Pronunciation: regular Tory!

Here's an email that Sarah sent to the blog today. As Sarah is from the Midlands, please read it with a non-rhotic accent:

I overheard a conversation one of my colleagues was having on the phone this morning that made me giggle. She was ordering a book and getting a bit stroppy because the person on the other end didn't quite understand what she was asking for.

She kept saying what sounded like 'regular Tory, regular Tory!' and the guy thought she wanted a book about Tories. She felt a bit daft when she realised she was pronouncing 'regulatory' wrong!


Although I personally pronounce 'regulatory' with the stress on the third syllable (reg-yoo-LAY-tor-ee), I believe the 'regular Tory' pronunciation is quite common. Is this a British English / American English difference?

Sadly my Concise OED is too concise to provide me with an answer and the jumbo office Webster's is buried in a cupboard somewhere. Can anyone help?

15 comments:

rpmason said...

This US Midwesterner pronounces it REG-yah-lah-tor-ee. I've noticed that some Brits tend to add the R sound onto AH sounds, such as Samantha sounds a bit like Samanther.

Gloom Raider said...

I'm in Virginia and pronounce the word as rpmason indicated above.

TootsNYC said...

this reminded me of the woman from another country who was attending a college in Indiana w/ a friend of mine. The woman's mother had sent her a package that she needed to pick up at a bus station.

The Indiana Police bus station, she explained to her American friends, who helped her call all over the place trying to figure out what branch of law enforcement in Indiana might have this package.

Finally they realized she was trying to pronounce the word THEY spelled as "Indianapolis."

Brits lop R's off all the time (erm, for example). Do the Midlands not do this?

lynneguist said...

Yes, it's the AmE pronunciation--one of a large number of latinate words in which BrE and AmE put the stress on different syllables.

Jon Boy said...

The only pronunciation the online OED gives is the same one rpmason gives.

But for a word like migratory, they give the pronunciations "MYgruhtoree" and "myGRAYtoree" (with optional reduction of the third vowel).

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Sarah said...

Oh yes, I didn't think about the AmE pronunciation. This would make sense because the girl in question was brought up in Greece, so when she learn English she was probably taught it with AmE pronunciation.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Well, I wouldn't put an R into it, of course, but yes, "regulatory" could sound like "Regula Tory" ... which sounds like a sci-fi novel, actually.

outerhoard said...

I (Australian) would probably say "REG-yu-lat-tree", with the stress on the first syllable and the other syllables reduced.

FBT said...

I'm with the Australian on this one. I've noticed (as a foreigner) that with multisyllabic words the usual British pronunciation is the version that gives you the briefest possible pronunciation, which in this case would be REG-yu-la-tree.

garik said...

Stressing the first syllable is certainly the traditional RP practice; though I don't know how much currency it ever really had in the general population (Peter Trudgill, if I remember rightly, calculated in the 70s that about 2% of English people use RP).

The pronunciation Sarah seems to be describing would have first-syllable stress, but also (somewhat unusually) an unreduced vowel in the penultimate syllable, presumably because the speaker was Greek. It's that unreduced vowel that's messing things up. They often tend to throw native English speakers. The surname Ifans (as in Rhys Ifans) is pronounced /'ivans/, with first-syllable stress and an unreduced vowel in the second syllable. Because English speakers expect a schwa in most unstressed syllables, they hear the stress as being on the final syllable and pronounce accordingly: /i'fans/ (also — forgivably — messing up the first consonant).

On rhoticity, as there seems to be some confusion: most English, Welsh, and southern-hemisphere speakers of English (with the exception of a few accents, especially in the West Country) only pronounce an [r] when it comes before a vowel (including initial vowels in following words). This also happens in many Boston, and some New York, accents. It is also extremely common for speakers to add an [r] in such an environment even if there never was one there historically (and so isn't there in the spelling either). But again, this only really happens before vowels.

garik said...

In fact, just click here for a (fairly rudimentary and homemade-looking) map of where people are rhotic.

Ellen K. said...

Garik: In the AmE pronunciation, the "tor" sylable has secondary stress and is not reduced, which, other than the r at the end of regular, comes pretty close to "Regular Tory" if stressing "regular", seems to me.

garik said...

Ellen K: yes, good point. When I said "somewhat unusually", I really meant "somewhat unusually for British ears".

Interesting question though: I wonder if British people are more likely to hear ['ivans] as [i'vans] than North Americans.

rpmason said...

Although I do enjoy British films, I'm not sure I've ever heard 'Rhys Ifans' pronounced. Welsh immigrants with that last name were probably surprised when they came out the other side of processing at Ellis Island with the Ivans spelling.