Friday 27 April 2012


For my sins (‘especially BrE’, according to LDOCE) I sit on the Steering Committee of the Government of Montserrat’s UK office in London.

At yesterday’s meeting we had a presentation from someone introducing a discussion on the future of the island’s magnificent Cultural Centre.

Sir George Martin of international music fame built it in 2006 as a gift to Montserratians. This is the same George Martin who established a state-of-the-art recording studio, Montserrat Air Studios, at the historic Waterworks estate in the 1970s; it attracted international stars of the calibre of Elton John and added to the island's fame as a welcoming isle. The new cultural landfall cost nearly US$3 million and is a now famous venue for local and international conferences in addition to being a multi-purpose performing centre.

The reason our speaker had come to discuss the matter with us was that he was anxious to consult all the stakeholders (older readers will groan at this word). As well as people living in Montserrat, performers, DfID etc., ‘stakeholders’ includes Montserratians living in the diaspora. Which he called the diˈæspərə.

In LPD I give two versions of the pronunciation of diaspora, but in both cases with in the first syllable. They differ in stress: daɪˈæspərə and ˌdaɪəˈspɔːrə. I discussed the issue of the stress pattern of this and similar words in a posting in this blog over five years ago (blog, 20 Jan 2007)

And then there is the word diaspora. It has an etymologically short penultimate o (Greek διασπορά diasporá, ‘sowing around, scattering’), and a corresponding traditional English pronunciation /daɪˈæspərə/. But I recently heard someone pronounce it /ˌdaɪəˈspɔːrə/. The spelling doesn’t tell you whether the o is long or short: and that’s the factor that determines the stressing. Because of the Latin stress rule.

Given that we’re talking about antepenultimate stress, ought I to add to LPD our speaker’s version with i in the first syllable?

English weakens to i before a vowel or word-finally and to ɪ ~ ə before a consonant. So for strong~weak alternation in di- we can compare words such as dilemma daɪˈlemə, dɪˈlemə, direct daɪˈrekt, dəˈrekt, where weakening is not uncommon.

Exploring other words with unstressed prevocalic di-, I find diaconal, di(a)eresis, dianthus, diaphanous, diaphysis, diastole, diathesis, diatomite, diazepam, Diogenes, Dioscuri, diotic, dioxide, dioxin, and diurnal. For all these — none are what you would call everyday words — I give only daɪ, with no weakened variant. Does anyone in fact weaken to di- in any of them?

Compare however the proper names (San) Diego, Dieppe, where di- is the only possibility. But Diana always has daɪ-.


  1. I produce di- in diaspora and also in Dioscuri, the latter of which is certainly a "reading pronounciation," as I had zero classics in my education, only read them later in translation, and apparently wasn't smart enough to clock the di-/twins relationship (if I had, I think I probably would have adopted ).

    1. Di-'two' isn't in Dioscuri, actually; Dios means 'Zeus'.

    2. The di- in these words has various origins besides Gk di- 'two'. One is di(a)- 'through', e.g. the word we're talking about, diaspora. No one said that the di- in Dioscuri means two: as you say, what we have here is Dios, which is actually the genitive singular of Zeus.

  2. Diaphanous is — or used to be — a relatively 'everyday' word. You used to hear it quite often, aways paired with nightie. Another frequently spoken word is dialysis — generally paired with kidney.

    Surely the significant dichotomy is between words that are first encountered in speech and those that are first encountered in writing. For me diaspora is a heard first word, but clearly this is not true for everybody.

    1. PS There was a time when diazepam was in the news; I, for one, heard it as if it were diazepam. And there's a continuing low-level incidence of dioxin in broadcast media.

      I find that the 'classical' daɪ has interfered with my perception of a word occasionally heard in full, but never read in full. I thought it was daɪɒksɪ... not having seen the written-in-full deoxyribonucleic acid.

  3. The influence of modern classroom Latin/Greek pronunciation?

  4. I have /daɪ/ in all these words. But I do not understand your remark about stakeholders. When I first heard the term in the late 70s, I thought it a significant idea, and cheerfully adopted it at once. I only wish I heard it more often today, in an era when the only stakeholders are often thought to be the stockholders.

    Looking in the OED3, I see that the first use in the modern sense was in the Times for 27 Dec. 1821: "We have ourselves...the opinions of respectable men, with whom we have no...interest in common, beyond that which belongs to all good subjects of the same Government, and stakeholders in one system of liberty, property, laws, morals, and national prosperity." (The older sense 'one who holds the stake for a bet' goes back to 1708.)

  5. Replies
    1. I think LPD's /diˈædʒioʊ/ is the usual pronunciation there, and I'd also point out that the Wikipedia article gives no source for its /diːˈɑːʒiːoʊ/.

      (Transcriptions copied and pasted from Wikipedia, so they won't match the originals.)

  6. I have /di/ in diaconate and diurnal. Perhaps it's the influence of their Church Latin equivalents.

  7. English aɪ weakens to i before a vowel or word-finally and to ɪ ~ ə before a consonant.

    Is it my impression, or is that a lot more common in AmE than in BrE?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. It seems to me that this is just another case of Continental vowelism: pronouncing any English words that "look foreign" with i for "i," ɑ for "a," etc.

    Answering Army1987: I doubt that weakening of before a vowel or word-finally is "a lot more common in AmE than in BrE." AmE favors æntaɪ over BrE ænti, for example. On the other hand, it does favor ə over BrE for the third "i" in "civilization." I just don't think that there is any significant difference in frequency.

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