"centre metres" (was: eggcorn candidate: "center meters")

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Dec 18 15:51:01 UTC 2009

At 11:55 AM +0000 12/18/09, Damien Hall wrote:
>At 10:18 PM -0500 12/17/09, Herb Stahlke wrote:
>>I'm not sure, but I suspect that even in BrE there would be stresses
>>on the first syllables of "center" and "meter."
>And Larry asked:
>'Are there any such speakers who could chime in on whether "6 center
>meters" and "6 centimeters" would be distinguished in normal speech,
>and if so how?'
>I (Standard Southern British English) suspect that in allegro speech these
>wouldn't be distinguished: ['sEnt@"mit at z] (where of course <'> stands for
>primary and <"> for secondary stress). I think this holds for me and other
>speakers of approximately my variety.
>In slightly more careful / slower speech, if that was ever used, there
>might be a difference, _viz._
>'centre metres' = ['sEnt@"mit at z]
>'centimetres' = ['sEntI"mit at z] (or, in place of the [I], a barred-i)
>But that's introspection and therefore unreliable, and may also be a
>spelling pronunciation, of course. I dudpect that the most important thing
>I've said in this post is in the first sentence.
>Sorry for the delay in replying; I usually only see ADS-L posts once a day
>(in the morning digest).
Thanks; this confirms my speculation on the issue.  Ever since I was
introduced to linguistics (sometime in the early 1960s) by Henry
Gleason's _Intro_, in which he discusses (inconclusively) the
possible contrast between "Rosa's" (with a schwa) and "roses" (with,
in his system, a barred-I) and acknowledged the difficulty of finding
minimal contrasts between unstressed vowels, I've been unable to
decide if I make the contrast and if so whether others hear it.
(This came up a few years later when I spent time in person and on
paper with two linguists, George Lakoff and Georgia Green, and the
distinction between "Georgia's" and "George's" would have carried a
functional load if it in fact existed.)


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