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How To Pronounce Pronounce and Pronunciation

Since this blog focuses on pronunciation, and the way that native Hindi speakers say "pronounce" and "pronunciation" is often noticeably different than native speakers of American English, I figured it'd be a good idea to go over the pronunciation of these words.

Let's start with the verb form, pronounce.

Pronounce

The word pronounce has two syllables, and is stressed on the second syllable.

First syllable

The first syllable of pronounce is "pro". It starts with the /p/ sound. American English speakers might say this differently than Indian English speakers. In American English, words that begin with /p/, /t/, or /k/ are aspirated -- they are pronounced with a big puff of air. Indian speakers are less likely to do this. Make sure when you say this word you create a large puff of air after you say the /p/.

The next sound in this syllable is /r/. American English speakers use the alveolar "r" sound, not the retroflex "r" sound. Don't turn the tip of the tongue backwards and touch the tip to the roof of your mouth. Point your tongue tip slightly behind your two front teeth, don't touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and bunch up the middle of your tongue making this sound instead.

American English speakers generally pronounce this syllable using the schwa vowel, instead of the full o vowel or the diphthong o sound. When Hindi speakers say this syllable, they often don't use a schwa, but instead they use a full "o" sound. Try to make this syllable shorter and quieter when you say it, so that the second syllable sounds out more.

Second syllable

Both native speakers of Hindi and American English speakers use a similar "n" sound when saying this syllable. Americans pronounce the second syllable with the ou diphthong.

Pronunciation

There are five syllables in the word pronunciation, and the fourth syllable receives the most emphasis.

First syllable

The first syllable of pronunciation is pro. Make sure that the the p sound used is the aspirated p, made with a big puff of air. If you don't make a big puff of air when you say this /p/, it might throw off American speakers, and they might even perceive that you are saying "b" instead, because "p" and "b" are similar sounds, and Americans don't pronounce "b" with a big puff of air when it is at the beginning of a word.

The "r" sound in this syllable should be the alveolar "r" sound of American English, not the retroflex "r" sound. Don't turn the tip of your tongue backwards and touch the tip to the roof of your mouth. Instead, point your tongue tip slightly behind your two front teeth, don't touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and bunch up the middle of your tongue making this sound instead.

Americans generally pronounce this syllable with the vowel, not the ou diphthong or the o vowel. To make your speech sound less foreign, use the central, short, vowel vowel in the first syllable of pronunciation.

Second syllable

The second syllable is "nun". Hindi speakers tend to make this syllable very prominent in this word, but this syllable shouldn't receive a lot of stress and instead should be made quieter and shorter. This word contains the -tion suffix which shifts stress to the second-to-last syllable, so in this five syllable word the most stressed syllable shouldn't be the second syllable, but instead on the fourth syllable.

Some speakers from India pronounce this with the same vowel they use in the second syllable of pronounce. This is incorrect. The spelling of this word is pronunciation, and you shouldn't say it as though it were pronounce-iation. Make sure to use the "au" dipthong, and nut the wedge sound.

Third syllable

The third syllable of pronunciation is "ci". Not much commentary here regarding pronunciations of the individual sounds, as Hindi speakers and American English speakers make the similarly. Make sure to make this syllable shorter and quieter, because it is unstressed.

This syllable contains the ei diphthong. Hindi speakers will use the vowel e instead generally, but this isn't a huge issue. More of an issue is that Hindi speakers tend to put stress on the second syllable instead of on this syllable. This syllable gets the most stress because words that have the suffix -tion has stress on the second-to-last syllable. For more information on how suffixes affect the pronunciation of words, check out our article on stress-shifting and non-stress-shifting suffixes.

Fourth Syllable

The fourth syllable of pronunciation, -tion, is an unstressed syllable. Make sure not to use a full, clear vowel or diphthong, like o or ou, when pronouncing it, and make sure that this syllable is quieter and shorter. Additionally, Hindi speakers tend to raise the pitch on the last syllable of words, and American English speakers generally expect the pitch to go down on the last syllable in a word, so you may want to practice lowering your pitch instead of raising it when you say this, and other words.

Why Do Pronounce and Pronunciation Have Different Vowels?

A long time ago, there were vowel changes, or a vowel shift, that affected some English words. For words that contained three syllables together, the vowel was changed into from a lax vowel into a tense vowel. The "uh" vowel is tense - we push our lips together when we make it. The "ou" diphthong is made with two lax vowels, pronounced with the lips spread fairly widely apart.

Words with similar roots

Pronounce and pronunciation derive from the Latin root nuntiare, meaning "to announce". There are few other words that derive from this root as well, like announce and annunciation, enunciate and enunciation, and denounce and denunciation. The words that have the -tion suffix all are pronounced with the vowel /ʌ/ (known as the wedge), just like pronunciation, so we have annunciation, denunciation, and enunciation. The verb form of enunciation, enunciate, also contains the /ʌ/ vowel. However, like "pronounce", the verb form of annunciation, announce, and the verb form of denunciation, denounce, contain a diphthong /aʊ/ in the second syllable. The reason for this is a phenonemon called trisyllabic laxing, which caused the vowel used in the words ending in -tion to change from a tense, long vowel or diphthong to a lax, short vowel. In any case, what that means is that it's important to remember that the vowels used in second syllable the verb forms of these words is different than the one used in the noun forms ending in -tion.

VerbNoun
pronouncepronunciation
announceannunciation
denouncedenunciation
enunciateenunciation

Summary

When saying pronounce and pronunciation, make sure to pay attention to which syllables are being emphasized, as well as the vowels you're using, in order to improve how easily you're understood. Pronounce should be emphasized on the second syllable, but pronunciation should be emphasized on the fourth syllable, because words ending in -tion have primary stress on the second to last syllable.

Additionally, the second syllable in pronounce contains a diphthong, ou, but in the word pronunciation, the vowel in the second syllable is the wedge. Many speakers pronounce this word similarly to "pronounce-iation", which is incorrect. There are other words that have similar roots as pronounce and pronunciation, and the rules for emphasizing them and pronouncing the vowels in them are similar to those for saying pronounce and pronunciation.


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