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The pronunciation of idiosyncratic as given by OALD on their website is: /ˌɪdiəsɪŋˈkrætɪk/

Why is there an -ng sound in the pronunciation?

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  • I don't hear any -ng sounds in the audio samples provided. May 18, 2022 at 11:23
  • @MichaelHarvey I, too, didn't hear the -ng sound in the audio sample but it is there in the transcription (is that the word?) in the form of /ŋ/. That is what puzzled me? May 18, 2022 at 11:48
  • It could be an error, OALD is not immune. I certainly don't say 'idiosyngcratic', and neither do the speakers in the audio samples. Dictionary.com gives ˌɪd i oʊ sɪnˈkræt ɪk as an IPA transcription which is more in line with my experience. May 18, 2022 at 11:52
  • I hear [ŋ]. in the British, but [n] in the American, however I think this is within normal variation and isn't phonemic.
    – James K
    May 18, 2022 at 18:38

2 Answers 2

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It is not uncommon in English for the letter N to represent the sound [ŋ] before a [k] sound, but this is subject to some variation. When both sounds occur together in the same syllable, the sequence [nk] does not occur: we always find [ŋ] in words such as sink, Sphinx, or sphincter. When the [k] occurs at the start of a new syllable, [nk] and [ŋk] are both possible, but even though these are distinguishable sound sequences, the difference is not very large.

Here is a paper discussing some of the situations where [n] vs. [ŋ] occurs in prefixed words: "Velar POA assimilation in Latinate prefixation in contemporary English: A study in the Beats-and-Binding Phonology", Małgorzata Haładewicz-Grzelak, January 2015. (Etymologically, the -syn- in idiosyncratic is from a Greek prefix, although I don't know how relevant that etymology is.) The patterns about when we find one pronunciation vs. the other are pretty complicated (things like stress and which prefix is involved can potentially play a role), and there isn't agreement between speakers for all cases.

I would say it does not matter much which one you use in this word. Merriam-Webster gives "ˌi-​dē-​ō-​(ˌ)sin-​ˈkra-​tik". Dictionary.com lists both as options: "/ ˌɪd i oʊ sɪnˈkræt ɪk, -sɪŋ- /".

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I hear [ŋ] in the British. The presence of the velar consonant /k/ will tend to affect the /n/ that precedes it causing it to become [ŋ] or a blend [nŋ]. This is similar to how a biblical consonant can cause an "n" to become an "m" in words like "impossible" (from in- and possible).

However I don't think this is a phonemic change. If the sound was purely [n] the word would not be any different in how it was understood. In fact I'd have to listen far more carefully than normal to even notice any difference.

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  • I am British and I say the 'syn' part of ideosyncratic exactly like I would say 'sin' if I am speaking carefully. May 19, 2022 at 17:55
  • I'm fairyly sure that I say it like I would say "sing", especially if I'm speaking quickly. But introspection on pronunciation isn't always easy.
    – James K
    May 19, 2022 at 18:44

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