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?

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.