Wednesday, 12 August 2009

jewellery, jewelry

Being British, I spell the -ery form of jewel as jewellery. But I pronounce it ˈdʒuːəlri. (Or I can smooth the vowels, giving ˈdʒʊəlri.) Some Brits, though, pronounce it ˈdʒuːləri, which I have labelled in LPD as “non-RP”: it certainly triggers in me adverse reactions as strong as those triggered by prəˌnaʊnsiˈeɪʃn̩.
Americans spell the word jewelry, which fits my pronunciation and presumably theirs too.
The -(e)ry suffix normally appears as -ery (potentially disyllabic) when attached to a stem that is monosyllabic or final-stressed, but as -ry (monosyllabic) when attached to a stem ending in an unstressed syllable. Thus we have bakery, fishery, slavery, buffoonery, machinery, but mimicry, rivalry, devilry, archdeaconry, weaponry.
So if jewel is pronounced as two syllables, ˈdʒuː.əl, we would expect jewelry ˈdʒuːəlri. If on the other hand it is pronounced as one syllable, dʒuːl (as in popular London speech), or as the derived dʒʊəl, we would expect jewellery ˈdʒuːləri, ˈdʒʊələri. But in this word, exceptionally, it doesn’t seem to work like that.
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Having just discovered how to do so, I have now changed the blog settings so that anyone can comment without being registered. If we get swamped with spam, I’ll change them back.
The font is now set throughout as <font face="Charis SIL Compact", "Charis SIL", "Doulos SIL Compact", "Doulos SIL"," Lucida Grande", "Lucida Sans Unicode">. I find that I get different results on different computers and with different browsers. Firefox works fine on my desktop computer, but produces a nasty pixellated result on my laptop (on which IE shows everything fine). I have no idea why that is.


  1. In a speaker's mind, it could be jeweller + -(r)y (more appropriate for a store than for the goods), which would also render (a primary) [ˈdʒʊələri] or [ˈdʒuːləri].

  2. For me jewelry is disyllabic (and of course jewel is monosyllabic).

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Just an idea: is the /dʒuːləri/ form used by the same sort of speakers that say "film" as /fɪləm/? If so, /dʒuːləri/ might be an Irish pronunciation that is making inroads into Britain, much the same way that /heɪtʃ/ has done.

  5. I think /dʒuːləri/ is a pronunciation that has been influenced by the spellinɡ rather than a particular dialect.

  6. Well possible. After all, jewels is more common in spoken English.

  7. Americans have the same /ˈdʒuːəlri/ vs. /ˈdʒuːləri/ class-based opposition as Brits, modulo our different vowel length rules.

  8. "Americans spell the word jewelry, which fits my pronunciation and presumably theirs too."

    I wish! But /ˈdʒuləri/ is one of those mispronunciations (or, to be more scientific: pronunciations of which people who pique themselves on verbal propriety tend to disapprove) that are so common in the US that you hear them even from highly educated people -- like /'nʌpʃuəl/ for "nuptial."

  9. For some reason I can't see this post—it's all boxes in Firefox for mac and a total mess in Safari for mac. Just got a new computer, so I'm not sure if it's just me.

  10. @Eric: do you have all your Unicode fonts loaded?

    @Baritonobasso: You took the words right out of my mouth!

  11. Is it possible to introduce the approximant value of letter 'l' into this discussion? I feel most speakers find it difficult to say 'jewel' as one syllable because we are drawn to using the ' dark' sound of 'l' in spite of the written 'e' before it. A better example is 'example' and 'people' where we are not side-tracked by a vowel between the 'p' and the 'l'. This could be shown as schwa although I should be grateful if you would allow me to show it as ~ to indicate that the sound is in-built into dark 'l'.
    I say / 'dzu:~lri/ and the American version does indeed show this more clearly than our quaint (but much loved) spelling.
    The use of tilde might also help with /fi~lm/ The problem mentioned by Ed above arises because there is also my tilde sound in letter m as in rhythm.
    I think the non-RP version of the word is just a malapropism like "nucular" instead of "nuclear".

  12. Are you talking about an added ("epenthetic") vowel in front of the l?

    Or that a "darker" variety of l is used? That would be the normal thing to do whether after a long uː, a diphthong ʊə or some other schwa ə.

    Or do you mean that the l is pronounced as a w? That would be a matter of the dialect, but still the same in all these positions.

  13. David Marjanović15 August 2009 at 16:44

    Is the /l/ syllabic for some people?

    I once read in a Nature paper that there's a general "southern British" tendency to make every dark /l/ syllabic, so that milk becomes disyllabic, and that this is more and more creeping into the Queen's English over the decades. I suppose this also explains (at least in part) why football fans chant England! with three syllables: Eng-gl-land! Eng-gl-land!.

  14. Thanks very much for your replies. I have tried many times to respond but the vagueries of Google in S.E.Asia prevent it. It keeps me anonymous but my name is James (

  15. To Mr Lipman I say that epenthesis does not seem to cover the more definite approximant value that I refer to. In the OED the sound before l in words such as people is shown as schwa in brackets, which in itself is described as an indeterminate sound. I feel it is not too indeterminate, as in the word feel, which can be shown as /fI:~l/ One could argue that the extra sound comes from the second e, but looking at the word sale we can only take the extra sound from the letter l.
    I deduce therefore that lower case l has two sounds:
    1) as a pure consonant as in love, and please.
    2) as Mr David says a syllabic l as in bottle, and jewel.
    It is syllabic because it contains vowel sound most easily shown as 'ul'.
    As letter l uses the voice before the action of the mouth it is easy to insert vowel sound.
    The 'w' sound of 'l' a la mode de Tony Blair has possibly crept into accents as a misinterpretation of the inherent sound of letter l, but generally this intrinsic nature has been interpreted accurately from New Zealand to Canada, and South Africa to Alaska. For me it is a determinable sound that must have been built into the letter before English started to travel the globe.
    It does indeed account for the three syllables in Eng~l-and and this exaggeration could indeed be considered epenthitic.
    Many thanks again for your comments.

  16. they are pronounced the same for both, double 'l' or single.
    but i just wondered why they are spelt differently in the first place

  17. The biggest reason the second syllable of the word gets chopped out is because the first letter is a semivowel, in my everyday speech I say JEWEL (ˈdʒuːl), the same way FIRE (faːjər) can be split up, and it really makes no difference.

    In America last e has been slashed out (CAN SOMEONE TELL ME WHY!?), so people say ˈdʒuː(w)əlri.

    Unfortunately my pronunciation is considered especially wrong, but very common. But it seems to make more sense to call it ˈdʒuːləri because the suffix -ery indicates a collection of art or a profession.

    Bake - Baker - Bakery
    Brew - Brewer - Brewery
    Cake - Caker - Cakery
    (Butch?) - Butcher - Butchery
    Jewel - Jeweler - Jewelery

  18. I've wondered about these different spellings. I prefer the American because it's less to write & I think I pronounce it that way too.

  19. So is the word bakery 2 or 3 syllables in British English?

  20. Three syllables in British English, two in Brishingsh.