turmeric - pronunciation

panjandrum

Senior Member
English-Ireland (top end)
I keep hearing variations in the pronunciation of turmeric.

In my world, it should be pronounced /ˈtəːmərɪk/ or, in rhotic English, /ˈtərːmərɪk/.
In either case, the first part of the first syllable is pronounced exactly as in 'turm', equivalent to the word 'turn' but with 'm', not 'n'.

I keep hearing it pronounced as if there were no 'r' in the spelling, as /ˈtuː.mə.ɹɪk/ or /ˈtjuːm(ə).ɹɪk/.
Here, the first part of the first syllable is pronounced as one would pronounce 'tune' but with 'm', not 'n'.

I don't understand why anyone would pronounce the word as if it were spelt 'tumeric'.

Is there a regional pattern to be discovered?
 
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Often heard here too. Both turm- and -urme- are uncommon and I think the alternative pronunciation came from simply misreading. I have no other explanation:)
    (-ucle- is also uncommon, and some words end in -cular, particular, spectacular, so -> nucular)
    Many people miss the fact that there are two The's in the the infamous sign. The eye is easily fooled.
    *****Please*****
    **Keep Off The***
    ****The Grass***

    Cross-posted
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I've been meaning for some time to start a thread on the very same question myself, but was afraid of being derided as a pedant.

    I've also been wont to dismiss it as uneducated, but too many people whom I would not consider uneducated, and who therefore ought to know better, mispronounce it.
    I guess it must be a bit like "monkey see, monkey do", except that it's "monkey hear, monkey say".
    Indeed, it is often (well, OK, not very often) even spelled without the 'r': Google Ngram Viewer

    While on the topic of culinary mispronunciations, another pet peeve is hearing people say paPREEka instead of PAPPrika.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    While on the topic of culinary mispronunciations, another pet peeve is hearing people say paPREEka instead of PAPPrika.
    The US pronunciation in the audio of the WRF entry is the one you hate :eek: (My iPad only lists one speaker) Several versions are listed there. Collins lists it, too, as a secondary form.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I think Edinburgher has the answer - "monkey see, monkey do" - I remember calling it "toomerik" until, about a year later, I read the label ...
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    I have long suspected that the pronunciation of "tumor" has some influence on the alternate pronunciation of "turmeric", though of course there is no connection between the two words.
     

    sumelic

    Senior Member
    English - California
    Many words that have multiple r's seem to show a trend towards "dissimilation": dropping one of the r's (usually the first). (Less commonly, we see spreading/assimilation, as in "sherbet" pronounced as "sherbert".) This is described in "R-Dissimilation in English", by Nancy Hall (June 21, 2007). A well-known example is "February" prononounced as "Febuary". The word "turmeric" is not particularly common in everyday speech, so influence from the spelling (or misreadings of the spelling) seems likely. There seems to be some variation in the position of the stress as well, as described in the following Language Hat blog post: Turmeric.

    To continue the theme of peeves about culinary "mispronunciations", the word "culinary" itself is often pronounced with a "short u" sound in the first syllable, but that is rather irregular: since there is only a single "l" following the "u", the pronunciation with a "long u" is more in accordance with the usual patterns of English sound-spelling correspondence.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    The US pronunciation in the audio of the WRF entry is the one you hate

    When I listen to the US audoclip (one of eight), I clearly hear an "r", though his "u" sound is closer to "oo" than the UK one. He also puts the accent on the 2d syllable, while the other 7 audioclips put it on the 1st syllable.

    The Scottish and Jamaican audioclips say "toomeric" with a clear "oo" and no "r", which is what this thread is about.

    I have always heard and said "toomeric". I did not even realize there was an "r" in the spelling, before reading this thread.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Tumeric is a legitimate alternative spelling of turmeric (presumably both are transliterations?). It occurs in loads of books from at least the 19th century.

    APF-00017-3_grande.jpg
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    When I listen to the US audoclip (one of eight), I clearly hear an "r", though his "u" sound is closer to "oo" than the UK one. He also puts the accent on the 2d syllable, while the other 7 audioclips put it on the 1st syllable.

    The Scottish and Jamaican audioclips say "toomeric" with a clear "oo" and no "r", which is what this thread is about.

    I have always heard and said "toomeric". I did not even realize there was an "r" in the spelling, before reading this thread.
    I was referring the paprika in that post:D
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Turmeric wins by a margin of 30x to 50x, in printed works (from #4) but there’s no parallel resource to measure pronunciation, just spelling:)
    There are also quite a few examples online of a mixture of spellings in the same article, blog, or whatever. Usually with the main text using turmeric but tumeric being used in the heading.
     

    Juhasz

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    another pet peeve is hearing people say paPREEka instead of PAPPrika.

    This bothers me as well. I accept that Americans don't know how to pronounce Hungarian words (a lesson I learned early when my kindergarten teacher - and each one after that - butchered my last name), but stressing the second syllable isn't even a natural English pronunciation. It seems like a hyper-foreignization, which is another pet peeve.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    Stressing the middle syllable (of a 3-syllable word) is very natural in AmE: Banana, intrinsic, redundant, presumptive, intensive, bazoooka, palooka, paprika, potato, potahto, tomato, paprika, chopsuey, cilantro...did I mention "paprika"?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Stressing the middle syllable (of a 3-syllable word) is very natural
    Sure, but so is stressing the first syllable:
    Syllable, natural, subterfuge, balderdash, extrovert, bicycle, pentagram, abdomen, vertebra, buttercup, president, Alzheimer's, sycophant, porcupine, and of course turmeric. How do you pronounce dojibear? ;)

