Wednesday 16 February 2011


There are many words in English that have ju, jʊ, jə or some derivative of this in a weak syllable: words like regulate, educate, executive, ambulance, particular. For some of them there are variants with plain ə or even zero instead. These are stigmatized. It is not considered admirable to pronounce particular pəˈtɪk(ə)lə (”partickler”) rather than pəˈtɪkjʊlə.
Biddy nodded her head thoughtfully at the fire as she took up her work again, and said she would be very particular; and Joe, still detaining his knees, said, "Ay, ay, I'll be ekervally partickler, Pip;" and then they congratulated me again, and went on to express so much wonder at the notion of my being a gentleman, that I didn't half like it.
—Dickens, Great Expectations

Where there’s stigmatization there will usually be hypercorrection. This is the origin of forms with -j- in words such as escalator and percolate. The standard ˈeskəleɪtə, ˈpɜːkəleɪt seem too plain, so people feel they would be nicer as ˈeskjəleɪtə, ˈpɜːkjəleɪt. I have marked these in LPD with a warning triangle.

Nevertheless, there are one or two words in which I have the impression that the hypercorrect form is somewhat better established.

In the hymn The Church’s One Foundation there is a verse running
’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
The spelling of consummation (double -mm-) tells us that -j- is inappropriate in this word. So does the etymology (cognate with sum and summation, nothing to do with consume). Yet I think congregations rather often sing ˌkɒnsjuˈmeɪʃən rather than ˌkɒnsəˈmeɪʃən or ˌkɒnsʌˈmeɪʃən. Perhaps the adjacent tribulation pushes one in that direction, too.

In LPD, accordingly, I have placed no warning triangle for -j- in consummate, consummation. Ought I to have?


  1. Must say I've (an Australian) always said ˌkɒnsjuˈmeɪʃən, but maintained a distinction between ˌkɒnsjuˈmeɪt (verb) and ˌkɒnsəmət (adjective).

  2. When a choir is singing the hymn, an additional factor might be that the syllable, while off-beat, gets a comfortable full crotchet in what's usually rather a moderate time. That doesn't yet speak more in favour of sju/sjʊ than of , but it makes people "resolve" the schwa, with some guessing in this.

    Interestingly, while Google has just a handful of results for "she awaits the consumation of peace" and some 11000 for the correct spelling, when I looked for sheet music, the first I found had "con-su-ma-tion".

  3. I find it hard to believe that /ˈpɜːkjəleɪt/ and /ˌkɒnsjuˈmeɪt/ are the result of hypercorrection. They're both extremely widespread - at least as common as the regular forms without -j-, and much more widespread than the stigmatised yod-dropping forms like /ˈregəleɪt/ and /ˈpətɪk(ə)lə/.

    I'd say these are what John has called "non-spelling pronunciations" like /mɪsˈtʃiːviəs/ or /prəˌnaʊnsiˈeɪʃən/.

    In the case of consummate (verb) it's presumably from confusion with consume. And percolate may be from a confusion with other verbs ending in -culate like circulate and articulate - a bit like /ˈnjuːkjələ/ for nuclear.

  4. I say ˌkɒnsəˈmeɪʃən. Maybe that's an American thing. I don't think I've heard the other pronunciation. But this isn't a word that I hear people say that often.

  5. Wow. But the thing about 'consummation' is that not knowing any spelling rules and fully expecting exceptions if they do, people don't think there's anything odd about it being pronounced ˌkɒnsjuˈmeɪʃən. Thus while the handful of hits for 'consumation' are significant for the pronunciation, the 1100 for 'consummation' are not, especially if you were searching a line of verse which is likely to have been scanned in from something published in the days when publishing involved correct spelling. You don't say what that handful was, but assuming that what you searched was "she waits the consumation of peace" I get 6 for that and 5,050 for "she waits the consummation of peace", which is 1:841.67. For +consumation I get 63,800 and for +consummation 2,260,000, which is 1:35.42, which is a bit more significant, but for +consumate v or adj I get 1,080,000 as against 11,600,000 for +consummate, which is considerably more so.

    I would have thought people who said ˈpɜːkjəleɪt were much more likely to do so because they misspelt it as well, but no: 11,700 hits for +perculate, 365,000 hits for +percolate. However this does seem to apply to the much more familiar 'percolator': 135,000 for +perculator 1,030,000 for +percolator. The LPD CD has double red exclamation marks for ˈpɜːkjəleɪt and ˈpɜːkjəleɪtə, so perhaps John is still more influenced by spelling and the C of E than you might think.

  6. I was responding to Lipman there, but I meant to say as Phil points out that the LPD also makes it clear that AmE is innocent of all these solecisms, which must be a relief for globish speakers. Perhaps it's also relevant to his decision to de-stigmatize ˈkɒnsjuˌmeɪt verb that the UK sound file sounds suspiciously like that. But the sound file is often more obviously of a signposted form than that, §ˈmɪstʃiːf for ˈmɪstʃɪf, for example.

