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May 8, 2005 9:07 AM   Subscribe

In the US, the first syllable of "privacy" rhymes with "eye." In the UK, it rhymes with "give." So why, when listening to an audiobook, did I hear a British reader (with a standard British dialect) pronounce it the American way? Was the reader just being weird, or is the pronunciation of "privacy" becoming Americanized? Are there any other common Brit-pronunciations that are migrating across the pond?

I direct plays (in NYC) and they are sometimes British plays. Having lived in the UK (and having had a British father), I can generally help my American actors sound more authentically British. But I fear I am losing touch with changes in standard British pronunciation. (I know there's no REAL standard, but would most Brits smell a fake if they heard a character say pr-EYE-vacy?)
posted by grumblebee to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think the pronouniation of privacy is pretty interchangable here in the UK. For me, I'll change it depending on my tone of voice in much the same way I'd say garage as either 'garijj' as 'garaaj' depending on who I'm talking to or whether I want to sound posh or not.
posted by iamcrispy at 9:27 AM on May 8, 2005

pronunciation, even
posted by iamcrispy at 9:31 AM on May 8, 2005

Traditionally in the UK, the word research was pronounced with the accent on the second syllable. At some point in the last ten years (on Radio Four at least, and the today program at that), the stress has shifted to the first syllable, which I think is the American way. This annoys me, firstly because I'm a narrow-minded old fogey who doesn't want anything to change ever and secondly because research suggests you're looking at something again.

I thought garaaj was the genre and garijj (garridge) the place you kept your car or bought petrol for it.

(Totally O/T - Poster advertising club: "Three rooms of house and garage" Eh? I thought - if there's only three rooms and one of them's a garage, it's not a house, it's a one-bedroom flat.)
posted by Grangousier at 9:38 AM on May 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

iamcrispy, which garage is posh? All my brit folk say the former, I think, (and all americans the latter).
posted by mdn at 9:39 AM on May 8, 2005

heh, I guess the pronoun-iation of privacy would rightly be pr-I-vacy...
posted by mdn at 9:42 AM on May 8, 2005

grumblebee, was the audiobook bought in the US? If so, it was likely made for a US audience. Even with the British accent that gives it that taste-of-the-Old-World, they figured they had to make it clear enough for an American audience. When I worked at a multimedia company in Canada, and we were producing something for the US, we had to change the emphasis on certain syllables or even the entire word if it was important enough.
posted by fionab at 9:48 AM on May 8, 2005

we had to change the emphasis on certain syllables or even the entire word

You see this happening in particular with the Harry Potter series which is written in British English with words like jumper, lorry, boot, petrol &c. which are all Americanized for the print run in the US.
posted by jessamyn at 10:21 AM on May 8, 2005

pronunciation, even
Yes, but perhaps for a different reason. The word comes from pronounce; many don't catch the difference.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:22 AM on May 8, 2005

just to clear up:

'garridje' (or garijj as I put it) would be the more common sounding version, that I would use to describe both where the car goes AND the genre of music.

However, 'garaage' with the extended 'ah' at the end (or garaaj) is what I'd say to sound 'posh' as it were. I don't think I've heard anyone else say it like this for years though. I only really ever say it myself to appease my parents because I know they'd pick me up on it if I used the former pronunciation. I would however never use this one to describe the genre of music.
posted by iamcrispy at 10:27 AM on May 8, 2005

grumblebee, was the audiobook bought in the US? If so, it was likely made for a US audience.

Hmm. Well, the book is The Keys to the Street, by Ruth Rendell (quite good so far, by the way). The audio recording is produced by the BBC for worldwide consumption. So I guess they COULD have Americanized the reading. But in general, it sounds very British.
posted by grumblebee at 11:24 AM on May 8, 2005

