Ar(c)tic

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The text for the day comes from Paul Brians's Common Errors in English Usage, in the entry Artic/Arctic:

Although some brand names have incorporated this popular error, remember that the Arctic Circle is an arc. By the way, Ralph Vaughan Williams called his suite drawn from the score of the film Scott of the Antarctic, the Sinfonia Antartica, but that’s Italian, not English.

Brians's advice is specifically about spelling, but the spelling Artic is simply a reproduction of a very common pronunciation of the word, and it's the pronunciation that's the root issue.

My interest in this case comes from my interest in fashions in prescriptions: certain usages are widely proscribed, often with extravagant condemnation, while other, similar, usages escape attention. In the case at hand (and another I hope to post about soon), it's "simplified" pronunciation that is at issue. For Arctic/Artic, there's also a complex history (one that Brians might have misunderstood).


Brians's reference to arcs is just wrong as an account of the structure or etymology of the word. To be generous to him, I'll assume that he meant that reference to be merely a mnemonic. (Though by now there may be people who believe, eggcornishly, that arc is part of Arctic.)

The ultimate source of the word is Greek arktos (in transliteration) 'bear', a reference to the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. The adjective derived from this noun was borrowed from Greek into Latin, where it was spelled with two c's. But then the [kt] sequence was simplified in the transition to Old French (and Italian, as you can see above), and the word was spelled artique in OF, and artic in English when English borrowed the OF word. So the artic version was the original in English.

According to the OED, starting in the 17th century the word was refashioned to make its spelling match the Latin (the history of English spelling is full of such oddities), and then people began pronouncing the first k to match the spelling. Yes, spelling pronunciation. (Something similar happened in French, leading to Modern French arctique.) Meanwhile, lots of people who spelled the word according to the new norm nevertheless simplified the [kt] sequence in pronunciation (a second shot at simplification) — I do so myself — and the [kt] pronunciation became the focus of intense prescriptive pressure.

Last September, the American Dialect Society mailing list took up the prescription question, set off by a posting from Wilson Gray:

Some time in the early to middle 'Nineties, a brief analysis of English consonant clusters, IIRC, was published in Linguistic Inquiry. The author noted that her analysis had one major flaw: it predicted that "Arctic" [arktIk] would be pronounced as though spelled "Artic" [artIk]. When I saw this, I "jumped straight up," as we say in Los Angeles BE.

As children in Saint Louis, we were specifically taught, in fourth-grade "georgaphy" – another pronunciation that the nuns labored to eliminate – that "Arctic" was to be pronounced as though spelled "Artic" [artIk] and *not* as [arktIk]. As a consequence, for the past sixty years or so, I've been incredibly annoyed by the seemingly-universal use of the spelling-pronunciation, [ar_k_tIk].

[The article Wilson Gray was recalling is

Borowsky, Toni.  1989.  Structure Preservation and the syllable coda in English.  NLLT 7.2.145-66.

On p. 154, Borowsky notes Antarctica and arctic as "especially problematic" for her analysis, and on p. 158 she concludes:

Cases like arctic should be ruled out but are not. I assume that they are entered in the lexicon with their aberrant syllabification. (But, notice that arctic is often pronounced [artik].)

(Thanks to Ellen Kaisse for finding the bibliographic details.)]

Jon Lighter then reported the opposite experience:

I grew up saying "Artic/antartic."  Then one day in grade school (musta been 1956 or '57) a teacher told us emphatically that only losers failed to pronounce the "k." (I'm paraphrasing).

So I switched. Had I known Wilson was doing the opposite, however, I'd have stuck to my ways.

I then did some searches of sources:

Like Jon Lighter, and no doubt many others here, I had exactly the reverse experience [from Wilson's].  The facts are more complex than either of these teachings would suggest.  From the American Heritage Book of English Usage (1996): "Arctic was originally spelled in English without the first c, which was later reintroduced after the original spelling in Greek. Both [pronunciations] are equally acceptable."

