Sunday, May 11, 2014

Orthoëpy of the Day: “regulatory”

The adjective regulatory is a ho-hum word, which we Americans pronounce REG-yu-la-tor-ee, with the stress-pattern of the underlying verb, REG-yu-late.
But in England, it is often pronounced reg-yu-LAY-tor-ee, with stress on the third syllable, and a long vowel.   This strikes an American oddly, the first time you hear it, until you consider that it simply matches the pattern of the related noun, which both sides of the Atlantic pronounce as reg-yu-LAY-shun.
Well, you say tomahto, I say tomayto, right?   Not quite.

For such interplay of stress-patterns, which in English is characteristic only of Latinate loanwords, comes with its own internal logic.  Thus consider: 

    => How do you pronounce classificatory ? <=

An Englishman has no trouble with this:  klass-i-fi-KAY-tor-ee.   Whereas an American would have to resort to KLASS-i-fik-a-tor-ee, with no fewer than five unstressed syllables trailing limply along after the nucleus.   It sounds like a coffee-mug  falling downstairs.
In the case of classificatory,  British English exhibits a crisp double-dactyl;  American, a stress followed by a quinquisyllablic mumble.   But in the case of involuntarily, the roles are reversed:  American has six distinct syllables, either as a double-dactyl or a triple iamb ( in-vol-un-TAR-i-lee,  in-vol-un-TAR-i-lee, whereas British (as I just now heard the word pronounced by a master reader, Mr. Frederik Davidson), can have just four rather mooshed one:  in-VOL-un-tr’ly.

Cf. further, re “conflation of repeated sequences (haplology)”:

To judge from British habits of articulating words like temporary, veterinary,  there exist both hesitation and slurring  in attempts to pronounce both [r-initial] syllables;  then, in order to avoid this, speakers settle for /tεmpǝri, vεtɪnrɪ /,
-- M. L. Samuels, Linguistic Evolution, with special reference to English (1972), p. 17

Many Americans (self included) slur these otherwise, dropping not an r, but the schwa:  TEMP-rar-y, VET-rin-ar-y.

An example in which the (or a) British pronunciation is more boneless than the American:  qualitatively.   Americans have a secondary accent on the third syllable, so that the whole is almost a triple troche.   In the pronunciation used by professional reader Ralph Cosham, reading CSL's Letters to Malcolm, it began like the American version  with chief stress on the first syllable, but then petered out into a succession of unaccented schwas, like air going out of a tire.

For further pronunciation fun, click here:


A word about stress and vowel-tensing.

I have long fretted over the lack of convenient pronunciation for the very useful word classificatory.  There exists, to be sure, a rough synonym, easily pronounceable by a babe in arms:  taxonomic;  but this word, in the context of Chomskyan linguistics, is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of barf. 
Having heard somewhere (Prof. Ch. Fillmore, probably) that the Brits pronounce this word with penultimate stress, I somehow fell into pronouncing it in my mind as klass-i-fi-KAT-or-ee, with a short stressed vowel.  An error, with no basis in pattern.

Now things begin to get interesting.
The other night, I dreamt that a certain young man’s job prospects were
The pronunciation, with a tensed stressed vowel, is the predictable result of adding the suffix -ian to the name Chebichev (CHEB-i-chev).   The idea, within the dream, was that his job prospects (respresentative of those of millennials generally) were uncertain, like the shapes in a famous painting by an artist of that name.  
Even at the time, that struck me as an unusual word.  Upon waking, I seized upon the dream as a counter-example to Freud’s assertion that the words we hear in dreams, we have heard before, or are a blend of several such.  Whereas here, the word is apparently not blended with anything, but rather has been subjected to a phonological rule, with rare results.

The painting in question -- a favorite of my brother’s when he was in high school, a reproduction of which hung on his wall after a family visit to MOMA, where the original is displayed -- is called “Hide and Seek”.  Only, the artist’s name is Chelichev (Tchelitchew), with an l instead of a bChebichev was a mathematician,  with whose work I am only vaguely familiar.


Here we are not really concerned with the pronunciation of this or that specific word, nor with the amusing habits of our cousins across the pond (a description that can be used no matter which side of the pond  you yourself happen to hail from), but rather with the phonological economy of a language -- cf. Martinet’s classic L’Economie des changement phonétiques.   That is to say, our perspective is (in happy parallel to the modern tendency of differential geometry) no longer local, but global:  considering a linguistic-units fate  only in tandem with that of its fellows.  The textbook example being the Great Vowel Shift, in which the articulatory trapezoid, the Germanic vowel-whale, rolled slowly over in its sleep.

