Two names and a word


Nicholas Glass, in his report for Channel 4 News yesterday on the arrest of five men charged with stealing the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign from Auschwitz, named two other places: Gdynia and Wrocławek. He can be excused (as we are talking about Channel 4, not the BBC, here) for being unable to pronounce the second of these, which he rendered as /ˈvrɒkləvek/ (I assume that the BBC Pronunciation Unit would have recommended /vrɒtsˈwævek/), but he sounded dyslexic with his attempt at the first, which he called /ˈgɪdnɪə/. Admittedly, the unfamiliar initial cluster /gd/ is not easily managed by an untrained English speaker, but he has the example of Gdansk which has been well known for the last thirty years at least, or does he call that /ˈgædənsk/? The easiest way to deal with Gdynia is to put a schwa between the /g/ and /d/, which is what I would expect most people to do without thinking about it: /gəˈdɪnɪə/.

This morning’s Today programme on Radio 4 had a report on children’s fitness levels. The university professor responsible for it spoke of the decrease in fitness being caused by a more /səˈdentəri/ lifestyle. This pronunciation is recognised by John Wells’ LPD as “British non-RP”, but not by the other pronunciation dictionaries. Presumably it comes about by analogy with such words as elementary, complimentary, parliamentary. These words are all derived from nouns with first syllable stress, followed by two unstressed syllables. Since English tends towards alternate stressed and unstressed syllables in longer words, it is quite usual for the main stress to be shifted  to the third syllable when the suffix -ary is added. Two-syllable words do not normally show this tendency: momentary retains its first syllable stress. However, fragmentary is in the course of succumbing to the antepenultimate stress – and Wells does not even note this as “non-RP”, although he does not give it as a US pronunciation. Sedentary appears to be going the same way.


  1. Initial stress is the only pronunciation I ever hear in the U.S. for either fragmentary or sedentary. Note that the penultimate vowel of -ary remains an unreduced SQUARE or TRAP in AmE, not a schwa.

  2. Yes, I noticed that repeated səˈdentəri in this morning’s programme too. Odd.

  3. This morning, 28 Dec 09, also on Radio 4 but on Andrew Marr’s ‘Start the Week’ discussion programme, I he’rd Cambridge Professor of Neuroscience Barbara Sahakian, use the stressing ef`ficacy inste’d of the usual front stress which is the only one recorded in the three big pronouncing dictionaries and in M’Webster Online. Her speech sounds int’restingly slightly transatlantic. The Internet gives no info on her speech-formative years. I’ve no definite memory of hearing it so stressed before but I think I have he’rd the also unrecorded in`tricacy. I wonder what you make of these, Graham.

  4. Prof. Barbara Jacqueline Sahakian seems to hold a B.A. degree from Mt. Holyoke College, Massachusetts. Her pronunciation thus must have undergone a transatlantic moulding process.

  5. According to an obituary for her mother (to be found here:, B.J. Sahakian evidently grew up in Massachusetts.

  6. You can listen to Andrew Marr’s ‘Start the Week’ programme of 28 Dec 2009 (the one mentioned by blog respondent J.W. Lewis) at But hurry up – it won’t be there for long!

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