Well, according to Amazon, it was produced by BBC Audiobooks America. It's weird that on Audible it says BBC WW but on Amazon it says BBC Audiobooks America. I don't know what that means - maybe a subsidiary? But I do have a strong suspicion that it was not really "Americanized" because obviously the narrator is still British, but at least cleaned up in some way. We did use British voice-actors for some of our projects, but they still had to use American terms (as jessamyn points out) to have any kind of comprehension by the US audience. Even when we used Canadian actors, it times it was ridiculous because we were producing for such a small, generally corporate market or sometimes a small niche public audience (not a big audio book like yours) and still they were totally adamant that words like the Canadian pronunciation of "house" or (of course) "about" sounded too foreign for them. We'd make the poor voice actor say "about" 100 times and just edit in the right take into the final stream.
posted by fionab at 12:00 PM on May 8, 2005

Jones (1977 edition) gave the 'eye' pronunciation of 'privacy' as an alternative in British English in 1977, simply noting that it was less frequent. The most recent edition of the OED gives both. I've been hearing both since I can remember - so from about mid-fifties. I don't know which I use.

Just to confuse things over 'garage', my mother always held that it was non-U to pronounce it with a long second 'a', and insisted on garidge. Maintenant, pour des raisons évidents, j'utilise la variante non-maternelle.
posted by TimothyMason at 12:07 PM on May 8, 2005

Funny this question should come up as I've been thinking about the pronunciation of that very word today because I've been using it lots. I think it can generally be either in the UK but think the latter 'eye' is creeping more into the language (much to my annoyance because I've been saying that today). So many words are becoming Americanised and think I'm going to now make sure I pronounce privacy with the 'give' to preserve the good old English version.

(btw the spell check wanted to spell Americanised with a Z - I couldn't bring myself to use it lol)
posted by floanna at 1:08 PM on May 8, 2005

Was the reader just being weird, or is the pronunciation of "privacy" becoming Americanized?

I've never heard a Brit use the American pronunciation, on TV, radio, or in every day life.
posted by chill at 1:47 PM on May 8, 2005

I just checked my beloved first edition of Fowler (use for historical/curmudgeonly interest only, and do not buy recent "modernized" editions) and to my surprise his entry reads:

privacy. The OED recognizes only priv-, not priv-.

And consulting my beat-up old OED I find that he was right. So it would seem the short-i version rose and fell in the course of the twentieth century.
posted by languagehat at 2:43 PM on May 8, 2005

fioanna: I know what you mean about the 'z' vs. 's' - I still hand in papers with Canadian spelling and punctuation in the US because the other way just feels wrong. This is after 6+ years of schooling in the US!
posted by fionab at 2:44 PM on May 8, 2005

What the hell? When I previewed those i's had long and short marks respectively (ie, "only PRYVE-, not PRIVV-"). Let's try it again:

privacy. The OED recognizes only priv-, not priv-.
posted by languagehat at 2:45 PM on May 8, 2005

I wouldn't even say I vary my pronunciation to sound posh or not. It all comes down to what sounds nicer in the flow of whatever you're saying. The intonation can also have an effect. If you wanted to stress the word 'research' in a sentence, it makes more sense to stress the first syllable, no matter what dialect you're using.
posted by wackybrit at 3:41 PM on May 8, 2005

For what its worth, I'm a Brit, and I say privacy...not sure why...because it sounds like private?
posted by Orange Goblin at 6:19 PM on May 8, 2005

On a related note, I've been sort of impressed with the latest round of commercials in the US for Aquafina. They unsurprisingly try to posh up their product with a British accent, and they actually commit to it strongly enough that the product itself is pronounced as "Ack-wa-fina" (as opposed to "Ah-kwa-fina" I would have expected). It's not much, I know, but when you're used to dealing with people who freak out because their corporate logo is appearing over a Goldenrod background, instead of the the traditional Canary, it shows some actual balls. (or bollocks as the case may be =)
posted by idontlikewords at 7:55 PM on May 8, 2005

As a brit I say both depending on the context and what sounds better - I'm not sure of the exact rule but it's a bit like thuh and thee as different pronunciations of teh.
posted by handee at 1:51 AM on May 9, 2005

You hear both American and Brit pronunciation in Canuckland. Shed-ule (rather than sked-ule) always gives me a giggle. I pronounce it garaaj (as do most Americans), but Canadians mostly use garijj (similar to garish). Pronunciation of privacy varies as well.
posted by deborah at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2005

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