly how the variation between /ɪ~i/ and /aɪ/ originated for quasi. Classical Latin has very few words ending in a short /i/ (or [ɪ]) sound: most word-final I in Latin represents the long /iː/ sound. Perhaps as a consequence of this, it became standard at a certain point to pronounce word-final I in Latin as /aɪ/ in "traditional" English pronunciation: hence foci = /ˈfoʊsaɪ/, etc. But pronunciations with /i/ or /ɪ/ (the "happy" vowel) have coexisted with the /aɪ/ pronunciation in various time periods. The linked Wikipedia article suggests that /i/ in place of /aɪ/ was particularly common in a few specific words (mihi, tibi, sibi); I don't know whether it's relevant that these words could end in short /i/ in Latin. In any case, it seems that English pronunciations with /i/ or /ɪ/ existed in some time periods even for words that ended in /iː/ in Latin.

In "The English Pronunciation of Latin: Its Rise and Fall", from The Cambridge Classical Journal,Volume 58, December 2012 , pp. 23-57, Andrew Collins quotes the following rhyme as evidence for this point:

To prove that Peers should never vary,
Nor Leges Anglice mutari [ˈli:-ʤi:z ˈæɳglɪ-si mju:-ˈteə-ri] 35 . (Thomas Tickell, For England's Injured Church and Law (1730), lines 79–10)

35 The final i and e were often not distinguished in this period, and both were given the value either of [ɪ] (as in ‘sit’) or of [i] (i as in ‘ratio’ or y as in ‘lady’). See Copeman (1992) 282.

Here's the relevant part of H. Copeman (1992) Singing in Latin, or, pronunciation explor'd (rev. edn), Oxford:

Postgate, a reformer, similarly quotes cepi, coepi, saepe; this is exactly parallel with Lipsius's complaints about surviving medieval pronunciation (Lp28, p. 100.), and suggests a less careful speaking of endings than I have described so far under 'Old Style'. The revived macaronic carols may well have been sung thus. The ending -i in the last example is like the vague [schwa] or [e] heard in so many macaronic rhymes (Pp. 40-43.), instead of making an effort to differentiate -a, -e, -i as became the practice later in the nineteenth century in school and legal Latin, and which appears in Hardy's joking rhymes.

(p. 282)

A caveat: on page 32, Copeman gives a relevant warning about trying to deduce pronunciations from rhymes:

Where the English Latin pronunciation is in doubt (for instance Dei rhymed with 'Trinity') are we safe in assuming Latin final i = English y ( = [I] or [i])? No, we quickly find, because in any case these may be rhymed with 'high' or 'I' or 'say'.

protected by MetaEd Sep 25 '18 at 22:12

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