Beware of the dog

John Cowan cowan at
Thu Feb 6 07:47:16 CET 2003

John Clews scripsit:

> > Definitely not.  Pronouncing "Canis" in any other way than [kejnIs] to
> > an anglophone biologist will get nothing but a bewildered stare.  In
> > biology as in law, the English (i.e. 15th century vowel shifted)
> > pronunciations are the living ones.
> Actually, not so. An Anglophone biologist could give you a bewildered
> stare if you used [kejnIs], if my grasp of phonetics is correct.

You are of course correct, and I should have written [k&nIs], where & =
ae-digraph, the sound of "cat".  It's true that Americans say "kay-nine" for
"canine", but that does not affect the pronunciation of "Canis".
My point was that [kanIs] or [kanis] ("ka-niss", "ka-neese") are
unacceptable, despite being good reconstructed classical pronunciations.
Likewise Felis is [filIs] or Feel-iss, not [felis] or Fay-leese.

> There's a big difference between a natural US-English pronunciation
> for loan words, and a natural GB-English pronunciation for loan
> words, which you haven't allowed for.

Most Latinisms are pronounced in the same way on both sides.  The Great
Vowel Shift affected not only English itself, but the spoken Latin of
the English monasteries; thus we have [di f&kto] for "de facto"
and [di dZuri] for "de jure", among many other Latin legal terms.

> I'm possibly using the wrong terminology, but many vowels are
> lengthened and changed in American English, where as I don't think
> those vowels changed in British English, or at least not to the same
> degree.

Most of the changes happened before the settlement of America.  RP and
General American have agreed to disagree on the value of "a" in certain
words (e.g. ask, dance, path), as is well known, but that is a secondary
development.  In general, and with some exceptions, American English
tends to be the more conservative of the two.

> Many people won't be familiar with IPA notation, or ASCII-ized IPA
> notation as above (I'm not) but I'm guessing that [-ej-] above is
> like "a" in "plate." 


> For instance, in the current climate, the way that "Iraq" is
> pronounced by US commentators tends to grate with many UK people
> (and other people) who are more used to to the way it is pronounced
> in the UK (i.e. many US TV commentators often talk about "Eye-Rack"
> in effect (as in Tie-Rack) while in the UK (and in many places
> elsewhere, including I suspect Iraq) the "I" in Iraq is pronounced
> like the "i" in "pin."

That is because you Brits, having had business there fairly recently,
know how to pronounce the name of the country, whereas we Americans,
who don't know Iraq from Indonesia, mostly don't know how.
It is in no way a sound-change, just sheer ignorance.

> It also took a long while for it to dawn on many people in the UK
> that the name Colin in Colin Powell ("o" as in "toe") was the same
> name as Colin which is still a reasonably frequent name in the UK
> ("o" as in "top").

In most varieties of American speech (but not in New England, and not
in Canadian either), the "o" of top, pot, etc. has become unrounded
and merged with the vowel of father (though shorter).  Not being a
TV-news-watcher, I didn't know that Mr. Powell said his name "Colon",
but I'm not astonished; that is the expected pronounciation of "o"
in English when a single consonant and a vowel follow it.
The Eye-rack pronunciation can also be accounted for in this fashion.

> So in terms of "Canis" - Cave Canum!

Well, I do not know what a "canus" is,
but if I meet one, I will be careful. :-)

John Cowan               cowan at
To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all.  There
are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language
that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful.
        --_The Hobbit_

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