Accidently vs. accidentally

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Syzygys, Apr 4, 2012.

  1. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    OK, which one is better or more correct or is there any difference? I guess shorter is the better...
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  3. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    I was taught that it should be "accidentally", but I think both are now accepted.

    "Accidentally" is an adverb - and in English I think most adverbs are formed from the corresponding adjective, especially where the origin is a noun.
    There are exceptions (this is English after all) but I understand this to be the general rule.

    "Accident" is a noun, "accidental" is the adjective. Hence the adverb should be "accidentally".

    Similarly "pivot", "pivotal" and "pivotally".

    But "accidently" is becoming more accepted... but I still flinch when I see it written... as it just strikes me as wrong, even if it is accepted.

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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    "Accidentally" is the proper spelling. You should use this in your writing. "Accidently" is acceptable in informal writing even though it's wrong. But you need to establish good habits so you should stick with the correct version. If you write a paper for school or a document for business, "accidently" will not be accepted.

    The reason "accidently" has become popular is that many people pronounce the word that way. As I explained in another post, in casual American speech the combination NT between two vowels is usually reduced to just N. So I, for example, say "ak-si-DEH-nil-lee."

    But the British do not elide that T, and instead they tend to elide unstressed vowels. So they say "ak-si-DEN-til-lee," and that fourth syllable is compressed so it comes out "ak-si-DEN-t'lee." This sounds like it should be spelled "accidently."
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  7. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

    Evolution and the Utility of Language

    I think it is wrong.

    Many will remind that language is dynamic and constantly evolving, but what does "evolving" mean in this context?

    Does evolution naturally favor the erroneous and weak?

    If the language "evolves" in a way that makes communication more difficult, is it really evolving?

    I think it is fair to say that some things evolve "the way of the dodo".

    But I don't see the degradation of communication skills, including spelling and grammar, in a society as a positive evolution. It seems regressive in undermining the communicative utility of language by favoring the erroneous and ignorant.

    Maybe it's just me, but yeah, I believe (1) that American English is changing in order to accommodate the erroneous, and (2) such changes are degrading the utility of language, and therefore harmful to society and the species.
  8. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    Thanks for everyone for the contributions. I used the longer version, and as it seems, it was the correct one although personally I prefer the short version...
  9. Epictetus here & now Registered Senior Member

    Personally or personly? :bugeye:
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    "Evolve" means, basically, "change." In biology it is assumed to be an adaptive change, resulting in a new type of organism that is somewhat better adapted for survival in its environment. In language it means pretty much the same thing.

    Notice that Standard British English is spoken much more quickly than Standard American, and one of the ways they get more words per minute, without simply talking at machine-gun speed like the Spaniards and Italians, is elision. They compress unaccented vowels out of their words so that a word that has four syllables in our dialect, such as "peremptory," has only two in theirs: "premptry."

    We do this too, just not to the same extent. A perfect example is the way many Americans pronounce the five-syllable word "accidentally" as a four-syllable word, "accidently." To spell it that way is, to be sure, a lapse in scholarship, but it is also a more accurate phonetic transcription of the word.

    English spelling hasn't been reformed in centuries: this is why we still have the silent GH in "through" and the silent K in "knock." Almost every other European language underwent reform so that its written words are at least recognizable, if not faithful transcriptions of speech. (French, obviously, is the other exception, explaining why moi is pronounced MWA instead of MOY.)

    So it's difficult to rail at anyone about bad spelling without looking like a complete pedantic buffoon. The obvious retort is, "What makes this stupid crap 'good' spelling? It would get you thrown in jail in Germany."
    Our spelling is already erroneous and weak. Perhaps if it becomes even more so, our people will finally demand the reform that's half a millennium overdue. Why should we be so smug about every vowel having at least three different ways to be read? Why does every word we borrow from a foreign language retain its original spelling instead of being anglicized?
    No. So please explain why you think that spelling "accidently" with slightly more phonetic precision than the traditional way makes communication more difficult? In 50 years everybody will pronounce it that way, whether we change the spelling or not.

    What makes communication in written English more difficult is, precisely, our iditioc spelling. The Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Czechs and many other influential Europeans modernized their spelling systems in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Turks even dumped the Arabic abjad and replaced it with the Roman alphabet! All of their languages are much easier to read than English and French.
    I've already dismissed with great prejudice your rant about spelling. Come to me with a decent spelling system and we'll talk. As for grammar, grammar evolves as civilization evolves. We don't have grammatical cases like the Germans any more, because we don't need them.

    It can be argued that we don't need genders any more either, and could get by with a totally gender-less grammar like Chinese. We spend more time trying to figure out how to get around the he/she problem than it's worth. The Chinese never have to think about it.

    How about the subjunctive? Are you one of the sixteen Americans who faithfully say, "If John were here he would know what to do," instead of, "If John was here"? And if so, what the hell does it matter?

    Do you say, "A series of tests was performed," as I directed a colleague recently who was writing a paper for publication, or "A series of tests were performed," like most Americans (and apparently people in other anglophone countries like my colleague)? Again, why does it matter?
    You sound more like my mother in 1954 every day.

