Losing my Native Pronunciation: The Case of ArchipeLAgo or ArchiPELago

I’ve been contributing to RhinoSpike lately by recording myself reading texts in English for other language learners to use in their independent studies. This weekend, however,  I could not remember how to correctly pronounce a few words in my native language. I still use English often in my day to day life, but it’s mostly in written form. Obviously I don’t speak English as nearly as much as I used to when I lived in the US. So when I came across certain words in the texts, I was stumped on how to say them because I had momentarily confused the British pronunciation with the American one (herbivore), or was influenced by the pronunciation of the same word in French (recompense). But when it came to archipelago, I was completely lost.

I thought that archipelago was pronounced with the stress on the penultimate syllable (ar-kih-puh-LAH-go), but all the dictionary and pronunciation sites I’ve consulted say it is pronounced with the stress on the antepenultimate syllable (ar-kih-PEL-uh-go).  The way I pronounce it doesn’t sound 100% correct to me to be honest, but the other pronunciation sounds a million times wrong. So so wrong. As in it hurts my ears to hear it pronounced that way.

Even the British pronunciation has the same stress pattern (ar-kih-PEL-uh-go), and the French word is simply archipel (ar-shee-pel), so why in the world do I think the stress should be on the penultimate syllable in American English? Maybe it’s merely a case of never using this word very much so I’ve forgotten how I used to say it, or perhaps it is a regional thing and some other Americans or Michiganders pronounce it the way I do?

For the love of science, how do you pronounce archipelago?!?

In my classes, whenever students asked which phrase was correct (for example, keep in touch or keep me in touch), normally I could instantly reply which one was correct, and every once in a while I just had to repeat the phrases to myself to discover which one sounded right. Yet in the case of archipelago, I’m not quite sure which one sounds right – it’s just that one sounds more right than the other, but I’m not convinced that either pronunciation is “correct.”  Is it the British influence? I’m definitely pronouncing a few vowels differently nowadays, but I have yet to change the stress (no way I will ever say adVERtisement instead of adverTISEment.) Perhaps I’m just assuming the American stress should be different.

It’s very frustrating to doubt yourself  in your native language. A study from 2007 (Why Learning a New Language May Make You Forget Your Old One) touches on this phenomenon of forgetting words, but states that it mostly happens in the beginning stages of language study and it refers to not being able to recall the word. In my case, I do remember the word, and the spelling and the meaning, but I do not remember the pronunciation.

Are there any other Americans out there who say ar-kih-puh-LAH-go or am I really just forgetting my own native language?

  • Damien Hall

    Penultimate stress is a bit of a ‘default pattern’ for English in general (though more for British English than for American) – so, if you had never heard the word pronounced before, your first guess might be ‘archipeLAgo’, just because you speak English.

    • I was wondering if I was just falling back on the default stress pattern, but I swear I have never heard archiPELago until this past weekend. Not that I ever use that word, but I’m pretty sure at least in my geography classes in Michigan, the teachers always said archipeLAgo.

      I’m just so dumbfounded that there’s another pronunciation for this word!

      • Golly, my sister and I just both guessed archipel-AH-go, and then looked it up to find that was wrong. And she has a degree in geography. It’s a word that you read all the time but who ever says it? Just for fun, I will note that the adjective, archipelagic, IS meant to have the stress on the a. 😉

        • Christy Morgan

          I pronounce it the way you do but I have been laughed at by my British husband. I am American. Must be regional though I can’t find backup for it. 🙁

  • Anna

    As a recent (2nd time) immigrant who speaks English every day, ArchiPELago definitely sounds natural and right to me, and in no way British.

    As an aside, it drives me nuts the way the French make a distinction between “L’américain” and “L’anglais” as if they were two different languages!

    • I hate the américain and anglais thing too!!! Do they say Irish people speak irlandais or that Canadians speak canadien? No, of course not.

