Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why Do Americans Pronounce 'Schedule' Differently to the British?

A pet peeve of certain British prescriptivists (that is, Brits who do not readily welcome change to the language) is the American pronunciation of schedule. In its Americanised form, it is one of those words - along with vase, anti-, and yoghurt - that drives defenders of the British version to fits of near rage.

But why should this be? Are the British historically and linguistically correct to pronounce it shed-yul? Or are they just upset that "the yanks" changed yet another word?

The truth is, the American pronunciation - sked-yul - is more in line with how the word would have been spoken by the Greeks, through whom it originated in the form of skhizein, and later skhida. Actually, as a general rule, Greek loan words that begin with sch are almost always pronounced with a hard K, with the word school being a prime example.

Meanwhile, it is typically German loan words - such as schmalz or schnapps - that provide the English language with what is a relatively small collection of sh-words.

Of course, since language is a beautiful and ever-evolving thing, it would be difficult to argue that the British pronunciation is incorrect - especially in light of the fact that British English pre-dates American English.

However, those same prescriptivists who wrongfully accuse the Americans of making up words like aluminum might be a little dismayed to discover that the British interpretation of schedule is derived from French! C'est la pure vérité!

Sometimes, it's better hearing me in a British accent. Click the red button below. 

Laurence Brown is a British man writing his way through the truly bizarre world of America - a place he sometimes accidentally calls home and a place he still hasn't quite figured out after seven years. Thankfully, his journey is made 12% easier by the fact that his accent makes him sound much smarter than he is. For evidence of this, subscribe to his popular Lost in the Pond web series over on YouTube.


Anonymous said...

Clearly you are American (please note the correct capitalisation)!
"British" English is an American term and therefore is not a word. If you are interested, English is the language spoken in England. In Britain (properly referred to as "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland") we have several languages including English, Welsh, Gaelic (Irish & Scottish) and numerous dialects which our American cousins often confuse as accents. Please therefore note that the next time you notice someone is English 'by their accent', it is you and not they who have one! (I assume you can understand my dialect).

Laurence Brown said...

Dear, Anonymous.

Thank you for your comment. Allow me to correct you on almost everything:

1) I am British, not American. See my "About" section.

2) "British English" is not an exclusively American term. It is a term widely agreed upon by noted linguists either side of the Atlantic. It is used in academic circles to differentiate between aspects of English used in Britain and those used in, say, the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, or Australia. I somehow imagine that if linguists made this distinction by referring to American English as "American," you'd be a little nonplussed.

3) The proper term for Britain is not "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". This name was retired in the 1920s, following the partition of Ireland. You might be getting confused with "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."

4) Depending on the context, an English person can be just as beholden to an accent as his or her American counterpart.

Finally, please clarify your first sentence; I'm not sure where I am supposed to have used incorrect capitalisation (please note the "s").

Thank you,
Laurence Brown

Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia and Smitten by Britain. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States.--------------------------------------

Hasnain said...

Well replied

Anonymous said...

Deeeyam! Anon got pwnd.

Anonymous said...

Please note a most basic error at the head of this the site.


Anonymous said...

Actually, the American pronunciation of schedule pre-dates the (modern) British pronunciation. As "schedule" is not a word of Germanic origin, the "sk" sound is correct and was the only pronunciation until the 19th century, when "received English" took on an affectation and switched the "sk" to an "sh" sound. Funnily, scholars today believe that the closest English to "the Bard's English" heard today is an American accent from the South--and any American accent is closer to how Shakespeare would have pronounced his words than any British accent.

Anonymous said...

All, given that I think we all know what is meant by the word schedule, however it is pronounced, could we not just accept that all language evolves and that we should embrace those changes to allow ourselves to evolve with it, afterall this is what we profess to be good at!
also this is my view and not a reason to comment on my own use of language in written form.

Anonymous said...

"DIFFERENT TO" is an accepted and understood construction that has been around for centuries and used by respected authors through time. It is not a basic error.

Anonymous said...

That's what I tell people about "DIFFERENT THAN" and "WOULD OF" but they don't seem to listen.

Anonymous said...

Then how do you pronounce school...shool?

Unknown said...

I'm British and in my part of the country, (the North East of England) 'skedule' is the normal pronunciation. 'Shedule' is the pronunciation used by the metropolitan establishment. Like so many other things, those people claim their own pronunciation as the standard British pronunciation. It isn't. It's just one variant of the two which are used in the UK.

Unknown said...

Why "sedule" for schedule, but not "schull" for school? Rampant inconsistency!

Anonymous said...

Shame on America and God save the Queen! -Shad (Canada)

Anonymous said...

Shame on them for pronouncing it correctly? LOL. Did you read through the comments?

Anonymous said...

If you want rampant inconsistency, why do Americans say 'Eye-raq' and 'Eye-ran' but not 'Eye-srael', 'Eye-ndia' or 'Eye-taly'?

paul bell said...

Rampant inconsistency is common here in Britain as demonstrated by the very talented British actor, Sean Bean.

JackOfAll said...

of all the Comments the most entertaining was the one with Eye-an.

also I pronounce schedule = Iska- Dool. and no one ever corrected me.

Plus people must learn to accept the limitation of Brain power of humans over making type of sounds, for example I cannot make all the sounds of the german language.

Anonymous said...

Not all Americans pronounce Iraq as "eye-rak" or Iran as "eye-ran". Some of us use a short I vowel. Just like those in the UK, we have a wide variety of accents.

Miguel Corazao said...

