According to the dictionaries, pronunciation is pronounced pruh-nuhn-see-ey-shuhn. However, do native English speakers really say [see] instead of [tsee] even when talking fast? For instance, I hear [tsee] here but maybe I'm mishearing.

  • 2
    You have mis-spelled pronunciation (it is not pronounciation). – chasly - supports Monica Jan 24 at 22:10
  • do native English speakers really say [see] instead of [tsee] ////// did you mean "do native speakers really say [tsee] instead of [see]? – Void Jan 25 at 4:15

Tricky one! Phonetically, the difference between tsee and see (in my native English accent at least) is that see is pronounced with entirely parted teeth, whereas with tsee you touch the underside/back of your upper front teeth with your tongue.

The catch with the word "pronunciation" is that the end of "nun" also requires that same mouth shape, so whether you say tsee or see is difficult to quantify since in sequence you wind up making the same sounds.

If you were to try to say just the latter half of the word, ciation, in the way it's said in the full word, you'd hear and feel yourself using see.

  • I beg to differ, see my answer. – Void Jan 25 at 4:13

You probably heard it correctly.

The second syllable of 'pronunciation' ends with a nasal and the next syllable starts with a fricative /s/, so Anglophones are likely to insert an epenthetic /t/ in that position. I have explained Epenthesis in this answer, but I'll repeat it.

Epenthesis happens for a variety of reasons such as ease of articulation, avoiding a hiatus etc.

There are many situations where epenthetic consonants are inserted. Most of the time when there's a fricative (/s ʃ θ/ etc) after a nasal (/m n ŋ/), we tend to insert an epenthetic stop (/p t k/ etc) between both the fricative and a nasal.

The reason is because the air comes out through the nose while articulating a nasal and as the nasal changes to a fricative—an oral consonant—the airflow must be switched from nasal to oral and should be stopped before articulating an oral consonant, so there is a brief period in which both the nasal and oral airflow are stopped, this is a brief oral stop, homorganic (having the same place of articulation) with the nasal.

The stop is more likely if the fricative is voiceless, when the articulatory system has an additional voicing change to handle. It’s less likely if the fricative is at the beginning of a stressed syllable as in in'sist (not *in[t]sist). [English after RP - Geoff Lindsey]

The second syllable in 'pronunciation' ends in a nasal /n/ and the next one starts with a fricative /s/, so the airflow has to stop at the alveolar ridge, which results in an oral stop homorganic with the nasal (the /t/ is an oral stop and homorganic with /n/).

There are many examples of epenthetic stops in present day English:

  • youngster is usually pronounced young[k]ster, (with an epenthetic k between the nasal [ŋ] and the oral fricative [s])
  • warmth and hamster are often pronounced warm[p]th and ham[p]ster, respectively (with an epenthetic p)
  • thunder used to be þunor, the d is epenthetic. [historical epenthesis]
  • In some accents, once and wants are pronounced identically.

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