Amphitheater -- Ampitheater

D. Ezra Johnson ezra_50 at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jul 13 01:30:17 UTC 1999

Another similar, learned word that has "f" > "p" is "ophthalmologist". The
sounds "f" and "th" are very close, but the "f" changes anyway. So in that
case, do we call it "regressive dissimilation"? And what more general rules
tell us what kind of -ssimilation will take place?


>From: "Dennis R. Preston" <preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU>
>Reply-To: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Subject: Re: Amphitheater -> Ampitheater
>Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 10:31:45 -0400
>Over my entire life I've noticed that people pronounce "amphitheater" this
>The rule is simple; it's "progressive assimilation" - which means that an
>"earlier" sound influences a "later" one.
>In this case, /m/ is an bilabial nasal stop. /f/, if it were to occur, is a
>labiodental oral fricative (i.e., continuant). In short, three features
>"mismatch" in two sounds which come very close together. Your phonetic
>apparatus gets to work and says "Hey" I can't go from bilabial to
>labiodental, nasal to oral, and stop to fricative so damn quick. How about
>letting me keep the stop and bilabial part (and I'll give you the oral)."
>The phonemic apparatus says, "I guess I'll still understand. Deal." The
>phonetic apparatus gets back to work and takes /f/ and applies "stop" (in
>place of "fricative") and "bilabial" (instead of "labiodental"). Voila! a
>Of course, we seldom notice assimilation when it happens in our own speech
>(particularly with "ordinary words), but when it happens in items which
>have a "prescriptive" or learned historical ring (especially among groups
>like "younger speakers"), we often latch on to it as part of our pervasive
>language-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket ideology.
>dInIs (whose assimilationist positions are severly restricted to
>PS: I complained to the Michigan State Theatre Department that they spelled
>their department name "theatre." They told me (coldly) that that was the
>"correct" spelling for "serious" drama. I asked them if they changed the
>name when they did comedies. They hung up.
>PPS: Please don't write in and tell me that nasals aren't stops. I classify
>"stops" as a feature based on closure of the oral passageway (as do most
>these days).
> >We have a local venue called the "Molson Amphitheater." (It's actually
> >spelled "Amphitheatre," but I'll ignore that Britishism for the purposes
> >of this post.) It plays host to many concerts, so the word
> >"amphitheater" is heard quite often on the radio and in conversations.
> >Over the past few years, I've noticed that many people, particularly
> >young people, pronounce this word as "ampitheater." That is, they ignore
> >the first "h" so the initial syllable is pronounced as "amp" instead of
> >"amf." Is this a widespread trend and is there any general linguistic
> >rule that covers such a shift?
> >
> >Paul
> >Books:
> >Word Spy:
>Dennis R. Preston
>Professor of Linguistics
>Department of Linguistics and Languages
>Michigan State University
>East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
>preston at
>Office: (517)353-0740
>Fax: (517)432-2736

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