5

There are two different versions of British pronunciation for the word "tremendous" on Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries respectively, which one is correct?

Oxford: /trəˈmendəs/
Cambridge: /trɪˈmen.dəs/

7

What is involved here is less the pronunciation than the dictionaries' different standards for representing the pronunciation.

The vowel here is ‘reduced’: that is, it is not only unstressed but largely deprived of any character which distinguishes it from similar vowels. For a long time all such reduced vowels were regarded as allophones of a single phoneme, conventionally represented with the schwa, /ə/; and that is to this day a very common dictionary representation, as in your Oxford citation.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, however, it was recognized that in one context there is a meaningful contrast between different realizations of this ‘phoneme’—in final syllables. The parade minimal pair (two words or phrases which differ in only one phonological element) is the contrast between Rosa’s and roses, which almost all native speakers of English pronounce differently. The reduced vowel in Rosa is the mid central vowel represented by /ə/; that in roses is a distinctly higher, a ‘near-close central unrounded vowel’. According to Wikipedia:

In the British phonetic tradition, the latter vowel is represented with the symbol /ɪ/, and in the American tradition /ɨ/.

Wikipedia says that the OED and The Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English have recently introduced yet another symbolization:

A symbolization convention recently introduced by Oxford University Press for some of their English dictionaries uses the non-IPA "compound" symbol [ᵻ] in words that may be pronounced with either [ɪ̈] or schwa. For example, the word noted may be represented [ˈnəʊtᵻd].

So your two variant notations represent the same range of pronunciations in different ways. In your own speech it probably doesn’t matter at all which you use; nobody is likely to notice, unless you exaggerate. After all, even professional phoneticians didn’t care much about it for a hundred years.

| improve this answer | |
  • Yeah - this is the right answer. Although, as @5arx comments, there is the possibility of a circus ringmaster/boxing commentator "Treeeee-mendous!", that's an extreme exaggeration that doesn't really relate to normal speech. Although as you say, there are contexts where these two vowel sounds could be semantically significant, in practice I doubt most native speakers would be able to both notice and recall which one you'd just used if you unexpectedly asked them immediately after casually including the word in conversation. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '13 at 22:16
  • @FumbleFingers In fact, in my experience, if you point out to someone that they say /roʊzɨz/, not /roʊzəz/, they will indignantly deny it and insist that what they actually say is /roʊzɛz/! – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 4 '13 at 23:29
  • Asuming they can read/write, people often spuriously assume they're reflecting written forms in speech. I'm constantly amazed by the number of people who insist they pronounce prints and prince differently. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '13 at 23:49
  • In General American, this is the difference between the names Aaron and Erin — and it can easily lead to confusion, since some speakers don't distinguish between /ə/ and /ɨ/. – Peter Shor Mar 5 '13 at 16:04
  • @PeterShor The Aaron/Erin collapse, however, is complicated by the fact that it also involves a Mary/merry collapse. The example I kept running across in the literature was BE Lennon/Lenin. But for me, both pairs are sort of theoretical: the unstressed <i> in both Erin and Lenin is for me a full vowel, not a reduced one. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 5 '13 at 16:14
2

Here in the UK they are both correct and used pretty much equally. My perception is that the latter pronounciation (tree-mendus) can also be used for emphasis.

| improve this answer | |
  • I don't think articulating the first vowel as /ɪ/ rather than the neutral schwa /ə/ has any real relevance in terms of emphasis, which is normally achieved by simply exaggerating the existing stress on the second syllable. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '13 at 13:04
  • 2
    I disagree. Think of the 'circus ringmaster' or boxing commentator style of delivery: "Treeeee-mendous!" – 5arx Mar 4 '13 at 13:43
  • oic. Yes, you could use that form. But it's a "quirky" delivery, that wouldn't be the most common way of emphasising the word. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '13 at 14:39
  • I agree. But the OP asked which was correct, not which was most commonly used. – 5arx Mar 4 '13 at 14:42
  • 1
    Surely. I was just making the point that OP's alternatives are the unstressed schwa /ə/, and "short" vowel form /ɪ/ (as in kit, bid, hymn). If you [over-]exaggerate the first vowel, you'd probably inevitably end up with something even longer than /iː/ (as in meet, see, fleece). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '13 at 14:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.