How to pronounce abbreviations

Abbreviations such as LCD, HTML, or USA are commonly used in many languages. The correct pronunciation of such abbreviations is a two-step process. First, you have to be able to correctly pronounce each of the letters. As discussed in a previous post, this task can be more daunting than you would expect even for advanced speakers. Common mistakes include using a non-English pronunciation of letters such as x and u (for example, pronouncing USA as [ˌuː es ˈeɪ] instead of [ˌjuː es ˈeɪ]), or the confusion of g and j in abbreviations such as JVC or JPEG. Another common problem is the use of the clear l (common in German) instead of the English dark l (examples include XML, LCD, LED), see also this post.

Once you have mastered the pronunciation of each letter, the second difficulty is to get the stress right. Whereas abbreviations consisting of two or four and more letters are straight forward to pronounce for most people, three-letter abbreviations are often tricky. Native speakers of German have a tendency to stress three-letter abbreviations such as LED, LCD, or ETH on the last letter instead of the first letter. This problem is particularly common among Swiss people, who tend to do the same in German. Most notably, the Swiss usually pronounce ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule) as [‘tiː eɪtʃ] instead of [ˌtiːeɪtʃ]. The same is true for LCD, LED, NMR, or STM. While not so common among German and Austrian speakers, I did hear people stress abbreviations such LED or LCD on the the first letter as well. According to the Duden, this is not correct (see ETH, LCD, and LED). Similarly, in English, three-letter abbreviations are almost exclusively stressed on the last letter.

 

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