      • I hate that too! I correct people so quickly when they tell me I speak “American”. I speak American English, yes, but not American. Grr.

  • Never heard it that way. 🙂

  • Eve B

    Very interesting and I think you are probably right, that from lack of (spoken) use and from hearing the French or British every day, it has influenced your pronunciation (which is only natural). When I was living in France years ago, I started doing something similar with spelling (as I was not writing much in English that year). For example, I would write “dentiste” instead of “dentist” and then had to look up which one was correct.

    I have also noticed something interesting in friends/contacts who are US native English speakers but who have live in France many years (most but not all of them). They have what I have called a pan-European English accent (I made up the term, but perhaps a real term for this phenomenon already exists?). Their vowels change and become a mixture (I guess) between British English, American English and French. Sometimes, upon hearing these people speak, a visitor direct from the US would not realize that they are native US English speakers (!) due to some of the odd vowel sounds (I have made that mistaken assumption more than once – oops!). Anyway, I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing, it is just a reflection of living outside one’s native country, that, in some ways, is to be expected.

    • I can hear the vowel change in my speech and I find it rather odd, but it probably is a common phenomenon because of the mixture of languages I hear everyday. Every time I say “not” or “have” I wonder where those vowel sounds come from because I certainly don’t sound like a Midwesterner anymore.

  • kim

    I don’t think I’ve ever used the word and hearing it now I can only assume I’m used to hearing the British pronunciation…

    Because I’m so lazy with my French I often reply to my friends in English – this has resulted in structuring my sentences in a French manner and also speaking really slow and simply! Now, when speaking to Native English speakers I still speak slow and simply and so many people comment on it!! My accent is definitely not as strong as it was too. I forget English words all the time, and can only think of the French word, and sometimes I only can think of the French and Spanish word but not the English word.

    • I have changed the way I speak English too. I sound really bizarre sometimes, especially when I use French syntax.

  • It’s not something I say often, but I definitely say ar-kih-puh-LAH-go. Although just last week I couldn’t for the life of me remember the word syllabus so I don’t know if I’m much of an American English expert anymore. I definitely won’t be by the time I finish at the university.

  • ER

    Very interesting post, Jennie, but I think you shouldn’t get too hard on yourself. There are a few works like this that you run into sometimes, even when speaking the language every day. I remember hearing that [ar-kih-PEH-la-goh] pronunciation and thinking it sounded strange, but I guess that just is the correct pronunciation. I mean, it’s not a word you hear everyday, so it’s not surprising that many people wonder how to pronounce it correctly.

    It makes me think of Caribbean, which you hear as either [cah-RIB-ee-an] or [care-uh-BEE-an]. I’m sure there is one correct pronunciation, but you still hear both! It could be for any reason, whether it’s a regional thing or there’s just a lot of people who don’t pronounce it correctly.

    So I just want to let you know that you’re not alone. If I were making a recording for foreign language students and had to say archipelago, I definitely would have to think about it and probably look it up. And I speak American English everyday!

    Anyway, very thought-provoking post.

    • Heh, that does make me feel better to know you would have to look up the pronunciation too. It just seems so bizarre to me that I had never before heard the PEL pronunciation, and yet that is what all the dictionaries say. At least for Caribbean, I’ve heard both pronunciations and both are present in dictionaries.

      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  • Zhu

    Not sure it will make you feel better but I feel the same with French. The other day, at a party, someone confessed they had no idea whether I was French or English speaking. Ugh.

    • Aw, well it’s nice to know that I’m not alone!

  • ruth

    I’m a native English speaker from MN, and have never heard the “archipeLAgo” pronunciation, not once. I’ve grown up being taught and hearing the “archiPElago” pronunciation. 🙂

    • Thanks for your input, ruth! It’s so strange – I’m 28 and had never heard the archiPELago pronunciation before last weekend.