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    English is the most powerful, versatile language on earth. It changes as it needs to change. For every idiosyncrasy you find objectionable, there is an entire new facility that strengthens our language, such as the noun-adjective compound like fuel-efficient or labor-intensive, which was virtually unheard-of a century ago.

    You have a long way to go to prove that any of these things you complain about actually impair communication or impede the advance of civilization. If you want to zero in on rap lyrics or something like that, you also have to limit yourself to the milieu in which those lyrics are used. People who would speak that way in the larger community are either being deliberately offensive or have been so poorly educated that they don't understand the problem. But that's not an issue for the anglophone community as a whole, or even the community of speakers of Standard American.

    Chinese is a close second, but until they dump the 70,000 logograms for a phonetic writing system it will never be first. That must wait another couple of generations until everyone speaks Mandarin, so they will all pronounce their words the same way.

    Why don't you pick a linguistic issue that is actually causing communication problems in America, such as scientists' haphazard use of the word "theory?" They expect people to understand that the Theory of Evolution is the closest thing to a fact that has ever been discovered by science, but then they turn around and use the term String Theory to describe an interesting hypothesis that is half speculation and half arm-waving.
    "Accidently" is in the dictionary. (Don't tell Tiassa or he'll have a heart attack.) "Personly" is not. The difference is that a lot of Americans pronounce the word "accidentally" that way. Not very many of us elide the A in "personally."

    BTW, as I mentioned earlier, those of us who do not use that pronunciation of "accidentally" almost always say "accidennally" except when emphasizing it. I proudly point out that this pronunciation follows the American tradition of maintaining all five syllables and making our speech slower. The other way reduces it to four syllables, in the British tradition of faster speech.
  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Is it? I'm not disagreeing, I just wasn't aware that this was the case.
    I know there are some stereotypes we have of the Southern American drawl... and that is rather slow... but I'm not aware that such was across the spectrum.

    Hmmm. I think this is a tendency rather than the rule. It is becoming more common, but to me (at least) it still smacks laziness and uncouth speech.
    Plus, the majority of British speakers wouldn't have a clue as to what the word meant, let alone use it.
    That word, to me, has, and always will have, four syllables... Per-EMP-tor-ee

    No, the accurate phonetic transcription is still with 5 syllables.
    You can't... or probably the correct term is shouldn't... excuse poor spelling because of poor pronunciation.

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    Except for all the accents they decide to put on their vowels, you mean, that change their pronunciation?

    Yes, English is a ****ed-up language with regard rules and links between spelling and pronunciation, not to mention context-specific pronunciation of the same spelling:
    "The police were close so he decided to close the door."
    "The oarsmen had a row about how they should row."
    "He took the lead in the race when he took the lead out of his backpack."
    "He was told to read the book, and when he had read it he wished he hadn't."
    "In one minute he had dissected the item into minute pieces".
    And so on.

    And why do we not pronounce "-ough" the same way...
    Cough (-off)
    Rough (-uff)
    Through (-oo)
    Thorough (-uh)

    When we think we have had a thought, but when we stink do we have a stought, and does one drink lead to a drought?
    And why do we drink a drink, but not think a think?
    There are too many oddities to even brush the surface here.

    Indeed - I agree with your argument, but I do hold to Tiassa's sentiment.

    In a way the spelling of a word is a mixture of phonetics and form.
    E.g. the word accidentally is spelled that way due to form... it is derived from a noun (accident) that spawned an adjective (accidental) and then adverb (accidentally).
    Phonetically it is (despite me clearly flinching to show my discomfort) being compressed to "accidently" - and soon possibly the "t" will become silent.

    And at the moment it is phonetics winning the battle, for better or for worse is a matter of opinion - but it begins to erode the intellectual pedestal some of us (sub)consciously have built for ourselves by having what we (at least) consider a superior understanding of the language we speak / write.

    It may not matter any more than understanding or appreciating the etymology of words, and the Latin or Greek languages. It becomes an intellectual position (I don't mean a position from which to demonstrate one's intellect but one of the intellect) that one is loathe, or unable, to relinquish.

    Of course.

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    Hmmm. That irks even the scientists not involved with String Theory. But it sounds better and more serious than String Guesswork.

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    Maybe in the US you avoid the "T", but in the UK the "T" is more often kept, whichever version one uses.
    Those of us who still cling to the Queen's English (but nowhere near as clipped) still pronounce all 5 syllables, "T" included. Some see it as a sign of "education", so who am I to persuade them otherwise. )
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Well we have a spectrum of accents like you do. People in the South and the West (not extending to the West Coast, which is a different demographic) talk a little slower than the rest of us, and people in Northeastern cities (New York etc.) talk fast enough that you wouldn't notice the difference. Obviously you have a spectrum too. Since you still have true regional dialects rather than mere accents, which most of our dialects have been reduced to under the influence of radio and TV, regional differences are much more pronounced in the UK than in the US. I would say that RP is spoken at a moderate clip to add gravitas to the news, and I would say the same about the actors in your movies and TV shows: first the hybrid Hollywood-Manhattan "media dialect" leveled regional differences in the USA and now it's merging with yours to create a sort of International English. But when I hear your average citizens speak, especially the Londoners, it seems like their pace is measurably faster than ours.
    There are no rules in English, even in your country where rules come into existence by consensus and are enforced by tradition. One generation's laziness and uncouthness is the next generation's standard. Over here we're grappling with "snuck" for "sneaked," "dove" for "dived," "to lay" for "to lie," "between you and I," resurrection of the silent T in "often," spurious pronunciation of the first C in "artic" which has been silent since before we even appropriated the word from the French, and a zillion other neologisms, many of which are already in the dictionary.