In the case of an American baffled by classificatory, or an Englishman tripped-up by involuntarily, we see the paradoxical  situation of a speaker left in the lurch by his own language.   Part of the explanation for the possibility of this, is that, to an extent, it is not our own language, not entirely:  a large unruly immigrant population of Graeco-Latin Fremdgut, along with borrowings of a greater or lesser residual flavor of Frenchness, have come to disturb the simply Saxon pattern:  mostly forestress, and transparent structural reasons when not;  vowel-alternations  minor.   There is no native analogue of the insanely contra-semantic and even contramorphological wordstress in psychology, where the least-important, merely-transitional syllable gets the stress (versus the natural psychic, or the less-than-ideal but still defensible psychological).    Even a simple French disyllable like garage  gets us all in a worrit:  Americans pronounce it to rhyme with massage or mirage, Englishmen to rhyme with carriage.   And when it  comes to a word like internecine -- all bets are off.
The fault by no means lies in any pointless, Basque-like complexity of the lending languages:  in Latin and in French, the stress-patterns are as easy as can be.  Yet somehow English managed to ingest these borrowings sideways, or wrong-way-round:  like that classic jest of third-grade playgrounds -- pull a pinch of skin out from either side of your neck; “What’s this?”; (kid says) “I dunno”; (you say) “A moron swallowing a pencil.”

French, by contrast, virtually never suffers so dramatic an orthoëpic quandary;   but then, it pays a larger metrical price, quite lacking the resources to construct something as stunning as “Sir Patrick Spens” or “Pied Beauty”.   To anyone whose blood still thrills  to the rhythms of our helmed and byrnied ancestors, such milksop codswallop  as the alexandrin  is near-beer at best.

A couple of further concrete examples.
Just now I happened upon a sentence in M.L. Samuels’ Linguistic Evolution (1972), that read:  “A comparison of three Dravidian languages has shown that simplificatory changes of phonology and grammar take place …”  (p. 108).
Now, the author teaches in Glasgow.  Were he American, or solicitous of American readers, he would have written simplifying or even simplificational -- the latter, though exactly as much a mouthful as simplificatory, is at least instantly clear in pronunciation.

[Update 11 May 2014]  Another example from Mr. Davidson (a.k.a. David Case), again from Bleak House:  "with his confirmatory cough", stressed còn-fir-MAY-tor-ee.

It has long been pointed out, that an extremely arcane writing-system like that of Chinese or Japanese, as opposed to a maximally transparent one like that of Spanish, reserves literacy for a kind of scribal priest-caste, and those beholden to it.  Certainly, the English spelling-system, which is rather a mess (though much closer to the Spanish end of the spectrum, than the Mandarin), presents burdens to whose would observe the niceties of orthography (less so to any who are content simply to read):  but all that is not pertinent to the problem noticed here.   Our bafflement at how to pronounce certain words, has little to do with the writing-system, nor with any mandarin impositions of any sort.  The fact is, words like confirmatory and classificatory lie already implicit in the language, for anyone who uses the words confirm/confirmation and classify/classification.   The the problem, how to pronounce these less-familiar derivata, is identical, whether you are analphabetic or an English professor.
(It does have a little something to do with the writing-system, however.  In Latin, (Classical) Arabic, and Spanish, you can tell from the spelling  which syllable is stressed: in the former cases, owing to certain simple syllabic rules;  in the last-named case, likewise save for certain exceptions, which however are called-out to the reader by an acute accent over the stressed vowel.)
Thus, only the other day, I put up a post (“Dylan Mystery Album”) which used one of my favorite words [Alert to logophiliacs:]  resipiscence.   Which I have come across in reading, and savored, yet have never heard pronounced.   And so, before publically using it (albeit not orally), I looked up the received pronunciation (fortunately, it turns out, there is only one), and was startled to learn that it differed from what I had always silently said to myself in my mind’s ear:   the approved pronunciation has main stress on the third syllable.

[Update July 2016]  Reading aloud one evening, my wife pronounced indefatigable as in-de-fa-TEEG-a-ble -- quite on the measure of British class-i-fi-CATE-or-ee.   I personally say in-de-FAT-ig-a-ble;  but that is morphosemantically opaque, whereas her version nicely brings out the notional relation to fatigue (with its French-derived oxytone).  Might this be another case where the Brits displace the accent?  But no, according to the dictionaries, no;  she came up with it on her own hook.

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