The Wikipedia page on "words of disputed pronunciation" shows a very complex pattern of advice (in this summary, (1) is the [k]-less pronunciation, (2) the pronunciation with [k]): "The debate is whether or not the ct cluster is pronounced [kt] or just [t]. M-W lists both, with (1) first, but OED only lists (2) while noting that the oldest spelling (dating from the 14th century) is Artik, implying that (1) is the older pronunciation. EEPD lists only (2). LPD lists both for both British and American English, but marks (1) as "considered incorrect" for British. K&K list both but mark (2) as "now rare". Generally, the same pronunciation for the ct cluster is used for both arctic and antarctic. However, M-W lists (2) first for antarctic."

M-W: the Merriam-Webster Dictionary; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; EEPD: Everyman's English Pronouncing Dictionary (Gimson rev., 1977); LPD: Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (1990); K&K: Kenyon & Knott, A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English

(NOAD2 and AHD4 list both pronunciations.) It's hard to know what to make of these conflicting lines of advice. In any case, dictionaries attempt to report actual usages, rather than opinions or beliefs about these usages. So Dennis Preston did a little bit of empirical work about attitudes:

A survey this semester [autumn 2007] of over 700 MSU undergrads (none had had any linguistics) revealed the following:

TABLE OF VALUES FOR   ARCTIC

1.000 = /arktIk/ is correct and I pronounce it that way

2.000 = /artIk/ is correct and I pronounce it that way

3.000 = /arktik/ is correct but I don't pronounce it that way

4.000 = /artik/ is correct but I don't pronounce it that way

[results] … 65% believe /arktik/ is "correct" (and over 70% are "secure" in their pronunciation, regardless of which form they think is correct).

(Of course, these are self-reports on attitudes and practices; we don't know about the students' actual usage.) I found the 65% vote for the [kt] version surprisingly low, given the classroom and advice-manual pressure in its favor. This might be another case in which many speakers, especially younger ones, are simply disregarding prescriptions that run against their own usage preferences.

What is the basis for the prescription in favor of the [kt] variant? Two sources, so far as I can see: (a) the belief that this is the "original" variant (but see my discussion above), and that original variants should be preferred to innovations (no matter how venerable these innovations are, an idea that we have criticized here many times); and (b) the belief that words "should be pronounced as they are spelled", in particular that all the letters in them should be pronounced.

This second position gets the spelling-pronunciation relationship backwards — especially given the fact that for a great many words children learn a pronunciation well before they learn a spelling (my four-year-old granddaughter, for instance, has the [t] variant for Antarctica, and this is a word that comes up a lot, since we are a penguin-oriented family), and given the presence of a large number of "silent letters" in English spelling, letters that could in principle be pronounced (receipt could be pronounced to rhyme with reaped, indict to rhyme with predict, and so on).

As in many other cases we've talked about here, the general, "umbrella", principle (in this case, "pronounce words as they are spelled") is not actually functioning as a guide to practice, but instead serves as a justification for recommendations about very particular bits of practice. The advice is to pronounce particular sounds in particular words, and the advice has to stipulate these one by one; the umbrella principle adds nothing to this advice.

Now to the issue I began this posting with: fashions in prescriptions. When you look at objections to "simplified" pronunciations, you see that a small number of items come up again and again: Arctic missing the first [k], government missing the first [n] (I'll post on this one in a while), February missing the first [r], and a few others. Meanwhile, lots of other simplified pronunciations escape censure. In particular, tons of instances of "final t/d deletion" — last discussed here in connection with pronunciations of closed (in closed circuit, closed-minded, and closed-captioned) as [kloz], with no final [d], and with a link to an earlier discussion of different cases by Mark Liberman. (Then there's the extremely common pronunciation of last in last night without a final [t], and many other cases.)

All these examples really are simplifications, in that the number of articulatory gestures required is reduced. But for a few of them, there is prescriptive pressure against the simplifications — a kind of tradition handed down in the prescriptive literature which treats them as especially heinous. As a cartoon extra, here's a strip from Alex Hallatt's Arctic Circle that I've been saving for a while. It's about pantomime and dialogue, not about pronunciation and spelling, but at least it's suitably Arctic:

 

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61 Comments »

  1. danthelawyer said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 3:33 pm

    Actually, as you no doubt know, it's suitably Antarctic.

