Friday 29 July 2011

allegedly aged

How do you pronounce aged?

It depends on where it stands in the sentence. If it is used attributively, before a noun, meaning ‘(very) old’, then it has two syllables, ˈeɪdʒɪd (or, for some, ˈeɪdʒəd). This is what you say in an aged woman or my aged parents. It is also the pronunciation we use in, for example, care of the aged, where you could argue that it is used attributively before a deleted (understood) noun people.

But when it is used predicatively, meaning ‘having a specific age’, then it is pronounced as a monosyllable, eɪdʒd. This is what you say in children aged 5 or over or a man aged between 30 and 35.

There are one or two other -ed words that vary in the same fashion, notably blessed. Attributively, disyllabic: a moment of blessed silence; where’s my blessed notebook? Predicatively, monosyllabic: we’re both blessed with good health; the couple had their marriage blessed (by the vicar). Against this rule, however, in the hymn Our blessed redeemer, ere he breathed | his tender last farewell the word has to be pronounced as a monosyllable despite being attributive.

There’s also accursed, which for me is always əˈkɜːsɪd. But others always say əˈkɜːst. Others again may vary as with aged and blessed. In modern English, though, the word is really only used attributively: we say all this accursed mud, but not ?all this mud is accursed.

As we all know, there are a few adjectives in -ed in which the ending is irregularly pronounced as a separate syllable, i.e. against the rule that this pronunciation belongs only after stems ending in t or d. Examples are crooked, learned, naked, rugged, wicked, wretched, all disyllabic. (But as verb forms, crooked and learned are monosyllabic: she crooked krʊkt her finger, he learned lɜːnd what had happened.)

Derived forms in -edly and -edness seem mostly to have the syllabic pronunciation. So markedly and markedness have three syllables each, while supposedly and allegedly have four. But there are also those that have a nonsyllabic ed: determinedly, ill-favouredness, good-naturedness. I think shamefacedly can go either way.

I heard Judge Judy on television speaking of someone’s əˈledʒɪd crime. But I think we normally say əˈledʒd, and that her pronunciation (possibly a one-off slip) was a back-formation from allegedly. So when she said your alleged striking of the defendant with trisyllabic alleged she was thinking of the underlying unnominalized you allegedly struck the defendant.
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This blog will be suspended for the month of August. During this time I may possibly see some of you face-to-face at the UCL Summer Course in English Phonetics in London or at the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences in Hong Kong.

Next posting: 1 September.


  1. An area near here on the gulf coast is called 'Forked Island', and I've only ever heard the first word pronounced as ˈfɔːɹkɛd

  2. Legged.

    Or, rather, NUMBER-legged (one-leggèd, three-leggèd). With adjectives it seems unpredictable. Long-leggèd is, i think, fairly common, but not short-leggèd.

    Not, of course, *We leggèd it.

  3. I think "alleged" as three syllables is quite common in North America. It sounds more normal to my ears than the two-syllable version.

    Incidentally, I've just updated to the Lion new OS on my Mac, and am pleasantly surprised to see Character Viewer expanded to include Unicode 6.0.

  4. My favourite example is ˈɑːmɪd ˈviːɪkl̩.

  5. I think you must mean ˈɑːməd ˈviːɪkl̩ (armoured vehicle). Even 'armed' can't be ˈɑːmɪd, whether as in 'one-armed' (as opposed to 'one-leggèd') or as in the usually pleonastic 'armed gunmen' of the media.

  6. No, mallamb. I know that you're the reader of minds always on duty per excellance, but no, I meant what I wrote. Simple.

  7. And what did you write and mean – "armed vehicle" or "armoured vehicle"? And have you found anyone to pronounce either of them ˈɑːmɪd ˈviːɪkl̩? If "armoured vehicle" I think it would serve the purposes of this topic better if you could find anyone to pronounce it ˈɑːmərɪd ˈviːɪkl̩. Not simple for me.

  8. John,
    Does this syllabic pronunciation of –ed give you the impression of not being so subject to smoothing and compression as the sort of aʊə sequences discussed under "our cake"? It does me, but I can't tell from my own pronunciation as I always have ɪd for it. I do smooth əˈvaʊɪdlɪ a bit, but that's not a candidate for compression. Do even the most ˌhaɪˈpaːd compressors whose pronunciation of –ed would give əˈvaʊədlɪ ever go so far as to compress it?

    I felt sure I'd usually seen "Our blest redeemer, ere he breathed", and Google has 11,500 hits for that, with only 1,100 for "Our blessed redeemer, ere he breathed".

  9. Yes, I agree that aʊɪ is rather resistant to compression. For example, I'm not really happy with ploughing as a monosyllable (despite what I put in LPD). But trying, crying, dying as monosyllables seem much easier, and so are going, knowing, throwing.

  10. I'm with nedecky - trisyllabic alleged is very common in my world (I write about legal affairs, in the US.)

  11. Neckedy

    And the diacritics are good — without changing font or keyboard. Just hold down a vowel letter (or c or l or n or s or z) and take your pick.