    This is how languages evolve. Changes like these don't appear to add any value, except that they make the language a bit easier to use. This is exactly why our ancestors stopped declining their nouns for nominative/genitive/dative/accusative. I'm sure at the time the elders thought the world was coming to an end, but we benefit by not having to memorize entire tables of inflected endings like the Russians do.
    Well so I picked a word that isn't as common on your side of the Whaleroad. How about "extraordinary"? Some of your countrymen can almost reduce that to two syllables. We pronounce six.
    An "accurate" phonetic transcription is a rendition of the way the word is actually pronounced, not the way it was pronounced by our grandparents. A large number of Americans pronounce the word as "accidently." As I have repeatedly reminded everyone, English is a democratic language rather than an authoritarian one, so it is the common folk who make the rules, not the government, the schools, or some self-appointed academy. If there is any institution that has a measurable influence on our language, it is the press, and at least in my country they strive to record the vernacular because their primary goal is to be understood.
    "Poor pronunciation" is idiolectal: one person pronouncing a word differently from his peer group. If an entire community (region, class, profession, generation, ethnicity, etc.) changes the pronunciation of a word then it is dialectal and is longer "poor." (If you're about to argue, review my comment on English as a democratic language.)

    Our language underwent the Great Vowel Shift in the 1400s-1500s. This is why our long A and E are pronounced the way almost every other language pronounces their long E and I. So is the way we pronounce our words today "poor pronunciation," or just "Modern English"? Would you have been kicking and screaming at your countrymen 500 years ago and admonishing them to stop ruining their language? The language that came to be known as "the language of Shakespeare"?

    What would you have done in the centuries after the decline of the Roman Empire, when Latin underwent tremendous changes--but different changes in each region--and ended up being Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, French, Occitan, Italian, Sicilian, Sardinian, Romansh, Romanian, etc.? Are all those languages simply "Latin with poor pronunciation"? Not to mention poor grammar?
    Actually the diacritical marks are one of the most regular aspects of French orthography. If you see a vowel with an accent ague, accent grave, circumflex, diaresis, etc., you know how to pronounce it. The real problem with French spelling is that one-third of the letters in every word are silent--and you have no way to decide which ones!
    The GH digraph used to be CH and was pronounced like German CH, Spanish J, Greek X, Russian transliterated KH, etc. I think it gradually softened into a voiced velar fricative, a sound that tends to attenuate over time in most languages (e.g., Hebrew) and vanish completely. But the vowels whose shape were influenced by its proximity and its impact on the shaping of the vocal organs retain their new pronunciation.
    In America that second syllable rhymes with "slow." One of the many little ways we slow down our pronunciation.

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    It was originally thinkhan/thankhte. The N before a voiceless consonant vanished in many words: "tithe" is really "tenth," "tooth" is really "tonth" (cf. German zahn, Latin dentis, Greek odonto-, etc.
    Only in America where we save all five vowels and reduce it to "accidennally." This is a phenomenon I have remarked on before: Wannabe, gonna, Atlanna, innernational. Your people (and many Americans) more customarily elide the fifth vowel so the T is safe. We Americans are more likely to turn that T into a glottal stop (like Cockney wa'er for water) so it may come out acciden'ly.
    I think it's more important to understand the language that other people speak and write.

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    There's nothing wrong with understanding etymology. It's a great help in learning new words.
    What's wrong with "the String Hypothesis"?
    We lose our T's often. The reduction of intervocalic T and D to a flap (the intervocalic R of RP or the R of Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and a thousand other languages) is a hallmark of the American dialect: leader and liter are homophones here.
    I think you're referring to RP, or what Americans refer to as Oxford English or BBC English. Listen to a recording of the Queen's speeches back when she was first crowned, and you'll be amazed at how differently she sounds today. RP is evolving, just like all languages do!
  13. Buddha12 Valued Senior Member

    Which ever one makes you think it is correct for they both have a place when used properly when writing.
  14. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Thanks, Fraggle - all good stuff to take in.
    As said, I have no intellectual issue with the development of language - spoken or written - but at an emotional level I like my self-constructed pedestal.

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    Now, if only we can stop "Americanisms" drifting into our language!

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    Just one thing, though...
    In scientific usage, an hypothesis needs to be both testable and falsifiable.
    It is still questionable whether "String Theory" meets either of these.
    So it is a far cry from being a theory... which is a generally accepted hypothesis.
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Then perhaps the String Model.

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