Maybe some (or all?) of you, my Gentle Readers, know this word, but it appears that WordPress does not. The squiggly red line appears beneath it like it is a misspelled word. It is not! It is, however, a word that plays into the speech patterns and pronunciation habits of many people. At least in English. Tell me, any of my bi- or multi-lingual readers, do speakers of other languages epenthesize? Just curious. OK – let’s pretend you don’t know what epenthesis means. Here’s the definition:
epenthesis – (əˈpɛnθəsɪs); The insertion of an extra sound into a word. Adjective: epenthetic. Verb: epenthesize. Ancient Greek: ἐπένθεσις, epenthesis from epi “on” + en “in” + thesis “putting”) is the addition of one or more sounds to a word, especially to the interior of a word. Epenthesis may be divided into two types: excrescence, for the addition of a consonant, and anaptyxis (/ˌænæpˈtɪksɨs/) for the addition of a vowel.
“Epenthesis occurs frequently, both in legal and in lay language. The addition of an i before the t in speciality is an example. The pronunciation of jewelry as ‘jewelery’ is a result of epenthesis, as is the pronunciation ‘contentuous’ for contentious. Other examples of epenthesis: the ubiquitous ‘relitor’ for realtor and that favorite of sports announcers, ‘athalete’ for athlete.
“When a word becomes widely used with the added sound, the spelling of the word changes to conform. Over the years we have obtained the words thimble, thunder, and empty by the process of epenthesis. The original Middle English words thimel, tunor, and emty were originally pronounced as spelled. The consonants were added during a period when speech prevailed over writing. The process of epenthesis slowed when writing became the foremost means of communication. Now we are back to emphasis on speaking, via television, radio, and films and our language is reflecting the prevailing influence of the oral media over the written word.”
~~(Gertrude Block, Legal Writing Advice: Questions and Answers. William S. Hein, 2004)
Another non-standard pronunciation is ‘fillum’ for film,’ with epenthetic vowels. Epenthetic insertions need not be vowels only. And this was a new one for me: With the indefinite articles a and an, the n in an is considered by many phonologists to be epenthetic. A is used before consonant sounds and an is used before vowel sounds The n can be thought of as an epenthetic sound that breaks up a sequence of two vowels: a apple – an apple.”
In closing, I am reminded of my childhood use of epenthetic additions: Until I discovered the correct spelling and pronunciation of the word “chimney,” it was “chimbley” to me. It took a lot of practice for the correct way to sound right. Any of you have your own examples?
Lesson over – I’m sure you have all had enough. . .