Tuesday, 22 June 2010

advocating carbonates

The pronunciation of the suffix -ate is quite tricky from the EFL point of view. (NSs never think about it, of course.) The general rule is that it is strong, eɪt, in verbs, but weakened to ət (or, for some, ɪt) in adjectives and nouns.

So on the one hand we have celebrate, deteriorate, imitate, lubricate with eɪt, and on the other considerate, obstinate, private; climate, consulate, palate, senate with ət.

There are no verbs in which the suffix is weakened. Not for me, at least — though I do occasionally hear someone saying that he ˈædvəkəts this or that policy, which makes me want to elicit the ing-form or the past tense, since I really can’t believe that anyone would say ?ˈædvəkətɪŋ or ?ˈædvəkətɪd.

EFL learners need to be aware of the ambiguity of the spelling in words like moderate, separate, deliberate, delegate, which are pronounced differently depending on whether they are verbs or adjectives/nouns. An adverb like separately ˈsep(ə)rətli, of course, has a weak suffix like the adjective from which it is derived. In phonetics, we speak of affric[]ting a plosive but of producing an affric[ət]e. We hope to be articul[ə]te as we articul[]te.

Adjectives and nouns are trickier, though. There are a few adjectives that categorically have a strong vowel in the suffix (innate, ornate, sedate). There are many nouns in which usage is not settled (candidate, magistrate). In “more technical words”, as I put it in LPD, the suffix is strong: thus in botany the adjectives describing shapes of leaves (cordate, lanceolate, peltate) and in chemistry the names of salts (nitrate, phosphate, sulfate).
But even this is not fixed. The other day I was slightly startled to hear someone speak of carbon[ɪt] of soda. Perhaps I need to get out more.

15 comments:

  1. Some Americans pronounce the noun "delegate" with /eɪ/; I perceive this pronunciation as rather folksy.

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  2. Just to add to your example of "advocate", I have often heard the verb "estimate" as [ˈestɪmət] on the phonetic data gathering device known to the outside world as BBC Radio 4.

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  3. Bicarbonate of soda is the more common expression. Have you looked up bicarbonate in, ahem, LPD? (Or was it the /ɪ/ that was startling, rather than the presence of a reduced vowel?)

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  4. I wouldn't have been surprised at bicarbon[ɪt], you're right. It's hardly a technical term, it's entered everyday vocabulary.

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  5. A notable non-phonetic fact about -ate is its semantic emptiness: there is no fundamental reason why in English we have prepare and not *preparate, or per contra separate and not *separe. There are a few exceptions involving back-formation: commentate 'act like a commentator' is a back-formation from commentator, and is distinct from comment v.

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  6. @John Cowan: In a similar vein, "illuminate" has the less-used alternate form "illumine". Not to mention the whole fracas over "oblige" and "obligate".

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  7. For -ate verbs, there's also the question of stress: in many disysllables Americans stress the first syllable and Britons the second; Irish English often stresses the ending even in longer verbs.

    @JohnCowan: A cranberry morpheme?

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  8. The double forms are in a larger context, I'm not even sure there's ground for them to claim a subgroup of their own. Off-hand, I suppose it depends on when the word was loaned, whether it was loaned from French or Latin, and, of course, if there was some form of derivation, incl. back-formations, inside English, or maybe noun and verb (&c.) were loaned separately, maybe from different languages (&c.). In other words, it's probably pretty individual for every word and pair.

    (Sorry for the clumsy wording, no time to ede it.)

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  9. I pronounce "Carbonate" as /ˈkɑɻbənɪt/ usually, but all the other chemical -ate words I use the strong form. So Calcium Carbonate (limestone) is /ˈkɛɫsjəm ˈkɑɻbəˌnɪt/ but Calcium Sulfate (gypsum) for me is /ˈkɛɫsjəm ˈsʌɫfeːt/.

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  10. I am not interested to rocks, but after reading this post I am now. That rock was very fascinating. Its beautiful, that is all I can say.

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  11. With (bi)carbonate, the number of syllables (after the prefix) is likely to be responsible for the weak pronunciation of the "-ate". I wonder if this holds true for the other long "-ate" ions -- the only ones I can think of are "(per)manganate" and "(thio)cyanate". To me, permangan[ɪt] sounds fine, but not thiocyan[ɪt], but that may just be a reflection on how (un)common they are to me.

    @ John Cowan and Lazar Taxon -- and "orientate" in place of "orient" seems to be a particularly common bugbear.

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  12. Mollymooly: Cranberry morphs are forms that look like morphemes but aren't, like the cran- in cranberry; it appears to be a reduced form of crane, or entirely opaque, but in fact the word as a whole was borrowed from Low Saxon (where it is transparently crane+berry) into American English, and thence into other varieties. I think that -ate is unquestionably a genuine morpheme that just happens to have a semantic value of zero.

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  13. hi. I am Alejandro. i am a chilean teacher. one quick question: would u mind if i link my blogger account to yours? I am trying to teach my students the different pronunciations the suffix "-ate" has.

    Thanks

    http://profe-de-ingles.blogspot.com/

    or

    www.profedeingles.cl

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