  12. Very interesting! I always had doubts about the pronunciation of "blessed".

  13. John (It's not August yet, so I'm hoping I may yet address this to you)

    I'm glad we agree about the aʊɪ in əˈvaʊɪdlɪ. Your treatment of 'ploughing' does seem to be anomalous as long as you don't allow for monosyllabicity in the other examples you give here, or even in the analogous ˈbaʊ ɪŋ. But I hoped you would have some observations to report about my "haɪˈpaːd compressors whose pronunciation of -ed would give əˈvaʊədlɪ" not being so likely to compress the aʊə in əˈvaʊədlɪ (as the aʊə in ˌhaɪˈpaʊəd, of course, or more to the point, in kaʊədlɪ). I really don't think I have ever heard or anything approaching it for the aʊə in (ʌn)əˈvaʊədlɪ or əˈlaʊədlɪ (in which the èd seems to be even more obligatory). I can't imagine compression with (ʌn)əˈvaʊədnəs either. I know the markèdness of this –ed makes the sequence a bit of a rarity in this context, but why shouldn't it be subject to compression? It can't be the morphology of it, as we experience no resistance to compressing 'allowably' or even 'now and then'.

  14. Trisyllabic alleged sounds a bit like American police report language. Not normal AmE "the alleg'd perpetrator went into the house" but "thee allegèd perpetrator did go into thee house."

  15. And gentlemen in England now a-bed
    Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

  16. For me, disyllabic aged has an archaic flavor, and belongs to persons only: an aged cheese would be monosyllabic unless I were personifying the cheese.

  17. Yes. Agèd cheese goes well with elderly port, doesn't it?

  18. Even learnèd people can have learn'd responses and agèd people can have ag'd cheeses. You only have to ask whether the pp is of the intransitive or the transitive verb. I could explain it better than by 'intransitive or transitive', but only in tedious detail.

  19. I don't want to burden you unnecessarily, but I think 'aged' is used in the same way for cheese as for people, just metonymically. I don't think the idea is that cheese has "been aged" ot the like.

    There's certainly a difference in these matter between a learnèd book and a learn'd/learnt book.

  20. A cheese attains to the state of 'being aged' by 'having been aged'. If it hasn’t been aged, it's not even called aged, because it's just old or even inedible.

    The difference between a learnèd book and a learn'd/learnt book is like the difference between a studied response (which this isn’t very) and a studied response (which I demur to expect this to be). A book or response by someone who's done the learning or studying, and a book or response that is learnt or studied [by the learner or studier]. The "intransitive" agèd and learnèd are just oddities which are not replicated in the parallel expressions. I grant that it takes a bit of imagination to see 'studied' as a parallel sort of "intransitive", which is why I wasn’t happy relating it to transitivity or ergativity or anything. You can even say "I have studied my reply with great care" and still mean that you have given a lot of thought to writing it, rather than to reading what you have written! Commutation tests demonstrate the context-sensitivity of the allosemy: a reply is either very studied as a book may be very learnèd, or unenthusiastically studied as a book may be unenthusiastically learnt.

  21. I'm sorry I did after all burden you unnecessarily - I had understood all of that from your previous comment, and I still think the expression "aged cheese" implies that the cheese aged rather than that it was aged. In fact, if somebody tries to sell me one that has been aged, I might think he took a young gouda, microwaved it to make it dry and painted it with something salty.

    The difference might rather already lie between uses for people. And agèd person is somebody above a certain age, and an ag'd person is someone who used to look or act younger, in other words, agèd is less connected to the development of aging and is used as a lexified adjective meaning "elderly", while ag'd still is the regular form of the verb with its different connotations.

  22. I appreciate your being aware of how burdened I am, but I seem to still welcome burdens, so I'm game for this. Thanks for the fun.

    I could agree that the expression "agèd cheese" implies that the cheese ag'd rather than that it was ag'd (whether by a process or by a person or persons). You don't by any chance mean that it grew "agèd under its own steam, do you? That again would probably be the inedible under a facetious name.

    An agèd person is indeed somebody above a certain, or rather a considerable, age, or facetiously described as so being, as I describe myself as born agèd, i.e. agèd ag'd a minute, give or take. And yes, that is a fully-fixed convention and therefore lexical. But "an ag'd person" to mean someone who used to look or act younger is unidiomatic. You can of course say that person has ag'd terribly. And yes, to the extent that ag'd still is the regular form of the verb with its different connotations, we can be terribly ag'd, but very agèd rather than very ag'd, to use the commutation test I proposed above. Agèd people may not age badly at all, so we may say they haven't ag'd much at all since they were eighty, even if they are ag'd 100.

    Both agèd and learnèd are lexical oddities, and their survival helps to understand parallelisms such as my "studied answer" above, and make them less puzzling. The trouble is they are obsolescent, as John noted in some fairly recent blog entry, I think. I seem to remember he was taken aback at the realization of how current the monosyllabic pronunciations of these words had become. LPD3 doesn't recognize this, nor do I think it should yet:
    aged ‘very old’ ˈeɪdʒ ɪd -əd; §eɪdʒd
    learned adjective ‘scholarly', ‘well-informed' ˈlɜːn ɪd -əd ǁ ˈlɝːn əd

    but unfortunately the informants for all the relevant sound files apart from the US for 'learnèd' haven't got that message.

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