Tuesday 1 March 2011


In the BBC R4 panel game Just a Minute the panellists have to attempt to speak for sixty seconds on a given topic without hesitation, deviation, or repetition.

In last week’s episode one of the topics was what is usually written as quantitative easing. I would pronounce the first word here as ˈkwɒntɪtətɪv. However the chairman (Nicholas Parsons), and everyone else on the programme as far as I could tell, pronounced it ˈkwɒntətɪv. This raises the same sort of issue as mischiev(i)ous and prot(r)uberant (blog, 3 Feb). Is ˈkwɒntətɪv a variant pronunciation of quantitative, or is it to be treated as a separate word, “quantitive”?

Formally, I suppose this is a haplology (blog, 7 Mar 2007), comparable to library ˈlaɪbri. A repeated consonant gets deleted along with its support vowel.

The OED has a separate entry for quantitive, which it regards as “irregularly” formed. It adduces citations from 1626 onwards.In Just a Minute, given that the chairman specified the topic as ˈkwɒntətɪv easing, I wonder whether panellists would have been penalized for deviation if they had referred to ˈkwɒntɪtətɪv easing. More to the point, you’re allowed to repeat the words on the card (but no others) without penalty. If someone had more than once repeated “quantitative” ˈkwɒntɪtətɪv, would that have counted as disallowed repetition, since that was not exactly the word the chairman had specified as part of the topic? Are the “words on the card” those that the chairman utters, or those that are written?

Americans and some others prefer ˈkwɒntəteɪtɪv, a variant which I imagine would be resistant to haplology.


  1. I also struggle with this type of word, with tətətə (where t is any consonant and ə is any weak vowel). I almost have to count the consonants on my fingers to be sure I'm not missing a syllable or adding an extra one.

    I imagine February was pronounced 'februəri before this kind of change turned it into 'febjuəri.

  2. Once upon a time Geoff Pullum on Language Log was looking for words containing CVCVC with all the C the same. The only example (excluding onomatopoeias and the like) which was found was surcease, here we get another one!

    (As for library, I think that something like //laɪbrəri// -> /laɪbrr̩i/ -> [laɪbɹ:i] happens for me -- as confirmed by the fact that the beginning of the [ɹ:] is labiovelarized (as I usually do for onset /r/) but its end isn't (as usual for my syllabic or coda /r/), thought this might just be an effect of the preceding labial and the following front vowel. Of course, such a thing can only happen to a continuant.

  3. Having the single stress on the first syllable of a four-syllable word is something many speakers tend to avoid, either by simplifying the word (comf'table), by moving the stress, or by adding/retaining a secondary stress on the penultimate syllable (quántitàtive).

    On the other hand, forming quantitive from quantity doesn't seem far-fetched, we have other pairs such as lenity/lenitive, not too many, though.

    By the way, what happened to laboratory? Was it /ˈlæbərəˌtɔːri/ or /ləˈbɒrəˌtɔːri/ first?

  4. ˈkwɒntətɪv might not necessarily be a variant pronunciation of the standard spelling, which suggests a 4-syllable pronunciation. Perhaps the people who pronounce it that way are producing their intended 3-syllable pronunciation of the trisyllable that they think the word is. Depends how they think it's spelt.

    @teardrop Two more -ity/-itive pairs are affinity/affinitive and capacity/capacitive.

  5. @Anonymous: Labiovelarised? Perhaps labial velarised or labiodentalised?

    This very morning in a discussion of modules on quantitative and qualitative research methods found myself stressing the need for 'positative' frame of mind.

  6. To me the interesting thing about quantitative is that it doesn't just meet the requirements for haplology; it massively exceeds them.

    Two similar syllables like tətə would be enough. In fact I think two similar consonants like tət would be enough. So you might say that quantitative, with its tətətə (transcribing the weak i as ə) and its unusually early stress (on the fourth-last syllable), is doubly qualified for haplology.

  7. I'm from the US, and maybe I'm just weird, but I've always said it as /ˈkwɑntɪˌteɪtɪv/.

  8. John:
    «…what is usually written as quantitative easing»

    It's overwhelmingly so written:

    +"quantitative easing"-"quantitive easing" 5,650,000 results
    -"quantitative easing"+"quantitive easing" 47,900 results

    +"quantitative easing"-"quantitive easing" 4,150,000 results
    -"quantitative easing"+"quantitive easing" 10,500 results

    Obviously you must know fine well that the chances of it having been written otherwise on the card must be approaching one of your true zeros.

    « Is ˈkwɒntətɪv a variant pronunciation of quantitative, or is it to be treated as a separate word, “quantitive”?»

    These are not mutually exclusive alternatives, are they? The OED jpg is of course sufficient authority for a separate word, but the haplology is so common for quantitative that it seems the two words are partially homophonous.

    «Are the “words on the card” those that the chairman utters, or those that are written?»

    In the circumstances I take that as a rhetorical question.

  9. There's similar vacillation in speech between preventive and preventative. In this case, the shorter version is officially 'correct'.

    When the word was still rare in ordinary use, I imagined that was really like quantitative. But then I heard an expert speaking of preventive medicine. This in turn made me look more closely when I saw the word written down.

  10. @ Dan: That sounds pretty normal to me.

  11. It's a good thing AmE uses /eɪ/ in the penultimate syllable, because otherwise with flapping the word would be near impossible to pronounce: [ˈkwɑɾ̃ɪɾəɾɪv].


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