    (Chop suey is two words)
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    I agree that stressing on the first syllable is also natural. I was only disagreeing with the comment that 2d syllable stress is unnatural in English, and sounds foreign.

    stressing the second syllable isn't even a natural English pronunciation. It seems like a hyper-foreignization,

    To answer your question, I stress the "do" in "dojibear". But as actual English words, "doji bear" is two words. A "doji"(pronounced dough-gee) is a candlestick: a figure used in stock charts to summarize one time unit's trading history. A bear is a bear. I created the name "dojibear" to sound like "Yogi Bear", a cartoon character whose name was created to sound like "Yogi Berra", a famous baseball player.
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the King's
    In one of those spooky coincidences, a similar phenomenon arises with curcumin/cucurmin, which is turmeric (so this can't be off-topic :p).
    5. Anti-carcinogenic Agent: (...) Curcumin can inhibit these mechanisms by preventing the activity of class of enzymes called MMPs; these enzymes would normally break down proteins surrounding cancer cells and provide them with extra space to proliferate and spread. Several studies have proven cucurmin to be an effective treatment for various stages of colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and many more. (thepaleosecret.com) Cucurmin is.. derived from tumeric, a staple of Indian cusine and Aryuvedic medicine for thousands of years. Known for its aromatic, stimulant and carminative properties tumeric has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat liver and gallbladder problems and stimulate digestion. Some physicians have recently begun to use curcumin to treat chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) as well. (phoenixrising.me)
     
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    Juhasz

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    I should have been more careful in writing my comment. I concede that stressing the second of three syllables is common - I suppose I meant that it sounded unnatural to me - in the same way that syl-LAB-le, or mon-I-tor, or tur-MER-ic* sound unnatural. But of course, I'm the wrong person to ask, since I learned a different pronunciation, so of course pa-PRI-ka sounds unnatural to me. We'll have to find native English speakers who don't know the word and ask them to pronounce it. See what comes naturally.


    *And forgetting the "r" for a minute, where do people think the stress goes in this word?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In answer to Juhasz:

    If I didn't know the word paprika (which I've always pronounced PAPrika), I would almost certainly assume that it was pronounced papREEka (stressed on the penultimate syllable).

    But applying the same hypothesis to turmeric, I can't really imagine saying it any other way than with the stress on the first syllable.
     

    sumelic

    Senior Member
    English - California
    I should have been more careful in writing my comment. I concede that stressing the second of three syllables is common - I suppose I meant that it sounded unnatural to me - in the same way that syl-LAB-le, or mon-I-tor, or tur-MER-ic* sound unnatural. But of course, I'm the wrong person to ask, since I learned a different pronunciation, so of course pa-PRI-ka sounds unnatural to me. We'll have to find native English speakers who don't know the word and ask them to pronounce it. See what comes naturally.


    *And forgetting the "r" for a minute, where do people think the stress goes in this word?

    There is some discussion of the position of the stress in "turmeric" in the Language Hat blog post that a linked to in a previous post. Most people put it on the first syllable, but a few people put it on the second. Adjectives ending in the suffix "-ic" are usually stressed on the second-to-last syllable (like "generic", "hysteric", "polymeric") so that may have influenced some people, even though "turmeric" is not an adjective and doesn't actually have the suffix "-ic".

    I think words ending in "a", like "paprika", are particularly prone to foreign-ized pronunciations because native English words aren't spelled like this (in general).
     
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    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    There is some discussion of the position of the stress in "turmeric" in the Language Hat blog post that a linked to in a previous post. Most people put it on the first syllable, but a few people put it on the second. Adjectives ending in the suffix "-ic" are usually stressed on the second-to-last syllable (like "generic", "hysteric", "polymeric") so that may have influenced some people, even though "turmeric" is not an adjective and doesn't actually have the suffix "-ic".

    I think words ending in "a", like "paprika", are particularly prone to foreign-ized pronunciations because native English words aren't spelled like this (in general).

    I listened to two novels by Jason Mathews. In the first recorded book the main female character's name was pronounced Dominika (Dom-min-eek-a), and in the second novel by the same author and with the same reader it is pronounced "Dom-min-ik-a".

    Apparently the Paprika sounding (as I speak it) version was incorrect and the author corrected it the second version. I suspect this is a problem with all similar multi-syllabic words from foreign sources.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    There is some discussion of the position of the stress in "turmeric" in the Language Hat blog post that a linked to in a previous post. Most people put it on the first syllable, but a few people put it on the second. Adjectives ending in the suffix "-ic" are usually stressed on the second-to-last syllable (like "generic", "hysteric", "polymeric") so that may have influenced some people, even though "turmeric" is not an adjective and doesn't actually have the suffix "-ic".
    This left me wondering how you'd like us to pronounce you, Sumerlic.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    (Tune is a classic example of the tu- shibboleth for AE/BE. No BE speaker says anything other than /tjuːn/ - as far as I can recall. Well, perhaps tchu:n but never toon.:))
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    I'm grateful to Panj for raising this issue because I use the spice - not for ants in the garden though - and have learnt a lot about it from the thread.

    For what it's worth, I say /ˈtərːmərɪk/ these days, because it's what most of my foodie friends say; I've heard most of the alternatives mentioned, over the last forty years.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I rather enjoyed this schizophrenic Telegraph article: Tumeric: what is it for?
    I would like to know the answer to that (colour or flavour - or both?) but the article is now subscription-only as well as schizophrenic.
    I've just heard the two-Michelin-starred chef, Marcus Wareing, pronounce it 'tyoomeric' on TV. I don't know how he would spell it, though.
    Jamie Oliver does that too, and that's without any Michelin stars. For what it's worth, I use the 'other' pronunciation.
     
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