Minor comment (nitpick but I'll stand on my soapbox for a moment): The idea that "British English" predates "American English" is at best misleading. It is like saying my in-laws' daughter predates my wife. Although in a certain sense there is some truth to it, for the most part it is a silly argument. What we today call "British" and "American" English BOTH originated from the same language. Arguing that one is a more proper descendant than the other is non-sense. For example, English was originally a strictly rhotic language. The London variety became non-rhotic during the 19th century (as did some of the American varieties) but the dominant American varieties remained rhotic like the original language.

Anonymous said...

The OED has "skedule" as the preferred pronunciation but both are correct. I suspect that Laurence has the etymology pinpointed above. Note that "ize" is not an Americanism, it is the original and preferred form in British English; both are correct ("ise" is a recent French influence).

Anonymous said...

Canadian here. Miss Noble, my high school German teacher was of United Empire Loyalist stock. She told us the correct Canadian pronunciation was "skedule". She said "shedule" was an affectation. It is still often used by some TV and radio announcers.

Sevenov said...

Why do North Americans say "erb" instead of "herb"? I heard some TV cook had a bad cold and said "erb" and the rest of mid-morning TV watchers followed it up. Now it is commonly used. What a travesty and ignorance. Do you say "ungry" or hungry? "Appy" or "happy"? To me it's Aluminium, Magnesium, Helium, Magnesium" and all the "iums". Only aluminum seems to be different. Why? In Britain we walk on the pavement. In America it's sidewalk. To Americans pavement is the road surface. Correct me if I'm wrong. I can't remember if we commonly used "it's, I'm" and such shortened words. Also too much familiarity when Americans write to you. They commonly use "Dear first name" instead "Dear Mr.Last name" Comments on my moans please.

Brian Annett said...

The people who live in England established (with the help of many invading European forces!) English. It is the English language spoken by English people living in England.
Or is that a difficult / unbelievable concept?

Yes most people in Scotland and Wales also speak English (because our ancestors had a thing for invading places). Collectively England, Scotland and Wales are Britain, this is true.
The fact that a collection of people have labelled it "British" English for convenience, does not stop English being English.

They could equally have just extend the "label" to all the countries who speak English because they were invaded by England? Then you could label it "Empire English", which would still be both correct and incorrect.
English is English, it's spoken by English people in England. Our ancestors built big ships, went on holiday and made other people speak English as well. But it's still English, English.

"British English" and "American English" are just two convenient labels used to differentiate the differences America has made to English, English.

"French, French" v's "Canadian French".
If only there were some sort of coalition between France, Belgium and Switzerland (as they all speak French). Then we could stop calling it "French, French". A convenient label could be "Middle European French"!
Which would be technically correct, but wouldn't stop "French being French!"

Anonymous said...

This one's easy.
If you break these names into syllables, "I•raq" and "I•ran" would have long i's if we follow basic English Orthography. "Is•rael" and "In•di•a" have "is" and "in", which are closed syllables. Hence, if basic phonetic rules of English are used, the i's would be short.
Many Americans pronounce "Iraq" and "Iran" with a long I, because they are trying to read the word the way it was written, but do not actually know how to pronounce the word correctly.
The same goes for the Brits:
Why do they pronounce the Putin's name as "PYOO-tin" when it is actually "POO-teen"?

Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine was in Jamaica on his honey moon and seated at a table with a loud American couple. The American chap turned to my friend and said,
"That's a cute accent you have there."
My friend's reply was,
"Sir, I have a language, you have an accent."

Joe Kueser said...

As an American I always snicker a little about how non-Americans claim our pronunciation of words is wrong. My understanding of history says that in many cases, our pronunciation is closer to the original English pronunciation that the current British pronunciation. Specifically, I'm referring to dropping of and adding of the R sound from words. Pronouncing "shark" like "shock", for example. Or "Barbara" like "Barbarar". That didn't start happening until the mid-1700's (, after the American "dialect" had already been established (borrowing heavily form the British dialects as well as a melting pot of accents from several English speaking and non-English speaking countries).

Yes, we do like to simplify words. We drop unnecessary letters all over the place. Colour becomes color. Labour becomes labor, etc. But that's nothing new. The British did the same with much from Olde English, right? That's one of the beautiful things about OUR language. It evolves as we evolve. This isn't something Americans did, words have been evolving as long as English has been spoken.

But if the British truly want to take ownership of the language, you can explain to those trying to learn English as a 2nd language why we have so many words that are spelled differently, mean something different, but are pronounced the same. Or why there are so many words that are not pronounced like they are spelled. Or why our grammar rules are largely guidelines that once you've mastered you'll have to learn the many many exceptions to.

English is a funky, cranky, nasty, bitch of a language. Let's just admit that, embrace it, be amused by the differences in our pronunciation and amazed that we can understand each other anyway.

Anonymous said...

So... With regard to the whole "colour" vs "color" thing...

The original spelling of the word was "color." At some point, some chick named Vicky, who called herself a Queen, decided that an extra letter was necessary. So "color" became "colour," "honor" became "honour," and so forth. Simply because she felt the need to over-complicate things.

Bloody self-entitled of her, if you ask me.

Oh... And Aluminum vs Aluminium... Humphrey Davy, the *Brit* who named the element, originally wanted to call it Alumium, but eventually decided on Aluminum because he felt it sounded better. Note the similarity to Platinum. Huzzah!

The stuck up prats at the Royal Society would have none of it, however, and totally disrespected his right to name the element whatever the frack he wanted. Thus, the abomination "Aluminium" was born.

Davy spent some time in the United States at some point, and the scientific community over there respected his desire to name the element as he wished.

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