Amphitheater -- Ampitheater

D. Ezra Johnson ezra_50 at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jul 13 01:58:01 UTC 1999

To Andrea's question, I think the best answer is no. That is to say, it is a
type of spelling pronunciation where people see a "p" and pronounce a "p". I
thought of "chamfer", "camphor", and "pamphlet" which have no progressive
assimilation, and why would it matter that those aren't vowel-initial?

However, in pronouncing these words, I noticed that there is another
phenomenon going on, at least in my speech. There is really no clear nasal
consonant for me, rather a (tense) nasalized /ae/ vowel followed by the /f/.
That is, I wouldn't pronounce "aMphitheater" differently from
"aNphitheater," if there was such a word. And I think this would be (even
more definitely) so if the following consonant was /p/...

But maybe that is (just) a phonetic assimilation, whereas I would argue that
people who say "ampitheater" have a phonemic /p/, with no assimilation.


>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 20:04:00 -0400
>Good question. Best answer, yes. (Why would illiterates, for examples, pay
>any attention to spelling?) But us linguists have got to be careful about
>spelling. We used to be prettty snotty in ignoring it (except for reluctant
>recognition of the odd "spelling pronunciation" (e.g., my mother pronounces
>"raspberries" with a /p/)> But vastly greater literaacy in many of the
>world's languages makes it hard to do so any longer.
>Unfortunately, no "amf-" words appear in English (except for the unluckly
>Amfortas of Parsifal, but that has primary stress on the "for" syllable
>which would undo this assimilation). It's also the case that all the other
>"amph-" words in English are also stressed in the "phV" sllable (amphibian)
>and/or are so peculiarly learned that assimilation cannot (or would not)
>take place.
> >What I want to know is, if it were written "amfitheater", would folks
> >it with the initial "amp"?
> >
> >--
> >Andrea Vine
> >Sun Internet Mail Server i18n architect
> >avine at
> >Romanes eunt domus.
> >
> >Dennis R. Preston wrote:
> >>
> >> Paul,
> >>
> >> Over my entire life I've noticed that people pronounce "amphitheater"
> >>way.
> >>
> >> The rule is simple; it's "progressive assimilation" - which means that
> >> "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
> >> letting me keep the stop and bilabial part (and I'll give you the
> >> The phonemic apparatus says, "I guess I'll still understand. Deal." The
> >> phonetic apparatus gets back to work and takes /f/ and applies "stop"
> >> place of "fricative") and "bilabial" (instead of "labiodental"). Voila!
> >> /p/.
> >>
> >> Of course, we seldom notice assimilation when it happens in our own
> >> (particularly with "ordinary words), but when it happens in items which
> >> have a "prescriptive" or learned historical ring (especially among
> >> like "younger speakers"), we often latch on to it as part of our
> >> 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
> >> their department name "theatre." They told me (coldly) that that was
> >> "correct" spelling for "serious" drama. I asked them if they changed
> >> name when they did comedies. They hung up.
> >>
> >> PPS: Please don't write in and tell me that nasals aren't stops. I
> >> "stops" as a feature based on closure of the oral passageway (as do
> >> these days).
> >>
> >> >We have a local venue called the "Molson Amphitheater." (It's actually
> >> >spelled "Amphitheatre," but I'll ignore that Britishism for the
> >> >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
> >> >the first "h" so the initial syllable is pronounced as "amp" instead
> >> >"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
>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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