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Why is “finite” in “infinite” pronounced differently than plain “finite”?

Posted by jpluimers on 2020/12/04

December thoughts: [WayBackWhy is “finite” in “infinite” pronounced differently than plain “finite”?… – Jeroen Wiert Pluimers – Google+

Q

Why is “finite” in “infinite” pronounced differently than plain “finite”?
As a partially word-blind person, those differences make natural languages very hard for me to grasp.
Especially because Dutch “eindig” is pronounced the same in “oneindig” (and German “endlich” the same in “unendlich“)

A

  • Randy Tapson's profile photo
    My guess is that it’s easier to say. They were probably pronounced the same 500 years ago but over time it became easier (lazier) to say 3 short vowels (because they are all the same sound) versus 1 short and 2 long. I’d be very interested in hearing what the old English pronunciation sounded like.
  • Wolfgang Rupprecht's profile photo
    Steven Pinker has a great talk on irregular verbs. In a nutshell certain words when put into a typical sentence are too much of a tongue twister. If the word or phrase is used enough people develop shortcuts to make them easier to say. The interesting aspect that he identified is that if some word falls out of common usage the pronunciation becomes regular again. People forget that they can say it the easier way. His talk is about irregular verbs, but the concept is much more general than that.
  • Kim Nilsson's profile photo

    Two great explanations, which both boil down to the truth and fact that people are lazy and languages adapt over time.

    English spelling is from the 15th century, but pronunciation has changed.

    Norwegian has tried to update their spelling to be closer to the actual use, and also removed duplicate “spelling” of the same sounds.

    Some languages are sponges, and fill up with words from other languages, and either keep the sounds or change them a little, even if they don’t conform to their own language. Others, like Icelandic, create brand new words for everything.

–jeroen

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