Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Follow the shifting stress

Word of the day: orthoepist (awr-thoh-uh-pist), one who studies the pronunciation of words

My first post comes to you from the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, the compendium of knowledge about the written word. I was interested in the different stresses used in pronouncing the word remonstrate as compared to demonstrate or contemplate - both of these words used to be stressed on the second syllable (demonstrate, contemplate).

Apparently, this changeover is part of a recent (c. mid to late 19th century) trend for verbs ending -ate.

Some verbs have always been stressed on the third-to-last syllable (the antepenult), such as accelerate, animate, fascinate, machinate, or militate. However, verbs with more consonants in the second-to-last syllable (the penult) have retained their awkward stress till recently, such as alternate, compensate, concentrate, condensate, confiscate, demonstrate, illustrate, etc.

So, why does remonstrate refuse to give up its archaic pronunciation? OED suggests two supporting circumstances:

1. Although words such as demonstrate and consecrate have nouns of action (-ation) that help facilitate the changeover (the usage consecration/consecrate leads to demonstration/demonstrate) , the word remonstration has long been out of use.

2. The continued use of the word remonstrance, in the face of the loss of demonstrance and other -ance forms, has reinforced the earlier stress.

Source: "contemplate, v." Oxford English Dictionary. Second Edition, 1989. Retrieved 2007-06-20.


bayard said...

I'm puzzled by this post as I've always pronounced remonstrate like demonstrate, and have never heard it pronounced any differently.

Brian said...

OED gives both pronunciations, but most other dictionaries stick to the older one. I can't say as I've heard "remonstrate" used enough in practice to claim that it is commonly used one way or another around here.

Anonymous said...

Also puzzled by tha pronunciation of reMONstrate as it sounds wrong to me-so I have never heard it or have misheard it as REmonstrate.