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Apr 29, 2019 10:31 AM
Comments · 12
The word “precedent” comes to English from old French. Like all such words (there are thousands in English), the C is pronounced /s/ before I, E, and Y. The same rule applies for most Latin-derived words used in normal English. The OP mentions a legal context. I believe English-speaking lawyers often use an anglicized “classical Latin” pronunciation where they pronounce the C as /k/ in all words, but I’m not too familiar with that.

The S in “president” should be pronounced /z/ in English — as in French, where we got the word from. Before the Norman Conquest, English did not distinguish /s/ and /z/ as separate phonemes.

The /k/ in “kitten” is indeed fronted a lot compared to the /k/ in “cat”, but the difference is not phonemic in English (or other languages that I’m familiar with). It’s allophonic, so native speakers do no hear the difference. Eventually, the fronted version becomes palatal and is written as another sound. This happens constantly in languages across the world. For example, from Latin to Spanish the C in “precedente” went through something like this progression: k ç, ɕ, t͡ʃ (Modern Italian), t͡s (German), (s) (French, New World / Andalucian Spanish) tθ, θ (Northern and Central Spain). (Normally the fronted K changes from a stop to an affricate, and then deaffricates to a normal sibilant once in its final position.) 

April 29, 2019

@Phil  I believe English-speaking lawyers often use an anglicized “classical Latin” 

That was obviously what I came across in the English court/tribunal full of English barristers and solicitors. 

Maybe it is because being lawyers (who we most often refer to as solicitors In the UK) who are always on the defensive verbally in an adversarial legal system. Where they are  constantly wishing to make distinctions on exactly what they are actually saying, and at the same time looking for a means to verbally adversary attack the defendants. Has somehow bought about this particular way of pronouncing the word. 

Maybe some speakers and a few speech therapist I have known that worked with stutterers were over emphasising the frontal sound of the "k". But I have heard it in normal speakers speech. 

April 29, 2019
The Indo-European languages can be classified as centum and satem languages due to a split of the front velars (which were different phonemes from the regular velars). in pre-historic times. (Centum / satem means “hundred”.) Centum languages (for example, Germanic, Romance*, Celtic) keep the /k/ (H in Germanic, according to Grimm’s Law), while satem languages (such as Slavic, Persian, Hindi) have a more fronted sound (possibly even /s/). Ironically, the C in most centum languages is now pronounced more like S, but this is a result of a much more recent sound change (in Latin).

Other world languages:
In Arabic, the G is still pronounced /g/ in Egypt (like “Giza”) but is /d͡ʒ/ in the modern standard variety. The same is true in Mandarin (Modern Standard Chinese), where we have examples such as “Beijing” — formerly romanized as “Peking”.

IPA keyboard (full version):
April 29, 2019

Very interesting indeed.

I'm not aware of any difference between the /k/ in 'kitten' and the /k/ in 'cat', either.

Nor am I aware of any situation where the letter 'c' in  'precedent' is pronounced like the 'c' in 'cat'. Do you mean that you pronounce it as 'preckident', John?  That strikes me as a rather, shall we say... unusual pronunciation.

As far as I know, 'precedent' is always pronounced with an /s/ sound,  like in 'sun', and like the 's' in the related word 'precede'.

As Chris says, there is never any confusion between the words 'precedent' and 'president', because 'precedent' is pronounced with an /s/ while 'president' is pronounced with a /z/.   Note that this has nothing to do with regional/national conventions or with accents - these are both the standard pronunciations wherever you are in the English-speaking world.

And, no, there is no such word as 'pronunciate'.  It's a mistake, a non-standard back-formation from the noun 'pronunciation', or at best an invented word created by confusing or blending 'pronounce' and 'enunciate'.  Please don't confuse learners with this non-word - they have enough to cope with already!

April 29, 2019

Very interesting.  (Linguistics is a hobby of mine, so I find this topic very interesting.)

The Collins online dictionary gives the same general k-sound for cat [kæt] and kitten [kɪtən].

Perhaps a specialist report on pronunciation differences by age and region would include some information about the differences that you have described.

As a tangential matter, here is a brief article about "hadn't" being replaced by "didn't have" in Britain in modern times. 

April 29, 2019
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