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Well, in Proto-Indo-European...
Friday, May 4, 2007   10:40 AM

How do you pronounce ancillary? I doubt that I'd ever said the word aloud before yesterday, when I intervened in an argument about the "correct" pronunciation. I was asked for the "correct" — or to use a more palatable word, "proper" — pronunciation. After pointing out that both parties thought they were right, understood each other, and were unlikely to be alone in their pronunciation, I duly looked up the American Heritage entry.

The loser accepted the dictionary entry and conceded defeat.

(Today I found that the Columbia Guide to Standard American English mentions both pronunciations, and suddenly both were correct. The power of the written word!)

One of the parties involved continues to harbor the belief that the source of the word should indicate how we should pronounce it. His immediate question when I offered up the dual pronunciations today was "did they source it?"

I initially pictured a recording of President Clinton: "I'm Bill Clinton and I approve this pronunciation." But no, we're talking about etymology.

From a later conversation about "Ebonics", it seems like he harbors the belief, exceedingly common in the short term, that language degrades over time. As a copy editor I'm sympathetic to prescriptivist attempts to maintain useful distinctions, but this doesn't work for pronunciation. I don't know where you would stop in this system, certainly spelling pronunciations would be verboten, but how do you handle a silent E? What language is the original? Etc.

I'm reminded of a girl in high school who pronounced glacier "glay-sheer," using similar reasoning.

(This is one of the reasons why it's so refreshing to listen to BBC radio: there's an amazing variety of pronunciations and accents.)

We both agreed that there are pragmatic reasons for trying to find out the Standard American English pronunciation and use that, especially in professional settings. But it's the disgust with differing pronunciations that is the real problem, and I'm pretty sure I failed to convince either of the two parties to be more tolerant.

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