17 November 2011


How do you pronounce biopic? I always assumed it would be stressed on the second syllable, because it has a final -ic suffix, which generally fixes the stress on the syllable before it. So I assumed it would be pronounced as [baɪˈɒpɪk].

But I was just reading a Language Log posting (here) which discussed the fact that it is actually a blend of biographical + picture, so it should be pronounced as [ˈbaɪəʊpɪk] with the stress falling on the first syllable. And I just confirmed in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary that this is correct.

But, I still wonder. If enough people pronounce it like I do, won't that make it correct? Even if dictionaries list it with the stress on the first syllable, will it eventually change to be stressed on the second syllable?

Other words where this may be happening are rhetoric and Arabic. I have often heard people in Singapore and Brunei placing the stress on the second syllable of these words, because of analogy with all the other words with an -ic suffic (atomic, botanic, bionic, nomadic, phonetic. fanatic, frenetic, nostalgic ....). Maybe one day it will be standard for rhetoric and Arabic similarly to be pronounced with stress on the second syllable.

Another word in this category (though not involving the -ic suffix) is inventory. Traditionally, it was stressed on the first syllable. But how many people still do this? I suspect most people now place the stress on the second syllable, especially in this part of the world. And if that is the way the majority of people say it, who is to say they are wrong?