Monday 19 November 2012


As my readers will know, Justin Welby is to become the new Archbishop of Canterbury in March 2013. He's 56 years old and has been a bishop for only one year. 

In this video clip, we hear BBC's correspondent Mark Easton, at about 00:12, pronounce the phrase the Primate of all England, meaning 'the Archbishop of Canterbury', as  ðə ˈpraɪmeɪt əv ˈɔːl ˈɪŋɡlənd. When I heard the word Primate pronounced ˈpraɪmeɪt the other day, my reaction was that I don't say it like that. I say ˈpraɪmət, though I'm perfectly aware that there are native speakers like Mark Easton who use a strong-vowelled second syllable. 

As you certainly know, the term primate can have two different meanings in English: 1) it can be used to indicate any animal that belongs to the group of mammals that includes humans, apes and monkeys; and 2) it is a synonym for archbishop. With meaning 1), the word is practically always pronounced as ˈpraɪmeɪt, though ODP also gives ˈpraɪmᵻt (=ˈpraɪmɪt, -ət) for American English. With meaning 2), I get the impression that most people use ˈpraɪmət (or -ɪt) and that only a small minority say ˈpraɪmeɪt. CEPD doesn't agree with me, as it prioritises ˈpraɪmeɪt for the latter meaning. LPD, on the other hand, has "ˈpraɪm ət -ɪt,  -eɪt".  

I was slightly shocked when I noticed that my Garzanti Dictionary of English (2010) only acknowledges ˈpraɪmət (p.965) for both meanings 1) and 2). I think the authors should correct this transcription and prioritise ˈpraɪmeɪt for the 'higher mammal' meaning. The Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation, too, provides the same advice (p.311): 

"primate chief bishop pry-muht /ˈprʌɪmət/ [(=ˈpraɪmət)] Sometimes also pry-mayt [(=ˈpraɪmeɪt)]. primate mammal pry-mayt /ˈprʌɪmeɪt/ [(=ˈpraɪmeɪt)]".


Come saprete, Justin Welby diventerà il nuovo Arcivescovo di Canterbury nel marzo del 2013. Ha 56 anni ed è vescovo da solo un anno.

In questa clip, al secondo 00:12, sentiamo il corrispondente della BBC Mark Easton pronunciare l'espressione the Primate of all England, cioè 'l'Arcivescovo di Canterbury', ðə ˈpraɪmeɪt əv ˈɔːl ˈɪŋɡlənd. Quando vidi questo video un paio di settimane fa in TV rimasi un po' colpito dalla pronuncia del termine Primate: io dico normalmente ˈpraɪmət, sebbene sia perfettamente consapevole del fatto che ci sono alcuni nativi che pronunciano la seconda sillaba col dittongo piuttosto che con lo schwa. 

In inglese, la parola primate può avere due significati diversi: 1) primate, cioè 'animale appartenente all'Ordine di Mammiferi Euteri'; e 2) Primate, ovvero 'arcivescovo'. Col significato 1), la pronuncia è praticamente sempre ˈpraɪmeɪt, malgrado l'ODP (= Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation) fornisca ˈpraɪmt (=ˈpraɪmɪt, -ət) per l'americano. Col significato 2), invece, ritengo che la maggior parte dei nativi dica ˈpraɪmət (o -ɪt) e che solo una piccola minoranza utilizzi ˈpraɪmeɪt. Il CEPD (= Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary) non è d'accordo con me poiché dà priorità alla pronuncia ˈpraɪmeɪt per quanto concerne il significato 2). L'LPD (= Longman Pronunciation Dictionary), di contro, sempre per lo stesso significato, dà "ˈpraɪm ət -ɪt,  -eɪt".

Sono rimasto un po' scioccato nel vedere che il mio dizionario d'inglese Hazon Garzanti (2010) dia solo ed esclusivamente ˈpraɪmət (p.965) per i significati 1) e 2). Gli autori dovrebbero correggere la trascrizione fornita e dare priorità a ˈpraɪmeɪt per quanto concerne il significato 1). Anche l'Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation è dello stesso mio parere (p.311): 

"primate chief bishop pry-muht /ˈprʌɪmət/ [(=ˈpraɪmət)] Sometimes also pry-mayt [(=ˈpraɪmeɪt)]. primate mammal pry-mayt /ˈprʌɪmeɪt/ [(=ˈpraɪmeɪt)]".


  1. The bbc correspondent Mark Easton did indeed mispronounce the word 'primate' when meaning 'bishop'. English is often an unreliable guide to pronunciation, as in ‘treat great threat’ (see for all common words with decoding problems).

    The habit of generally decorating the final of longer words with an <-e> irrespective of pronunciation (delicate debate) is clearly unhelpful to learners. Particularly when different pronunciation have the same spelling, such as ‘primate, delegate’ or ‘animate’.
    In the 16th century thousands of words had redundant <-e> endings (olde, worlde, worde), often accompanied by surplus doubled consonants as well (inne, shoppe, hadde). The pamphleteers of the English Civil War (1642-9) dropped most of them -, because they wanted to squeeze the maximum of propaganda onto a page.

    Sadly, the ones which escaped their cull continue to survive (are, gone, have, give, more, promise...). I had hoped that texting might help to get rid of them, but it’s not happening yet.

    1. Masha Bell opines that the BBC correspondent “mispronounce[d] the word 'primate' when meaning 'bishop'. This is not quite correct as a look into the various dictionaries shows:

      The OED offers for GB (aka RP) (in the sense of ‘archbishop’)/ˈprʌɪmət/, /ˈprʌɪmeɪt/, and for GA /ˈpraɪmᵻt/, /ˈpraɪˌmeɪt/ (in the sense of ‘higher mammal’) GB /ˈprʌɪmeɪt/, GA /ˈpraɪˌmeɪt/, /ˈpraɪmᵻt/ [OED symbols used]

      Merriam-Webster online
      Two prons are entered: /ˈpraɪˌmeɪt/ or especially for 1 /-mət/ [transcription adapted to IPA conventions]. “[E]specially for 1” points to this gloss: “a bishop who has precedence in a province, a group of provinces, or a nation”

      higher mammal: ˈpraɪ.meɪt archbishop: ˈpraɪ.meɪt, -mɪt, -mət, US -mɪt [EPD symbols used]

      Concise Pronouncing Dictionary
      primate ˋprɑɪmeɪt ˋ prɑɪmɪt [original transcription]