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How to Say: Economics

08:24 UK time, Wednesday, 5 August 2009

An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

People often want to know how "economic" should be pronounced - a question most recently asked by Monitor letter writer Sheelagh Robertson of West Yorkshire. Is the initial "e" pronounced as -ee (ee-kuh-NOM-ick) or as -e (eck-uh-NOM-ick)?

The word "economic" is related to the Modern Greek oikonomikos (= "economic") which is derived from the Ancient Greek words oikos = "house" and nemein = "manage". In Ancient Greece, the word oikos would have sounded a bit like OY-koss (-oy as in boy; stressed syllables appear in capitals) but the "oi" vowel combination underwent a sound change and, in Modern Greek, it is pronounced as -ee (as in street). The Modern Greek words oikonomikos and oikonomia (= "economy") are therefore pronounced ee-kon-om-ee-KOSS and ee-kon-om-EE-uh respectively.

In English, both ee-kuh-NOM-ick and eck-uh-NOM-ick are heard and both are listed in English pronunciation dictionaries and the OED - but if you want to know which pronunciation is more commonly used by British English speakers, the phonetician and author of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, Professor J.C. Wells, conducted a poll of speakers of all ages and found that 62% of speakers preferred ee-kuh-NOM-ick, while 38% pronounced it as eck-uh-NOM-ick.

To download the BBC Pronunciation Unit's guide to text spelling, click here.

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