  2. mollymooly said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

    In a third class spelling test, aged eight, I spelt "artic" thus, as did the entire class. Ever since, I have written that silent first c, but not spoken it. I wonder whether it is easier for nonrhotic speakers to add the /k/, should they so desire, than for rhotic speakers. Ditto for the /n/ of "government", and probably other such controversies.

  3. Jonathan Lundell said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

    WRT Preston's self-reports, my guess is that the largest group is "/arktik/ is correct and I pronounce it that way" — but actually say /artik/. I might belong in that category, but it's hard for me to say. I do say /antarktik/, though. I think.

    I have a friend who says /ˈwɛdnzˈdeɪ/, quite distinctly, speaking of "should be pronounced as they are spelled".

  4. Thomas Thurman said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 4:34 pm

    I was going to ask what you called an artic, then, but apparently it's called a semi-trailer truck in the US.

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

    I wonder if Wilson Gray's experience of being taught by nuns to say [artIk] is related to the Catholic Church's insistence on the pronunciation [sIzm] for schism (ME scisme). For myself I say [sIzm] when talking about Church history but [skIzm] otherwise.
    It's curious how varied the English pronunciations of words derived from the Greek schizein are: [skIz]-, [shIs]-, [sIz]-, [skIts]-…

  6. Chris Lance said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

    Is there some room for compromise here? I pronounce "arctic" with a definite separation between the (nonrhotic) "r" and the "t", but it's more of a glottal stop than a fully formed "c". I think that most British English speakers pronounce the word in a roughly similar way, producing something that sounds like "ah' tic".

  7. mgh said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

    Is there any shared characteristic among words that provoke such strict prescriptivism? It's not just any variant pronunciation that gets drilled into children as correct/incorrect, is it?

    For example, I realized recently that several friends pronounce the /l/ in salmon, while I don't — but (so far) I haven't been scolded, and I assume neither were they

  8. Theo Vosse said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 7:28 pm

    It's probably not just [kt]: the problem is at least [rkt]. Many English words contain [kt] and I don't think their pronunciation is usually simplified: victory, subtract, spectacle, construct, etc. (if you know grep and have a word list, I think you know how to find these words). Another thing is that the split is across [kt]: it's arc-tic (A:k-tIk says CELEX!). The only other words with the same pattern seem to be "worktable" and "worktop", and I don't think they are usually written as "woktable" and "woktop". So it looks as if the problem is specific to the word "arctic".

  9. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 7:30 pm

    To Chris Lance: I am forever torn between using phonetic transcription and phonemic transcription in postings like this one. In the Arctic/Artic case, the distinction is actually between a pronunciation in which the first syllable has a stop consonant in its coda and one without such a coda stop. Even if the coda stop is a glottal stop (and not a velar), the first syllable will probably be perceived as "ending in a k", because glottal stop is an allophone of /k/ in this position.

    My own pronunciation of the word has no coda stop (cf. "cathartic").

  10. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

    Thomas Thurman: "I was going to ask what you called an artic, then, but apparently it's called a semi-trailer truck in the US."

    British "artic" is a clipped version of "articulated lorry".

  11. D Jagannathan said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

    The only other words with the same pattern seem to be "worktable" and "worktop", and I don't think they are usually written as "woktable" and "woktop". So it looks as if the problem is specific to the word "arctic".

    The difference seems to be that there are nice transparent morpheme boundaries in the two work- cases and the words fall into different prosodic patterns. The 'problem' may be [rkt] across a syllable boundary of a monomorphemic trochee.

  12. Nathan Myers said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

    Coby: aren't all those words (including the Greek) really derived from the same proto-Indo-European word? I'm guessing the "k" sound is a late insertion.

    I find "February" the most interesting of the simplifications. Dar Williams has a song with that title, and … er … demonstrates the simplified pronunciation with great profundity throughout the song. It nearly ruins the song, for me.

  13. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 7:53 pm

    Theo Vosse: "It's probably not just [kt]: the problem is at least [rkt]." (Similarly from D Jagannathan.)

