LINGUIST List 14.2390

Tue Sep 9 2003

Sum: Emerging Pronunciation of 'presentation'

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Rob Hagiwara, emerging pronunciation of 'presentation'

Message 1: emerging pronunciation of 'presentation'

Date: Tue, 09 Sep 2003 19:42:39 +0000
From: Rob Hagiwara <>
Subject: emerging pronunciation of 'presentation'

Back in April, I posted the following question to Linguist List
(Linguist 14.1117):

> Does anyone have any data on the variable use or extent of the
> pronunciations of 'presentation' with [i] (high front tense) 
> vs. [E] (mid front lax) in the first syllable? When did this 
> start to become common? Is it limited to particular 
> areas/social groups? Is there a difference between the two 
> forms (for people who have both)?

I'd like to thank Tim Beasley, Bernard Comrie, Alice Faber, Clyde 
Hankey, Mika Hoffman, Susan Banner Inouye, and at least one other 
whose e-mail I must have deleted in the interim (to whom I also 
apologize). I also thank several Canadian colleagues who 
survived my inquisitions.

My original question was prompted by an individual for whom I'm doing
some dialect consulting. All I really wanted to tell her was whether
it was definitely pr[i]sentation in some locales or sitations and
pr[E]sentation in others, or if there was something more subtle going
on. My personal experience was that pr[E]sentation was somehow normal
(although I do remember at least one friend with similar background to
mine who always said pr[i]senation when we were in college). But Ive
been hearing pr[i]sentation on TV and so forth lately, so I assumed
this was a recent innovation. Apparently it is not.

Bernard Comrie pointed out that Jones's English Pronouncing Dictionary
(1999) lists only the [E] pronunciation for England, and lists the [i]
pronunciation as a US variant. (He also relates this to question of
[E]/schwa/syllabic-n variants in the second syllable of presentation.)
This accords with his memories of the [E] pronunciation being the only
one available in England in the mid-70s, with [i] regarded as an
American innovation. Although the English tend to regard any
innovation as an Americanism, similar memories from the northeast US
regard the [i] pronunciation as standard. So it would appear that
pr[i]sentation is an innovation, but it isn't emerging.

Some people shared my intuition that there may be a distinction
between a pr[i]sentation, as an event of presenting something, as
opposed to pr[E]sentation as an abstraction (as in presentation skills
or skillful presentation). There was a similar, though incongruous,
viewpoint expressed by someone who suggested that pr[i]sentation was
something you did to plates of food (as in an elegant pr[i]sentation),
although just about everyone I asked rejected pr[i]sentation is
everything in favor of the [E] variant.

More than one person (from the Eastern US) contributed the intuition
that pr[i]sentation is obviously derived from a verb to pr[i]sent,
with a tense [i] in the first syllable. I can only have a reduced
vowel in the pre-tonic syllable of to present, so the preference for
pr[E]sentation may be analogized (?) from the noun pr[E]sent, rather
derived from than an abstract to pr/i/sent.

As Bernard Comrie summarized so succinctly, some questions 

a. What is the relation, both now and historically, between 
 [E] and [i] variants in the US/North America?
b. What is the incidence, both now and historically, of 
 unreduced [E] versus schwa/syllabic [n] in the second 
 syllable in the US/North America?
c. To what extent, if at all, as the US pronunciation 
 established itself in Britain?

Robert Hagiwara, Ph.D. 
Assistant Professor

Linguistics Department
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Subject-Language: English; Code: ENG 
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