Am.E pronunciation of "semi" - summary

Lars Anders Kulbrandstad lars.kulbrandstad at LUH.HIHM.NO
Mon Jan 17 14:38:25 UTC 2000

A week back I asked asked about Am.E pronunciation of "semi". Thankyou
for your answers, nine in all.
I am not all that much wiser, but delighted to see that there is plenty
of variation about!
The form of my question was itself the cause of some confusion. I had
not realised that "Demi"
is pronounced in at least 3 different ways in AmE. I had wrongly assumed
that it always rhymes with "Jemmy".
A second problem was that we all used different "transcription" systems,
so that the pronunciation where
the second syllable of "semi" sounds like the personal pronoun "I"
occurred as:
sem-I, sem-igh, sem eye, sem ay, se-mi !! A third complication was that
some of you pronounce
the first syllable as /sIm/ and some as /sEm/ and some are not sure
which they use!

Having said that, I'll try to be clearer this time when I summarise the
answers I received.
Pronunciation 1. "semi" rhyming with Jemmy, (or BrE Demi!)
Pronunciation 2. first syllable as no.1, second syllable to rhyme with
my, die, thigh etc!
Pronunciation 3. "semi" sounds like "see my" as in "Come and see my new

The results:
All of you except one agreed that pron. 2 is the pronunciation you use
for the abbreviation
for a semi-trailer, i.e. as a noun. For one speaker the choice was
dictated by the following sound:
pron.1 before consonants (as in semi-sweet) and pron.2 before vowels (as
in semi-automatic).
nother had just heard CNN's Denise Dyllon use pron.2 in "semi-rig"  i.e.
before a
consonant. Some of you say that they hear both, but without being able
to detect a pattern.

Other comments seem to relate to stylistic variants:
- One informant uses pron 2 for emphasis.
- One says that he uses pron.1 "when I'm being fancy (semiconductors)
and [pron.2]
when I'm being plainfolks (semi-tough)".

- One of you points out that pron.2 as quasi-Texan dialect of Sam
Jenkins's "semi-tough".

Confused? This is the stuff for research!

A final point. I was most interested in pron.3, since I am sure that I
have heard it used by an American
aeronautical expert. But two of you specifically say that you have never
heard it, and the rest pass over
it in silence. If that is your last word on the subject.  then I have
lost my dime. So please, if there is anybody
ut there who can confirm the existence of a pron.3, write to me
                                            Ian.Watering at
to save me from penury.

It may of course be that for those of you who pronounce the first
syllable of "semi" to rhyme with
"Jim" there is a stylistic variant which to my British ears sounds a bit
like "seem".

Thankyou for the pleasant tone of your answers. Mighty oblig'd.

Ian W

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