Case of the Missing “i”s: foliage, verbiage, miniature

By Maeve Maddox

In the Fall, when television weather persons turn their thoughts to foliage, rhapsodizing about the beautiful orange and red and yellow leaves along the highways and streets, I cringe every time they pronounce the word as if it had only two syllables.

The dictionaries I’ve consulted still list only one pronunciation for foliage: /foh lee ij/.

Three-syllable verbiage /vur bee ij/ and four-syllable miniature /min ee uh cher/, however, are so frequently pronounced without their “i”s that the non-standard mispronunciations are appearing in some dictionaries.

Other than creating spelling problems, the truncated pronunciations of foliage, verbiage, and miniature probably won’t matter in the long run, since they don’t obscure meaning.

One may argue that the word parliament is pronounced with three syllables, but it probably always has been. It came into the language as three-syllable parlement and was spelled that way until about the time Chaucer died in 1400. Then some learned gentlemen changed the spelling from “parlement” to “parliament” to make it conform to M.L. parliamentum.

Verbiage comes from French verbier “to chatter” and miniature, from Italian miniatura, both of which embody “i”s meant to be pronounced.

Conclusion: Although it’s possible to argue for the i-less pronunciations of foliage, verbiage, and miniature as acceptable evolutions of pronunciation, it’s still preferable to preserve the “i”s.

Why?

Because by retaining the “i”s we can avoid creating three more English words that are not spelled the way they are pronounced.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


14 Responses to “Case of the Missing “i”s: foliage, verbiage, miniature

  • Dan

    Because by retaining the “i”s we can avoid creating three more English words that are not spelled the way they are pronounced.

    Can’t we change the spelling?

  • Mary Ann Powers

    If we change the spelling for these three words how many more will have to be changed due to incorrect pronunciation?

    I also wonder if people who speak other languages are experiencing the same linguistic shift?

  • Maeve

    Dan,
    In theory, nothing could be simpler than to change the spelling.

    In practice, spelling is more resistant to change than pronunciation. Without the existence of an official Academy of English that could sanction such a change, we’d just be misspelling them.

  • Maeve

    Mary Ann,
    I think all languages have the same kinds of disconnects between the written and spoken forms. They’d have to since pronunciation is always changing.

    Personally, I delight in the vagaries of English spelling. I see words as fossils. Their spellings often tell their history and origins.

    Still, I acknowledge that all the oddities can be frustating from a purely practical standpoint.

  • Karla

    In France, they actually have laws and gov’t institutions that state exactly how words are “supposed” to be used, pronounced, and spelled. I don’t think I want that here! English is a living language (Latin is a dead language), so one would expect it to evolve. In today’s Web 2.0 environment, our language is evolving much faster than most prescriptive grammarians would prefer.

  • Norris Hoyt

    I was a member of the Vermont legislature for eight years in the 1970’s.

    Many times I heard “foliage” curiously pronounced by some members, usually old-timers from very rural areas, as
    FOIL-AGE.

    Curious but fun.

  • Shelley

    what about carriage and marriage as well as a slew of others? kinda like the i before e except after c, excluding weight, height, protein….hmmmm maybe in the long run, it doesnt make any difference, but the most common pronunciation is fo lij

  • chanda

    Incorrect pronunciation is lazy. When lazy makes the rules, good luck. Would President Obama say “min-a-ture”? Correct pronunciation is a measure of intelligence and quality.

  • chanda

    Also, the primary portion of the English language did not derive from a “slang” form of Latin. It was very ridged in meaning and pronunciation. Words were sacred.
    If you were learning another language, wouldn’t you want to pronounce it correctly? Or would you, Karla, make it up to suit your own needs and call your version “correct pronunciation”, to eventually be taught to my child as “correct pronunciation”? I would have a problem with that.

  • Karla

    So, chanda, do you still speak the English of the 11th century? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_English) If you did, none of us would understand you (unless one of you is a student of Middle English). :-> Language evolves.

    As far as “correct pronunciation”, that could depend on where in the US you live (if you live in the US). If a Bostonian tells me he “pahks his cah in Hahvid Yahd” I don’t think he’s pronouncing it “correctly” but I still know what he means.

  • chanda

    My point is English did not evolve from slang. The phrase “where are you at” will never be correct grammar, an accent learned through your environment does not make it correct. It’s acceptable, but not correct. Of course you accept it because at this point in time, our culture is very lackadaisical with correct, incorrect and everything in between when it comes to the English language. That could someday change. Words and variations of words will be added to the dictionary but words themselves will not be changed to accommodate mispronunciations.

  • Naomi

    I am somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to language but, I still think this is ridiculous. Sometimes a pronunciation difference is due to an accent or dialect. For instance, in Cantonese, ni hao ma becomes ni ho ma, dropping the ‘a’. I’m sure Chinese people don’t complain so much about it because they do not use a phonetic alphabet like we do. Being a native English speaker, I would never see a word with the ending ‘iage’ and think that it’s strange to leave the “i” out. Sounds often merge together when spoken quickly. Do you pronounce the ‘i’ in the word carriage? Languages evolve. If English hadn’t, we’d still be pronouncing the ‘k’ in the word knife. Have you ever tried to read Old English or Middle English for that matter? Just because in English we use hard pronunciations, doesn’t mean that those sounds aren’t still there in a more subtle way. Anyone who knows the proper pronunciation of sukiyaki or gozaimasu in Japanese knows that to a native English speaker, the syllable ‘su’ in these words, sounds like a slightly elongated ‘s’. However, once one becomes more familiar with Japanese, I think they become more familiar with the subtleties and realize that the ‘u’ is, in fact, there. If you are such a serious traditionalist, do you always pronounce a hard ‘t’ sound when it’s in the middle or at the end of a word? If you do, I doubt you sound like a native English speaker.

  • Nick Danger

    “My point is English did not evolve from slang.”

    Of course it did Chanda. You have no idea what you are talking about.

  • lissa

    Wow. I’m time warped back to high school english. I just find that some words when mispronounced are annoying but doubly so when it is by a public profile that speaks for a living. As for slangs just gotta say… alot of (forinstance) black persons seem not to be able to the word “ask”. Always comes out aks. So is it slang lazy mispronounced what. Do we put it in the dictionary? Just because. it’s often doesn’t make it the new right. I personally love to mess up words they just beg for it cuz there’s so many of em. Y

Leave a comment: