Saturday 22 September 2012


The news that the South Africa's Marikana miners have now returned back to work got me thinking about the pronunciation of the word platinum. How do native speakers of English pronounce it? I'm sure students of EFL will be surprised by the great number of possible variants there are.

In RP/General British, platinum can have many different pronunciations, some of which are characterised by three syllables and some by two:

a£) ˈplætɪnəm
b£) (less usually) ˈplætənəm

c£) ˈplætn̩əm (where the t can be released nasally, pre-glottalised, or replaced entirely by ʔ)

d£) ˈplæʔnəm

 In General American we can get the following:

a$) ˈplætənəm

b$) ˈplætn̩əm/ˈplætnəm (where the t can be released nasally, pre-glottalised, or replaced entirely by ʔ)

c$) The ODP also has ˈplædənəm (=ˈplæt̬ənəm).

As far as frequency is concerned, I think we can safely say that Americans most commonly prefer ˈplæʔn̩əm/ˈplæʔnəm (or ˈplætn̩əm, with t is released nasally or pre-glottalised). Listen, for example, to the audio clips offered by the Merriam-Webster Online and the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary.

For RP both LPD3 and CEPD18 prioritise ˈplætɪnəm. The OALD, the Oxford Dictionary of English (2006; 2nd edition, revised; p.1348), the Collins English Dictionary, the Macmillan Dictionary and the Cambridge Dictionary Online also give this pronunciation as the only variant for British English. Forvo, too, offers a clip with a man from England saying ˈplætɪnəm. The only pronunciation dictionary that I'm aware of which prioritises a variant with a syllabic consonant instead of -ɪn- is Jack Windsor Lewis' A Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English (p.152), published in 1972.

The existence of the common ˈplæʔn̩əm and ˈplæʔnəm alongside the, for most students easier to understand (and reproduce), ˈplætɪnəm/ˈplætənəm, shows once more how complicated English phonetics can be and how essential it is for teachers to teach it. ˈplæʔnəm, in this instance, is comparable to the word catheter, which in American English some speakers pronounce as the two-syllable ˈkæθtɚ, instead of the by EFL learners sometimes expected three-syllable ˈkæθət̬ɚ.    

*Heartfelt thanks to Jack Windsor Lewis for the valuable suggestions he has given me.

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