    Yes, and that's clear in Borowsky's account. The variation is between [kt] and plain [t] in this one word (well, word family). The *explanation* for this variation, according to Borowsky, depends on the preceding [r] (and several other factors as well). I couldn't see any way to make this clear without going through a long and technical exposition. (Borowsky's article is, unfortunately, not available on-line at the NLLT site, even to NLLT subscribers, or on her website.)

  14. Coulter George said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

    Do people who voice t and don't pronounce the first c say [artik] or [ardik]? The latter sounds rather strange to me (and I do voice the t in, say, "barter" or "cathartic"). If t-voicers who don't pronounce the c really do say [artik], is there still some vestigial trace of the c that blocks the voicing?

    In my own speech–and of course after saying the words a dozen times now I'm no longer sure–I'm pretty sure I say [arktik] but [antardika]. I think I do this because the etymology is alive for me in "arctic", whereas I've fully nativized "Antarctica". Does anyone else have this pattern?

  15. Garrett Wollman said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 10:03 pm

    It seems to me (this may be covered by the transcription issue you mentioned) that what I hear most commonly is [ardIk] (or [A:dik] from ENENR speakers).

    (Either way, I consider /k/-dropping unacceptable, but I've learned to keep my mouth shut about it.)

  16. Ellen K. said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

    So, in short, Latin/French/Italian speakers dropped the /k/, English speakers added it back in, though not all, and there may also be some re-dropping.

    As for February, seems to me it's got the same number of sounds with our without the /r/, /ru/ versus /yu/. So, what's an "articulation gesture"? The /yu/ version does seem easier to say, though.

  17. Timothy M said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 11:43 pm

    The current pronunciation of "February" seems like an example of metathesis to me…. Anyone else?

  18. dr pepper said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 11:59 pm

    The last of the romanized societies in Britain went down in an orgy of intercine conflict over how to pronounce the name of High Chief Arctorius.

  19. blahedo said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 12:20 am

    Linking the Wilson Gray post and the later comment on "February": I had a similar experience, in that the nun I had for spelling in fourth grade very specifically told us that the pronunciation we knew (/'fɛb.ju.ɛ.ri/) was correct and not to be misled by the spelling. It wasn't until grad school that I even heard a counterclaim, when a fellow grad student accused me of having a distinctly non-prestige dialect (I'm paraphrasing ;) for using that pronunciation rather than the "correct" /'fɛb.ru.ɛ.ri/. I certainly hear the /j/ version more often. (And speaking of "often"… but no, I'm already drifting too far from the topic.)

  20. rootlesscosmo said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 12:41 am

    The "rkt" cluster occurs in "darktown." (Cf. "The Darktown Strutters' Ball.")

  21. Matt McIrvin said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 12:50 am

    I've been scolded for saying "Febyuary" many times, but the pronunciation with both Rs sounds strange to me and is hard for me to pronounce, so I don't use it. I have decided to remain firm on this point.

    With "arctic", on the other hand, I'm pretty sure I made a conscious decision to start pronouncing the first C when I was a kid, maybe after hearing an announcer say it on a TV nature show or something.

  22. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 1:29 am

    rootlesscosmo: "The "rkt" cluster occurs in "darktown." (Cf. "The Darktown Strutters' Ball.")"

    True enough. But I was not offering an explanation of the difficulty, only noting the variability and the fact that the "Arctic" version was in some way difficult. (The fact that "darktown" is a compound, with parts "dark" and "town", is in fact significant in Borowsky's account.)

    When I have the time, I suppose I should try to type in a version of Borowsky's entire article, though it's full of graphic representations that I don't know how to do in html, so I doubt I will get to it. If anyone wants to do the job and sends the flle to me, I would be happy to post it.

  23. Bradley Momberger said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 2:57 am

    My variant of spoken English is primarily rooted in that of the Pittsburgh area, which is infamous for dropping consonant sounds where they're inconvenient. "Arctic" is commonly pronounced as though the first 'c' were unwelcome in the word. Personally, I've developed a habit of pronouncing the "rc" combination with a tiny bit of velarization after the 'r', coming up with something like [aɹˠtɪk]. It's probably too slight to be heard, though.