    >I'd say these are what John has called "non-spelling pronunciations" like /mɪsˈtʃiːviəs/ or /prəˌnaʊnsiˈeɪʃən/.<

    Yes, Pete, I was thinking that, which is why I was having another look at the relevant entries in LPD. But they're not always all that non-spelling. As John pointed out recently, the OED shows that the spelling 'mischievious' has been around an awfully long time.

  7. When I was a little boy we had ˈnɛskæf at elevenses and coffee from a ˈpɜ:kjuleɪ(tə) after lunch. At least that's how it sounded to my young ears. At tea time, we had a good old fashioned tea set with a hot water jug and (I heard) slot basin.

    When I learned to read, only Nescafé was ever to be seen, and in those days everybody in Britain — Nestlés (ˈnɛslz) included — ignored the exotic spelling. Later in life, I wasn't too surprised by the spelling slop basin, but percolator was quite a shock.

    Until this morning, my first instinct would have been for the spelling consumation.

    I suggest that what's at work is a distinction between psychological slot occupied by suffixes and the recognition of an authentic suffix.

    • In Latin, -ation and -ator are suffixes and are felt to be slot-filling suffixes.

    • For many English speakers, the slot contains -ulation and -ulator as in accumulation, perambulator etc.

    There's a running theme on Broadcasting House (on BBC Radio Four) to invent new words for concepts that lack one. None of the entries (well, none that I've noticed) uses orthodox suffixes. We evidently get more enjoyment from inventing 'suffixes' that echo existing words.

  8. Yes, it's an irritant for me as well. Interestingly, the OED has an entry for the obsolete word consumation 'the action of consuming, destruction', yet a quotation for that word from 1632 has 'consummation'!

    I also prefer kənˈsʌmət for the adjective, rather than ˈkɒnsəmət let alone ˈkɒnsjumət.

    On the further point of hypercorrection and the ju sound, I once saw invigilator misspelt as invidulator!

  9. Also, when did ˈkʌmɪn become ˈkjuːmɪn?

  10. Yes, OK, I can read the LPD. But I don't remember ever hearing ˈkʌmɪn, and I would certainly never say it.

  11. @Steve,

    I naturally pronounce cumin as ˈkju:mɪn, even though I read the word long before hearing it spoken. I probably gravitated to this pronunciation because "cumin" is vaguely reminiscent of '-uming' words like fuming or consuming.

  12. I naturally pronounce cumin as ˈkju:mɪn, even though I read the word long before hearing it spoken.

    "Because" at least as much as "even though"; the spelling u for a stressed vowel in an open syllable is much more typical of juː than of ʌ.

  13. 'Cumin' can also be spelt 'cummin', and I have heard /ˈkʌmɨn/ before. I'm afraid I've always said /ˌkɒnsju:ˈmeɪʃn/ - I lead the music team in church sometimes, and we have always used this pronunciation in 'The church's one foundation', the hymn John mentioned. But I have always been aware of the in the spelling and wondered whether it should be a different vowel. I think this pronunciation is sufficiently frequent for it to be included.

  14. /ˈkʌmɪn/ is still the only pronunciation given in the OED.

  15. Drifting off-topic even more (though still on the letter u), I was singing with one of my choirs at the weekend and noticed at the rehearsal that some people were singing sepulchral with -ˈpʊl- in the middle syllable. I piped up to say that I thought -ˈpʌl- was the normal pronunciation, and I notice that the -ˈpʊl- variant is not in LPD. Should it be?

  16. Put it this way: How many chefs or food shop assistants say ˈkʌmɪn?

  17. Aargh! Count me as another who has always had /ju/ in "consummation". In my defence, I have sung in a lot of choirs.

  18. @Lipman:

    According to JW's theory, the "u" of "cumin" is not in an open syllable :)

  19. In fact, I first wrote "in what appears to be an open syllable", but then edited it in order not to make it more complicated. But you're right, of course.

  20. Does this mean that people with advanced assimilatory accents say conshumation, or is that restricted to drunks and people with ill-fitting dentures?

  21. @John Cowan: yes, it does. Plenty of people say /ˌkɒnsʃəˈmeɪʃən/.

    PS - I don't think I've ever heard anyone say /ˈkʌmɪn/. If /ˈkjuːmɪn/ is wrong, I don't want to be right.

  22. My 1968 (American) Collier's Encyclopedia gives only [kʌ′mɪn] (i.e. ˈkʌmɪn).

    To be honest, I've always blamed Madhur Jaffrey. I remember what I think was her first cookery series in the UK and I do remember noticing her pronunciation of cumin as ˈkjuːmɪn, which I put down to her being foreign and therefore getting it wrong!

  23. @ Pete: "If /ˈkjuːmɪn/ is wrong, I don't want to be right." Haha. Same here Pete. I feel that way about many of my "wrong" pronunciations. Plus I haven't heard anyone say /ˈkʌmɪn/ in the U.S. either. Also I have many immature friends so I don't know if I could say /ˈkʌmɪn/ around these "adults".

