How to pronounce expertise

During a recent talk I heard someone (a nonnative speaker) pronounce the noun expertise in a way I had not heard before, namely as [ˌekspɜːˈtaiz], similar perhaps to exercise (listen here). While at first I thought this was simply a pronunciation mistake, it turns out that the verb to expertise (yes, there is a verb, and it means “to study or investigate as an expert”, see here) is in fact pronounced [ˌekspɜːˈtaiz]. However, the standard pronunciation of the noun expertise is [ˌekspɜːˈtiːz]. You can listen to the correct pronunciation here.



How to pronounce Python

A python is not just a rather dangerous looking animal. It also gave the name to a very powerful and popular programming language — Python. Having heard different people pronounce Python in different ways, I decided to look up its pronunciation. This is what I found.

In British English, Python is pronounced as [ˈpaɪθən], whereas in American English it is pronounced as [ˈpaɪθɑːn]. Clearly, the o is pronounced very differently, and explains what I had been hearing. You can listen to both variants here.

If English is not your native language, make sure you pronounce the th correctly (at least when speaking English), as explained previously.

How to pronounce refugee

Given the recent political developments in Europe, the word refugee is now used much more often by non-native speakers. Because most of them are not aware of the correct pronunciation, let me mention it here.

The most obvious mistake is to stress the word on the first syllable. Instead, refugee is stressed on the last syllable, as apparent from the phonetic spelling (‘ indicates stress)


You can also clearly hear the stress on the last syllable here. (In the case of German speakers, putting the stress on the first syllable may be a classified as a pronunciation false friend related to the German word Flüchtling.)

Minor but also quite common mistakes are the pronunciation of the letter g as [] instead of [dʃ] (compare China and John), and the short pronunciation of the -ee ending (the : in i: indicates a long pronunciation).

How to pronounce corporate

In today’s business-driven world, many people are using the word corporate, even in non-English speaking countries. Whether you are talking about corporate design, corporate identity or something else, let me inform you about the correct pronunciation of corporate.

According to the OED, the correct pronunciation is either [ˈkɔːpərət] (British English) or [ˈkɔːrpərət] (American English). You can listen to both variants here. A fairly common alternative pronunciation is [ˈkɔː(r)pərɪt], with the ending pronounced like the word it. Finally, a common incorrect variant often used by nonnative speakers is [ˈkɔː(r)pərt], that is, with the “-rate” part of corporate pronounced just like the word rate.

Holy mispronunciation, Alfred!

A while ago, while watching Downton Abbey, I noticed that the name Alfred can be tricky to pronounce for non-native speakers. In particular, I remembered where I had heard it being pronounced differently — on TV. I’m not afraid to admit that I used to quite enjoy watching the TV series Batman while growing up. In the dubbed German version on Austrian television, Alfred was pronounced as [‘ɔːlfred] (with the first syllable pronounced like the word all). The proper English pronunciation is [‘ælfrid] (less common is [‘ælfrəd]), according to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. You can hear the English pronunciation here, and the non-English pronunciation here (around the 40s mark; if you understand German, you will wonder why this series was ever on TV). Finally, the strange German pronunciation of Alfred also creeps up whenever people talk about Alfred Hitchcock, as in this example (he got it right the first time, but not the second time).

How to pronounce broad and road

I have noticed that the word broad is quite often pronounced in the wrong way by nonnative speakers. Therefore, let me discuss the different correct and incorrect variants. Let us consider the correct pronunciation first. In BrE, we have [brɔːd], while in AmE it is [braːd] (listen here). Even though the OED gives the same phonetic spelling for BrE and AmE, see here, the sounds are quite different. This difference is captured by [braːd], as listed in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary.

Interestingly, quite a number of people pronounce broad incorrectly, namely such that it rhymes with road. This mistake seems quite understandable, because road and broad have similar spelling. Nevertheless, the pronunciation of the oa is quite different in broad and road. This difference is obvious from the phonetic spelling, which is [rəʊd] for BrE, and [roʊd] for AmE. Listen to both versions here and compare the pronunciation to that of broad here.

How to pronounce parameter

I find the incorrect pronunciation of the word parameter in English (and of Parameter in German) both annoying and fascinating. Remarkably, the mistake is made both by professionals who use it almost every day, and people who haven’t used the word parameter since they distanced themselves from mathematics after high school.

The OED gives the following pronunciations (listen here)

[pəˈræmɪtə(r)] (BrE), [pəˈræmɪtər] (AmE)

Note that in both cases, the stress is on the second syllable, not the first! It is a common mistake but still a mistake to stress parameter on the first syllable. However, it is quite obvious why the mistake is common, because the words
parallel, paramilitary, paramount and even parametric are all stressed on the first syllable. In the case of paralyses, the stress is on the first syllable for the verb, and on the second for the noun. Furthermore, for the words paramedic and paralegal, the stress is on medic and legal, respectively. Hence, there does not seem to be an easy-to-remember rule regarding the pronunciation of para-, but at least you know the correct pronunciation of parameter now.
A detail not captured by the phonetic spelling given above (but can clearly be heard here) is the fact that in American English, the t is typically flapped (see, for example, the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary), similar to the word city.

PS: for a related discussion of the word meter, see this post.