    Regarding "February," I have stuck with feb-yeh-wear-ee because it sounds stilted if trying to pronounce it as written — the secondary stress is then difficult to apply to the 'ar' and it comes out like "feh-brewery". I just convince myself that the word is constructed from disjoint "Febr" and "uary" with the 'r' being naturally elided (truth be darned to heck).

  24. Tristan McLeay said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 3:32 am

    Arnold Zwicky, I can probably manage to type up the article.

    Coulter George said : “ In my own speech–and of course after saying the words a dozen times now I'm no longer sure–I'm pretty sure I say [arktik] but [antardika]. ”

    I say [a:nta:dika] too, well, I pronounce it non-rhotically and put the same vowel in the first two syllables. If anything seems wrong, it's the first vowel, not the missing consonant. I don't know if I've got the wrong vowel in the first syllable because it's pronounced like that somewhere else and I've picked it up, or if it's just because it's easier to put the same vowel in the unstressed syllable.

    As for " Arctic ”, well, it comes up so infrequently I've seen it written a lot more often than I've heard it said, and so I'm not really confident in its pronunciation. I would probably randomly vascilate between [a:dik] and [a:ktik], neither of which really sound right, or just copy whatever it was whoever I was talking to was saying.

  25. Graham said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 5:28 am

    Artic(ulated lorry) is stressed on the second syllable, which further distinguishes it from Ar(c)tic.

  26. mollymooly said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 6:15 am

    Regarding "February": in BrE, the "a" in unstressed "-ary" endings is reduced or even absent; so "February" usually has three syllables, the last two being the same as those of "penury". If you insist on pronouncing the first R, you pretty much have to enunciate the full four syllables, which thus sounds doubly precious. I can't recall ever having heard the first R sounded in Ireland.

  27. Which Tyler said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 7:14 am

    The penguin cartoon has got nothing to do with pantomime. Mime is not the same thing as pantomime:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantomime

  28. Alan Gunn said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 8:17 am

    How do those who insist on /arktik/ "because it's spelled that way" pronounce "Wednesday"?

  29. Matt McIrvin said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 9:01 am

    "Artic/arctic" for me may be a specific instance of a larger pattern. I remember realizing when I was playing with the online Harvard Dialect Survey that there were many instances in which my answer to a question was "I used to say *this*, but later I started saying *that*." In most such instances, the first usage was Midwest/Great Lakes and the second was Mid-Atlantic. I have Midwestern parents and spent my toddler years in the St. Louis, Kansas City and Cleveland areas, but when I was 4 my family moved to northern Virginia. It never consciously occurred to me that I was trying to change my regional dialect for prestige or other reasons; it just seemed as if everyone had started using different words and I was going along with them. In this case, I don't think the difference is really regional, though.

  30. kip said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 9:08 am

    There are several words that I pronounce differently than most people because I read a lot as a kid, and encountered words in written form before (or at least more frequently than) the spoken form. I think "arctic" was one of these (I pronounce the "t"). Another is "superfluous" (unless I concentrate it comes out "super flu us"). Also, "plethora" which I still pronounce so that it rhymes with "Dora". Until middle school "Arkansas" was "R-Kansas". I could probably name many more if I kept trying.

    I also pronounce the "t" in "often", and no one told me that was wrong until i was in college. I was taught the r in February was silent in grade school, then told that was wrong in high school, and now I'm not sure which pronunciation I use (I think I pronounce the "R" if I'm being formal, but drop it in casual conversation).

    The only person I've ever known to pronounce "Wednesday" as it is spelled is an immigrant from India who learned English while in grad school.

  31. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 9:44 am

    To Coulter George and George Wollman: if you have Artic, you might well have a voiced variant of the /t/ — a voiced flap (which might be heard as a kind of d, because it's voiced) or possibly an actual [d]. I have the voiced flap.