  24. Again this blog has mysteriously taken a dislike to a post that the comments feed has posted to my inbox. Thus at 18:53, which I think is long enough ago for it to have appeared here:

    >JWL has left a new comment on the post "consummation":

    >If any reader is still int•rested in the original 'consumation' phenomenon they might like to see the discussion of it
    at my blog 153 ( )

    That and his blog 308 ( are a salutary kick up the bum for those of us who abhor "non-spelling pronunciations" like /mɪsˈtʃiːviəs/ or /prəˌnaʊnsiˈeɪʃən/, and further comment on one's own bugbears or those of anyone else here is superfluous, but what are we for?

    I do wonder why given the venerability of spellings like 'mischievious', 'grievious' they are not recognized. There are plenty of far grosser etymological aberrations, and the recognition of the spellings would finally destigmatize the pronunciations. Even LPD is not as permissive as it sometimes seems: John still stigmatizes ˈmɪʃtʃɪvəs, which OED is quite happy with.

    Steve, on your point of hypercorrection and the ju sound I am duly impressed by the eye-popping 'invidulator'. As to what it is a hypercorrection of, I refer you to John Maidment's 'Yodophobia', and my reference to a certain BBC announcer as a shining example of yodophobia phobia:

    But as long as personal experiences of cumin/cummin are being discussed on here, I cannot help saying that I am flabbergasted by people's insistence on ˈkjuːmɪn. We often agree that we are flummoxed to hear pronunciations that early exposure to the spellings thereof do not lead us to expect, and this has apparently been more of the same for some of you. It was the opposite for me. Seeing the spelling 'cumin' astonished me, and it was some time before I saw the spelling 'cummin', which I suppose is how I would have spelt it if I had had occasion to. The first time I heard ˈkjuːmɪn was much later – from a phonetician colleague!

    Re the variant of 'sepulchral' with -ˈpʊl- in the middle syllable not being in LPD. One does hear that, and I would have thought LPD might have treated it like 'catapult', which has §-pʊlt after -pʌlt.

    >According to JW's theory, the "u" of "cumin" is not in an open syllable<

    Don't be circular! It's only "not in an open syllable" if it's ˈkʌm.ɪn and if as everyone seems to agree it can be ˈkjuːmɪn, there's not much you can say about its syllabification.

    John, David Attenborough is pronouncing 'lemur' ˈliːmə tonight, with only the occasional gesture in the direction of ʊ in it, or of a longer ə. Must have read your blog.

  25. ˈkʌmɪn was also the only pronunciation for Gimson in the 1977 EPD.

  26. @mallamb:

    >According to JW's theory, the "u" of "cumin" is not in an open syllable

    Don't be circular! It's only "not in an open syllable" if it's ˈkʌm.ɪn and if as everyone seems to agree it can be ˈkjuːmɪn, there's not much you can say about its syllabification

    That doesn't match my understanding of JW's syllabification theory, but, since I don't agree with it anyway, I guess it isn't a big deal.

  27. @vp:

    Your understanding appears to be correct, in that the entry in LPD seems to attach the m to the first syllable in all variants.

  28. Another factor that would have reinforced the kʌm- pronunciation in past centuries is the fact that the word is spelt cummin in the King James Bible, which is likely to have been the only place most English people encountered the word.

  29. vp,
    Sorry, I don't even need to follow your link. A moment's reflection suffices to remember that only 'queue mints' for handing out to impoverished theatre-goers etc would have the u in an open syllable for him. I was thinking of my own approach, which avoids dealing in syllables, and would account for the prosodic differences by saying that cumin is one phonotagm and queue mints two. I'm glad you I don't agree with JW on this anyway, as I too find it counterintuitive to analyze cumin as 'come in'.

    If we have to talk about syllables, we have discussed several cases where the only way you can make sense of the prosody and allophony is to say that the intervocalic consonant is a Janus segment - coda with respect to the previous vowel and onset with respect to the next.

  30. Steve

    Your mention of 1977 prompted memories that had eluded my when you mentioned Madhur Jaffrey.

    I did actually buy cumin once in the late sixties. It wasn't something you asked for over the counter. You read the name in a recipe and looked for a label on a packet or tin. Not in a supermarket though, so recipes also gave the name used in Pakistani shops. If you couldn't see a tin, you might have to speak, but the word would not be 'cumin'. (I remember jeera, though that might be coriander.)

    In the seventies I was in Egypt, where even in English speech the word was (I think I remember) kamun.

    By the time I was cooking in Britain again, people were getting recipe ideas from TV before consulting actual written recipes. What TV cooks said was the norm for most of us. It still is.

    Nowadays, you just read the labels in the spice section in a supermarket. But how do you know that cumin is what you want? In the vast majority of cases, I suggest, it's because you've heard it from TV or from a friend. And what you've heard is ˈkjuːmɪn.

    Time to modify the LPD?

  31. vp,
    I wonder if you saw any resemblance to your own objections to JW's syllabification rules in my above explanation of my previous provocation.

    It might have helped you to if I had made it clear why I was using the orthographic 'cumin':

    >I ... would account for the prosodic differences by saying that cumin is one phonotagm and queue mints two.<

    i.e. cumin is one phonotagm whether it's ˈkʌmɪn or ˈkjuːmɪn, which latter therefore remains distinct from the corresponding sequence in 'queue mints'.


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