  • Ha ha, that’s hilarious! THAT is when you know that you’re a serious, hard-core language nerd! I just went back and edited my post on The Top 22 Ways You Know You’re a Language Nerd to add this one to the bottom (gave you credit) 😛


  • Pingback: The Top 22 Ways You Know You’re a Language Nerd…()

  • So glad that being Australian we go back and forward between some American, some British for both vocab & pronunciation that in theory either can be correct for me, but in that one I’d probably default to the British.

  • flynavy

    It’s been a long time since I’ve done any mophological analysis, but just reading this post brought to mind that there are many multi-syllabic words, especially those constructed of two morphemes, that have this antepenultimant stressing.

    Take the word “monosyllabic”. Seems as if the second morpheme on its own has three syllables and has antepenultimant stress, then it’ll retain that stress when mated with a something else. In the case of archipelago, it’s ἄρχι and πέλαγος. Generative grammar theory would suggest a rule for how that works with, of course, exceptions for all the idiosyncracies that occur in English and for when the word changes part of speech. Such words, for instance, get penultimate stress as adjectives (monosylLAbic; archipeLAGic).

    When I was ten years old and first read that word in 20,000 Leagues Under the City, I though it was archipeLAGo. Since then, I’ve only heard the noun form as archiPELago. Perhaps there’s some subconscious reaction to this word that inclines us to stress the penultimant before we’re told otherwise. Even at the age of 29 and English being my native language, I still discover occasionally that I’ve been stressing some words incorrectly for years – usually words that are pretty useless in every day speech, though.

  • This is why I don’t teach English anymore. Lack of practice means I’d likely do a miserable job 😛

  • M Dekker

    I thought Americans say AD-vertisement. Never heard anyone say adver-TISE-ment. Isn’t that why Americans abbreviate it as “ad”?

    http://forvo.com/word/advertisement seems to agree with me. Dictionary.com doesn’t, though. Strange.

  • I definitely stress the third syllable, though the secondary stress is on the first syllable. Stressing the first syllable sounds a little bit odd to me, like it’s too unnatural.

    I just assumed we abbreviated it to ad because we tend to cut off the rest of the word, regardless of how it’s pronounced.

  • Jim

    I have been having this exact same disagreement at work, and was looking for backup when I came across your post here. I agree with your pronunciation of archipelago. But I can’t find any sources that agree with me apart from you.

  • Tiffany Dior

    I wanted to let you know, even though this post is very late,that I also pronounce archipelago the same way you do. The word is not something you come across every day, and sometimes we try to do our best to pronounce in a word based on clues. However, I could swear I have heard it pronounced the way we pronounce it in my youth. It must have been during a geography lesson or something. Most of the dictionaries that we use today are British, and therefore contribute to a British pronunciation of certain words. I truly believe that the way we pronounce it is the correct way. I think that over the last few years, as more of today’s youth have grown accustomed to using very reputable online British dictionaries as their primary sources for pronunciation of words, the British pronunciation has taken precedence in America.

  • paizley

    I pronounce it the same as the blogger. I was taught that way by a teacher.

  • Nick

    I haven’t really heard your way of accenting this word.
    For me, the issue is different. I have always pronounced it ar-chi-PEL-a-go. But now I’m seeing everywhere that the “chi” sound should actually be “ki” with a hard “k”. Does anyone else pronounce it with a “ch” sound (given its origins from the Italian arcipelago), or am I the only one?
    It seems like this word can give a lot of complexes for a number of different reasons 🙂

    • Sienna

      Ar-chi-pel-a-go too! I just found out it’s wrong today. I’d never heard it any other way, and I live on an archipelago.

  • Lydia

    I am US and I originally learned archipelago as ar-chee-puh-LAY-go… I think that was wrong. Ar-ki-PEL-a-go seems right to me now.

    “Keep/stay in touch” is right. It’s like a “take care” kind of departing salutation. I can’t think of a way to use “keep ME in touch.” Keep me updated/posted would be better, but that’s more for near-to-date plans or ongoing situations.