Tuesday, 23 June 2009


BBC Radio 4 has a programme called Americana. (For the next few days it is available on the BBC iPlayer, or as a podcast, here.)
The various presenters and announcers cannot decide how to pronounce the title. They agree that it ends -ˈkɑːnə. But how does it begin? Is it əˌmerɪ-, with the secondary stress on the second syllable? Or ˌæmərɪ- (or even ˌæmerɪ-), with the secondary stress on the first syllable? The continuity announcer goes for the second syllable, just as in America, but the presenter Matt Frei goes for initial stress.
It reminds me of the difference not only in meaning but also in pronunciation between German eventuell ˌeːvɛnˈtu̯el and Enɡlish eventually ɪˈventʃuəli. Or (perhaps better) between the two meanings of English certification. According to Daniel Jones, and I tend to agree with him, the nominalization of to certificate is səˌtɪfɪˈkeɪʃn̩, but the nominalization of to certify is ˌsɜːtɪfɪˈkeɪʃn̩.

The uncertainty over secondary stress placement and possible vowel reduction in Americana is good news for EFL learners, since it suggests that for this and perhaps many other rather arcane words it doesn’t terribly matter \what you do.


  1. Here in America I've only ever heard Americana.

  2. Here in Pennsylvania I’ve only heard “Americana” with the secondary stress on the second syllable. (I guss that’s what Ryan Denzer-King meant, too.)

  3. əˌmerɪˈkænə and ɪˈventʃəli hereabouts. Certificate v. is unfamiliar, though I find it in American dictionaries; I'd certainly use certify instead.

  4. Err, yeah. Don't know why I didn't mark stress on that, but yes, secondary stress on -mer-, with a low back vowel in -ca-.

  5. Interesting if Matt Frei does the German-type thing, given that he no doubt had plenty of German influence as a child. Might say something interesting about L2 prosody. (I'm making the assumption that English is an L2 for him --- and while I know he has a background in Germany I don't know enough about his personal linguistic history!).

  6. əˌmɛɹɪˈkɑːnə here in NYC, at least among the natives. Any stress on the first syllable would sound eccentric to me, but it takes all kinds ...

  7. As with the other Americans, I've only ever heard it with the secondary stress on the second syllable.

  8. əˌmerɪ-, with the secondary stress on the second syllable

    Sounds very American, with the stereotypical alternating of stressed and unstressed syllables, often felt by others to be the inability to focus on more than one unstressed syllable in a row. (Ehhxtra. Awrrrrrdee. Neaaairee. Leee!)

    German eventuell ˌeːvɛnˈtu̯el

    I'm not familiar with this pronunciation. The ones I'm aware of are mainly, with the stress in three possible places, and with three or four syllables:

    - middle-of-the-road standard: [ʔɛvɛntʊˈɛl], optionally [ʔɛˌvɛntʊˈɛl]

    - highlighting the following word: [ʔɛˈvɛntʊɛl], eg eventuell ja "maybe yes" [ʔɛˈvɛntʊɛl ˈjaː].

    - consciously educated: [ʔe(ˌ)vɛntʊˈɛl]. Short unstressed closed [o]s and [e]s only occur in "foreign words", and mostly in theory.

    - colloquial (substandard?), phrasemongering [ˈʔɛvn̩tʊ̯ɛl] or even [ˈʔɛfn̩tvɛl].

  9. I wondered if you were about to mention a hypothetical pronunciation əˌmerɪˈkeɪnə, which I haven't heard but could believe, on the analogy arcana. I see OED still gives pride of place to ɛ'reɪtəm, with ɛ'rɑːtəm as the second option. Never heard it myself.

  10. Judy Gilbert asks me to say on her behalf "according to Google search, Frei was born in, and lived in Essen until he was 10".