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Arts & Life

Doing the research on 'research'

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University of Michigan English professor Anne Curzan has been feeling a little self-conscious lately.

Curzan was recently talking with some of her students about how much research had been done on a particular topic, when one student raised her hand and asked about her pronunciation of a particular word.

Keep in mind, this was a linguistics class, and Curzan tends to instill in her students a super-sensitivity to the various quirks of our language.  

The student said she'd noticed that Curzan pronounces "research" with the emphasis on the second syllable. She said she only hears that pronunciation in academic settings. 

Curzan had never thought about it before, so she turned to the class and said, "How many of you put the stress on the first syllable, 'RE-search'?"

Every student in the class raised their hand.

Curzan, who says she actually pronounces "research" both ways, decided to see what the Oxford-English Dictionary had to say on the matter. The OED distinguishes "re-SEARCH" as the British pronunciation, while American English uses both.

She decided to discuss the matter with her colleagues. They agreed that putting the stress on second syllable is a pretty academic pronunciation, while the other pronunciation is much more colloquial.

"[That] makes me self-conscious, because I don't know that I want to use a sort of academically-stylized pronunciation," Curzan said. 

Of course, Curzan decided that if she had to feel self-conscious about her pronunciation, it was only right that others feel self-conscious too. Thus, this week's topic.

What about you? Do you put the stress on the first or second syllable of research, or do you say it both ways? Bonus question, do you work in an academic setting?

Let us know at acurzan@umich.edu or rkruth@umich.edu.

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