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I had known that locus is pronounced with a hard 'c'; so I simply extrapolated the hard 'c' to its plural [loci]. I can't pinpoint why, but fortunately, I doubted my guess and was shocked that instead, a SOFT 'c' features in loci. (Sorry; I still haven't learned phonetics yet)

1. Are there any reasons for this astounding difference (in a letter`s pronunciation, between the singular and plural of the same noun)? Could I have foreseen the difference?

2. Can anyone please divine why I might have suspected myself? I'm just curious.

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  • In second example, I think there is typo in 'divine'. It should 'define', otherwise the sentence does not make any sense. – Rucheer M Apr 3 '15 at 4:39
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    @RuchirM no, it makes perfect sense. To divine is to divinate upon. – Please stop being evil Apr 3 '15 at 4:47
  • loci can be pronounced with a hard "c"; a few dictionaries (like this one) list it as an alternate pronunciation. – J.R. Apr 3 '15 at 8:37
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There is no official pronunciation of this word, despite the "pronunciation rules" of English that tell how to pronounce the letter c before i.

The dictionary you link to offers several pronunciations, including soft and hard c, in both UK and US English. Those who say it's because the soft c is the Latin pronunciation will have to explain why scholars now believe that Ci in Latin was pronounced as a hard c: Cicero /kikero/.

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    I meant classical Latin as evidenced by the word Cicero. – user6951 Apr 3 '15 at 9:39
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    Latin was spoken for centuries in Europe, and some time between classical Latin and mediaeval Latin, c before i and e mutated from a /k/ sound into an /s/ sound. For example, cherry was cerasus in Latin, and pronounced with a /k/ in the Roman republic, but is cereza in Spanish and cerise in French, both pronounced with an /s/. – Peter Shor Apr 5 '15 at 11:39
  • It would indeed be silly to say that it's soft due to Latin pronunciation, and I've never heard anybody say that. Rather, pronouncing "soft" <c> and <g> before <e> <i> and <y> is the overwhelming pattern in the English pronunciation of Latinate words. Some people do not follow this pattern in words like "foci" or "loci", probably due to influence from the sound in the singular and the fact that these are somewhat rarely-heard words. But the use of /s/ doesn't really have to be explained; it's what would be expected from the spelling... – sumelic Apr 9 '15 at 6:11
  • and Latinate words like this didn't come to us directly from the mouths of Classical speakers, but rather from the written representation of Latin words. Even synchronically, people learn these words almost as much from reading them as from hearing them. So a regular spelling-pronunciation is pretty much expected here. – sumelic Apr 9 '15 at 6:12
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Well, to me, locus with a K sound and loci with an S sound make a lot of intuitive sense. That is how I learned them in my geometry class, by the way. Anyway, in Spanish, there are two classes of vowels. {a, o, u} make the consonant preceding the vowel be hard, and {e, i} make it be soft. English isn't so cut and dried, but it still does follow this pattern somewhat.

I will show some examples. Pretend, please, that the following is a table, with the column on the left being HARD and the one on the right being SOFT.

gal,       gem

got,       giraffe

gum

cake,      certain

company,    cinch

cute

There are plenty of exceptions in English, but the pattern is a useful one to be aware of.

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A friend who is a classics scholar insists on a hard g and a hard c. I suspect that any pronunciation is 'correct'. I also suspect that even in Ancient Rome it varied as indeed our pronunciations vary. But the g as the Germans etc pronounce Georg (hard g) and the c hard as then locate is more definite. It is stronger to use both a hard g and a hard c. But it is a matter of what one is accustomed to also.

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  • I don't see how this answers the question of the pronunciations of 'locus' vs 'loci'. Are you really saying that a hard g would be acceptable in either of these words? – Laurel Nov 12 '18 at 5:07

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