tumeric/turmeric & donut/doughnut

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Oct 16 08:01:09 UTC 2000

At 2:35 PM -0500 10/16/00, Mark Odegard wrote:
>I would not call 'turmeric' an active-vocabulary item. It's one of
>those words you see on the ingredient-list of condiments, especially
>prepared mustards.
>For those who do have it in their active vocabulary, it likely
>follows the same rule as the first R in 'surprise'. Most people drop
>it, even if their speech is otherwise remorselessly rhotic, as with
>General American.

I have to disagree here.  I do have "turmeric" in my active
vocabulary as well as on my active spice shelf (I cook a good deal of
Indian food) and I'm pretty sure I always retain the "r", although
I've heard "tumeric" from others.  On the other hand, I'm pretty sure
I regularly say "suprise" in fast (or normal) speech.  I think this
is partly a frequency effect, or it may be partly lexical.  I would
never say "supass" for "surpass"; maybe it's partly that we learn
words like "surprise" as children and thus are more comfortable with
the least-efforty pronunciation.  My old collegiate dictionary
actually provides a neat kind of support for what I'm trying to say
here in giving a three-way contrast:

surpass  [s at r-'paes]
surprise [s@(r)-'prayz]
turmeric ['t at rm-(@-)rIk], ['tum-]  (I've taken the liberty to
ascii-ize the representations.)

--that is, there are two different pronunciations for "turmeric",
corresponding (I'd argue) to two separate underlying forms for
different groups of speakers (I won't say dialects), while there are
basically two register-related alternants for "surprise".

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