Agoraphobia and other pronunciation conundra

Quick! How do you pronounce agoraphobia (a word we hear too much these days)?

In particular, do you stress the first syllable and have a short /o/ in the second, or stress the first syllable but have a silent /o/ in the second, or stress the second syllable, or…?

The problems with a question like this are twofold: my descriptions might not be clear to you, and you will immediately become self-conscious about your pronunciation, which can then turn out to be unnatural. One solution is to capture actual audio and video clips in which people use the word in normal contexts. And not, of course, just for this one word. That’s what has done — with 126 clips containing this one word, all from speakers of English using it in real context without focusing on that one word! And then there are other words…

Lots and lots of data!

A word of warning about this site: because you’re listening to snippets of much longer clips, you need to be able to go the next clip as soon as you’ve heard enough of each one, and the controls are a little confusing:

Whenever you’re ready to move to the next clip, you need to click on the rightmost control, the dark blue one. (I assume that the rationale is that you have to zoom to the very end of this clip, and then the next one will automatically start at precisely the right point, since links can control the starting point of a video but not the ending point.) This lets you get snippets that are a couple of seconds long, just giving someone’s pronunciation surrounded by enough context to make sense of it.

OK, so what accounts for the variety of pronunciations? Is it a matter of dialects — where in the U.S. or elsewhere in the English-speaking you’re from? Or accents — what non-English-speaking region you’re from? Or sociolects — what your socioeconomic class and education level you have? Although you can see each speaker’s name and picture, you don’t quite have enough information to answer these questions. And note that there’s no prescriptive nonsense about which pronunciation is “correct.”

So now you can simply type any word you want to explore in the “Say it!” box, and listen to lots of clips. And I do mean “lots” — for example, literature gets 17274 hits! Actually there’s not too much variety there, so let’s try something harder: gif (just 788 hits): is it hard /g/ or soft /g/ or spelled out as letters? My favorites to check out are nicheathletedilateand electoral — give them a try!





Categories: Linguistics