  32. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    Several commenters have pointed to the possibility that different words in the Arctic family might have different pronunciations for some people, or different frequencies for the variants (many people use more than one pronunciation — variation is like that): the noun "Arctic" (as in "the Arctic"), the adjective "Arctic" (as in "the Arctic Circle" and "Arctic animals"), the descriptive adjective "arctic" (as in "the temperatures are positively "arctic"), the noun "Antarctica", the adjective "Antarctic". And the facts might be different for different uses of the same word.

    Though people are inclined to think of phonological variation as a simple choice between one variant and another ("I say X and she says Y"), it is rarely as simple as that, as variationists have pointed out for decades. But most people are not sensitive to variation within their own productions, which makes their responses to surveys (which ask, essentially, do you say X or Y?) even less informative than they already are.

  33. Peter Birt said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    The rkt sequence also appears in something called a "sharktooth comb". As Arnold said about "darktown", sharktooth is of course a compound.

  34. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 10:14 am

    On the topic of surveys, here's a site collecting responses like those Preston collected, but on-line:

    http://undyingking.livejournal.com/144687.html

    So far it's garnered huge support for /kt/ (like, over 90%). Such surveys, with responses from self-selected informants, are even harder to interpret than surveys like Preston's, which collect responses from some group picked out by the surveyer.

  35. DT said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 10:17 am

    For what it's worth, all of the Arctic scientists that I know (and I know quite a few) pronounce all of the letters in arctic. On the other hand, I haven't been listening all that closely – maybe I'm hearing what I expect to hear?

  36. Chud said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 11:13 am

    Might most folks' pronunciations be heavily influenced by their weathermen? I think I pronounce it "artik" most of the time, but I always pronounce it "arktic" when I say the phrase "arctic blast". Certainly the weatherman must be the most likely person that most people hear saying "arctic", at least in the US. I have no idea whether Great Britain ever suffers from arctic blasts, or whether Australia ever suffers from antarctic blasts.

  37. Matt said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 11:19 am

    For what it's worth, I strangely seem to pronounce Antarctica /æntardika/ and Arctic /artik/, but when I say Arctic Circle, always /arktik/. I don't know how that works.

  38. Robert Coren said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 12:43 pm

    In the original article, Arnold Zwicky says:

    It's hard to know what to make of these conflicting lines of advice.

    For the southerly region, I recommend following Walt Kelly's lead and making a different simplification; refer to it as "the Anarchic Ocean".

  39. Robert Coren said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 12:45 pm

    Kip says:

    The only person I've ever known to pronounce "Wednesday" as it is spelled is an immigrant from India who learned English while in grad school.

    Ogden Nash once rhymed it to "Aunt Edna's day", but I suspect he did not do so in normal speech.

  40. Stephen Rowland said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

    Greek _arktos_ comes by metathesis from Proto-Indo-European *(H)rtkos (cf. Hittite ḫartagga). So it looks like people have had trouble pronouncing this word since prehistoric times.

    Speaking of the "d" in _Wednesday_: my mother pronounces the "b" in _doubt_: /daupt/. I didn't realise for the first thirty-odd years of my life, and I was flabbergasted when I first noticed.

  41. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 1:40 pm

    If I were feeling brave I'd attempt an OT tableaux in this comment. But I'm not, so I'll just say that all of these examples seem to be intances of the NoCoda constraint and the *Comp constraint (and of course MAX). We don't want to say "arctic" because of the complex coda, but we don't want to delete any more sounds than we have to, thus "artic" as opposed to "aric" or "attic".

    Same with "febuary" for "february": the deleted "r" gets rid of the coda in the first syllable. Though I suppose the interesting question here is not what the motivation is for these deletions, but why they happen in some words and not others. At least for me, "February" and "arctic" aren't segmentable, and thus I'm more likely to drop sounds from them. With a word like "worktable", I would never say "wortable" or anything similar because I recognize the constituent morphemes. Thus there seems to be a tendency not to delete segments from morphemes embedded in a compound word.

    Just my two OT cents. (Note: I almost typed "sense" here; I don't know why.)

  42. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 1:47 pm

    Like Wilson Gray, I learned the "Ar-tik" pronunciation in fourth grade geography, and I went to public school, not Catholic school. He and I are about the same age; it's been about 60 years. I have stuck with that pronunciation, but my children and grandchildren differ with me.

