Linking i

Geoff Pullum’s Language Log posting “Retching schedule” elicited comments on each of the pronunciations that drove the Guardian‘s Tim Footman to displays of anger and disgust: mischievious, schedule with [sk-], somethink. I had something to say on the first of these, which I’ll expand on here.

There are three attested versions of the mischief adjective — (1) mischievous; (2) mischievous; (3) mischievious — each with a variety of spellings over the centuries. The OED says that (2) was “common in literary works until at least 1700, but subsequently became restricted to non-standard usage” and that the 4-syllable pronunciation (3) “probably developed from this variant by analogy” (to the much more numerous -ious words, like devious and previous). Variant (3) is attested from the 16th century on, but is labeled as “now regional, colloq. and humorous” by the OED. (Meanwhile, grievous developed an -ious variant grievious as well.) Brians’s Common Errors in English Usage simply labels mischievious and grievious as mistakes, as does Garner’s Modern American Usage, calling them misspellings and mispronunciations. MWDEU merely labels them non-standard (but widespread).

But the Language Log commenters were all over the map on this one. One reported never having heard mischievious, but three reported never having heard the variant stigmatized — including two who said that in Southern California, (1) and (3) are in free variation (which is at least consistent with the OED’s regional and colloquial labels). Finally, mollymooly quoted the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary’s 2007 survey of British English: 65% for (1), 15% for (2), 20% for (3).

The -i- of mischievious not only aligns the word with the many -ious adjectives, it also provides a rationale for the 2nd-syllable stress (vs. 1st-syllable stress in mischief): -i-ous adjectives are stressed on the syllable immediately preceding -i-ous (and if that requires a stress shift, so be it: for example, censorious, vs. censor, and laborious, vs. labor).

In any case, I have a considerable file of -i- “linking” a stem to a monosyllabic suffix; the result is stressed on the final syllable of the stem (often requiring a stress shift from the standard variant). In addition to mischievious and grievious, I have intravenious and heinious, with -i- linking to -ous; doctorial and pectorials, with -i- linking to -al; similiar, with -i- linking to -ar; and gal(l)iant, with -i- linking to -ant. The last of these is not listed as a variant of gallant in the OED, but Jon Lighter reported to the ADS-L in 2005 that galliant was fairly common in 19th-century ballads, and Paul Frank added some non-ballad examples.

For all of these non-standard examples there are standard examples with linking -i- that can serve as models: professorial, familiar, valiant, and a number of others.

3 Responses to “Linking i”

  1. Chris Waigl Says:

    My (English) housemates both opt for (1), but spontaneously offered (3), too. On second thought, they labeled (3) as a “mispronunciation”. Me, I try to avoid saying the word.

  2. The Ridger Says:

    I’ve heard them both, and couldn’t say which one was commoner when I was growing up.

  3. Philip Says:

    In Southern California, (3) is most common. No data, just my ears.

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