Position of stress in "Stigmata"

sumelic

Senior Member
English - California
Hello all!

I've recently been researching the pronunciation of Greek-derived words in English, and I've found an odd anomaly. Most words with the plural ending -ata are stressed on the antepenult, such as lémma ~ lémmata, schéma ~ schémata and teratóma ~ teratómata. This is what would be expected from the stress rules of Latin (I believe most or all of these words came through Latin before entering English). But the word "stigmata" is often pronounced with the stress on the penult and the a broadened: stigma ~ stigmáta /stɪgˈmɑˑtɐ/.1 I'm wondering why that is. The word is probably most common in religious or theological contexts, in reference to the wounds of Christ, so at first I wondered if it was supposed to be closer to the original Greek pronunciation, but according to Wiktionary, the stress is on the antepenult in Greek as well.2 Do students at seminary use some unique system of Greek accentuation, or is this a simple matter of ignorance of the correct position of the stress that has now become entrenched with time and usage? If nobody knows of a reason, I suppose I can just put it down to people encountering the word mainly in text, not knowing which syllable to stress, and choosing the penult because it sounds better to them.

References:
1. http://www.merriam-webster.com/audio.php?file=stigma03&word=stigmata&text=%5Cstig-ˈmä-tə%2C%20ˈstig-mə-tə%5C
2 https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/στίγμα#Ancient_Greek

(PS: to any mods, should questions like this about the history of pronunciation of an English word go here or in the Etymology/History/Linguistics forum?)
 
  • pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    Most words with the plural ending -ata are stressed on the antepenult, such as lémma ~ lémmata, schéma ~ schémata and teratóma ~ teratómata.
    I have no answer to your actual question, but I've only ever heard "sche-MA-ta" as the pronunciation of that one. (I've only heard "lemmas" as the plural of "lemma," and thank goodness I've never had occasion to encounter the plural of "teratoma.")
     

    sumelic

    Senior Member
    English - California
    Interesting! Merriam Webster online only lists antepenult stress for schemata, but dictionary.com lists the penult-stressed version (still after the antepenult though). Perhaps the pronunciation is changing in analogy to "stigmata", or perhaps some common reason underlies both of these pronunciations. In "schema", the e is usually long, but this sounds a bit awkward right before a stressed vowel. Do the ""sche-MA-ta" pronouncers reduce the e to a schwa? Is it more like "Skee-MAH-tuh", "Skem-MAH-tuh", or "Skuh-MAH-tuh"?
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    Reduced to a schwa, in my case. It occurs to me that I can't think of a time when I've actually heard "schema" pronounced; I've certainly read it, but I'm not sure I've ever heard it.
     

    sumelic

    Senior Member
    English - California
    Yes, a lot of these words are read much more often than heard. It looks like pronunciations given in the dictionary are generally based on the established "system" for assigning stress and vowel length, but most people aren't really aware of this system, and when they have to use the words in speech, just guess at how to pronounce them.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    ...It occurs to me that I can't think of a time when I've actually heard "schema" pronounced; I've certainly read it, but I'm not sure I've ever heard it.
    You haven't spent a lot of time playing with data base designs, then - especially in the days when the CODASYL database model was all the rage. People don't refer to schemata as much with relational databases, though the term is used with dimensional databases such as those in many data warehouses.
     
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