  43. Dave Kathman said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

    Which Tyler:

    In the United States, where the British performance genre of pantomime is totally unknown, "pantomime" is a synonym for "mime". At least, I always treated them as synonyms, and it was not until I was well into my 30s that I became aware that the former word could refer to a type of (non-mime) show performed in Britain and former British colonies around Christmastime. I would wager that the overwhelming majority of Americans are unaware of that meaning, and that if you told them about a pantomime show in Britain, they would think you were talking about a mime performance.

  44. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

    I'm trying to think back through my schooling and friends and television and I can't think of having ever heard Artic. In fact, were it not for this post I would have never even known there was another pronunciation. It does sound wrong to my ears, but that might also be influence from my Spanish where it is ártico always, and trying to force further separation of the languages.

  45. Jason said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

    Do anyone suspect that February's being pronounced often as "Febyuary" owes in part to analogy with January, in particularly since it immediately follows it in a recitation of the months. Drat, now I have achorus of kindergarteners reciting, "January, Febyuary, March, April," etc. in my head.

  46. Jason said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 5:40 pm

    Incidentally, Safari's spelling corrections tell me, falsely, that "kindergarteners" is misspelled, but that "kindergardeners" is OK. Firefox marks them both as misspelled.

  47. marpego said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 5:46 pm

    For many years I was an educational consultant for Sesame Park – the Canadian off shoot of Sesame Street, and one of our mandates was to show segments featuring Canadian geography and flora and fauna and indigenous peoples. The Arctic came up quite often. I, relying, not on my background in linguistics, but what I had learned in Fourth Grade Geography in Nova Scotia, insisted that the film makers, whose voice over descriptions talked about the ARKTIC were wrong. I think I was outvoted. The post and comments brought back a lot of memories.

  48. Steve Harris said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

    I have the same pronunciation pattern as Coulter George, I believe: medial /k/ for Arctic, but not for Antarctic; /t/ for Arctic, but second dental is /d/ in Antarctica (though I'm not as certain about Antarctic; the extra syllable seems to make a bit of a difference).

    I, also grew up in St. Louis, but in public school. I believe we were taught to pronounce the medial /k/ in Arctic, though I don't have the clear memory that Wilson Gray espouses.

  49. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 6:48 pm

    Jason: "Incidentally, Safari's spelling corrections tell me, falsely, that "kindergarteners" is misspelled, but that "kindergardeners" is OK. Firefox marks them both as misspelled.:

    Both AHD4 and NOAD2 list "kindergartener" and "kindergartner". I can't imagine why anyone would care about one spelling over the over. Nor, frankly, can I imagine why anyone would care about the anglicization of German "garten" as "garden" (even in "gardn-er"), where the English spelling reflects English pronunciation (well, some English pronunciations). [The element "garten" can have several pronunciations in English: with /t/ represented as a [t], a glottalized [t], a glottal stop, a voiced flap, or a [d].] Meanwhile, many people have reanalyzed the second element of "kindergarten" as an instance of the English lexeme GARDEN.]

    So there are lots of spelling variants. Why should anyone care? Maybe the spelling will eventually stabilize (by random forces) in favor of one of the variants, but there's no deep issue here at all.

  50. dr pepper said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

    I went to a private kindergarten that was run by germans, so it never occurred to me to pronounce the t as a d. I did sometimes wonder why we weren't in an actual garden, though.

  51. Tracy Hall said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 11:29 pm

    Here's an example of this very mistake posted earlier this week:

    http://myimaginaryblog.wordpress.com/2008/07/18/setting-your-mistakes-in-stone/

  52. Leo Petr said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 11:40 pm

    This reminds me of the distinction between "climactic" (relating to climax) and "climatic" (relating to climate). The latter's spelling and pronunciation is often used for both.

  53. Jason said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 12:02 am

    Right, I guess maybe I was ambiguous–I intended my remark to express dismay and surprise that Safari would have a problem with "kindergartener", especially since it recognized "kindergardener". This is all the more surprising if AHD4 and NOAD2 have variants with "t" but not with "d" (AHD4 doesn't–I don't have access to NOAD2).

    Incidentally, Safari is also cool with "kindergartner".

    Are there linguistics papers out there that attempt to apply evolutionary theory to changes in spelling, pronunciation, etc.? Or would this be a case of social sciences trying to get the quantitative cred of natural sciences, or natural sciences colonizing the social sciences? An analogy between genetic drift and fluctuations between, say, "kindergartner" and "kindergartener" comes to mind. Of course, once an allele becomes fixed in a population, the old one can't reemerge (barring some kind of horizontal transfer), which evidently is not the case in language, as the /k/ in "arctic" came back after more than a thousand years of silence.

  54. Jason said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 12:13 am

    I wonder also whether it's worth looking at words like "parked" and "marked" with relation to "arctic". I'd be surprised to hear someone say "I parked a car" (as opposed to crashing one) as [aI 'par(t/d)əkar] instead of [aI 'parktəkar].

  55. Zina said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 12:35 am

    You might like this street marker in Virginia Beach, Virginia. (Click here to see the image at my blog.) I've always conscientiously pronounced the "c" and thought that was the correct way, so this was a fascinating read. (My brother referred me here because of my blog post linked above.) I think, but I'm not sure, that I might leave the first "c" out in Antarctic/Antarctica, as others have said. And I say the "r" in February, and it drives me nuts when other adults don't, but I have felt sorry for my little kids learning to pronounce that month.

    I also say Wed-nes-day, (with three syllables,) sometimes, just for fun.

  56. Zina said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 12:42 am

    Oh — my brother already linked while I was reading. Sorry for the repeat.

  57. Ellen K. said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 1:37 am

    Jason wrote:

    Do anyone suspect that February's being pronounced often as "Febyuary" owes in part to analogy with January, in particularly since it immediately follows it in a recitation of the months

    That makes a lot of sense to me.

  58. Wilson Gray said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 8:40 am

    I'm with Firefox. It should be _kindergartner_. But, WRT the pronunciation, I go with "kindergar_d_en / kindergar_d_ner." To paraphrase: "I throw my hands in the air 'cause I jus' don' care."

    I wonder what the psychology is behind the fact that there are some (mis)pronunciations or (mis)uses about which one cares not a whit, whereas there are others that cross the line and drive one up the wall. E.g., "cross _a_ line" and "drive one up _a_ wall" cross the line and drive me up the wall.

    -Wilson

  59. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 9:59 am

    The discussion of arctic reminded me the of the word often. I was instructed that the t was never pronounced, but it is common to hear people pronounce the word the way it is spelled, sounding the t. My belief is that the pronunciation using the t is becoming more common, but that may be because I register it as "wrong" when I hear it.

    Regarding January and February, I have heard several speakers from the areas east of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania pronounce those months as "janowary" and "febowary." The r is dropped after the b in February, and the u sound in both month names becomes more of a schwa sound. I think the pronunciation is routine for some speakers from Lebanon County.

  60. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 24, 2008 @ 10:20 am

    To Tristan McLeay: no need to start typing; Toni Borowsky has now supplied me with a .pdf file of the paper, which I've stashed here:

    http://www.stanford.edu/~zwicky/Borowsky.pdf

  61. Arnold Zwicky said,

    July 25, 2008 @ 10:52 am

    I don't have materials assembled for a posting on February, but here are a few notes.

    Toni Borowsky has supplied me with a link to a draft paper by Nancy Hall on "r-dissimilation", which includes some discussion of February. In particular:

    "For February, one finds complaints both about speakers who do and who don’t pronounce the first /r/. The pronunciation ["fEbju'eri] is basically standard, and pronouncing the first /r/ can sound affected." [I've amended the transcription slightly: " indicates primary stress, ' secondary stress.]

    Both NOAD2 and AHD4 list variants with and without the first /r/. (The OED in 1989 listed only the /r/ variant.) Both dictionaries list only the 4-syllable variants, though as reported in comments here, 3-syllable versions are common (for January as well as February, in fact), and I believe that the 3-syllable version almost always lacks the /r/.

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