Definition and Examples of Epenthesis

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In phonology and phonetics, epenthesis is the insertion of an extra sound into a word. Adjective: epenthetic. Verb: epenthesize. Also known as intrusion or anaptyxis.

According to some linguists, "vowel epenthesis is often motivated by the need to make consonant contrasts more distinct" (The Handbook of Speech Perception, 2005).

Etymology: From the Greek, "putting in"

Pronunciation: eh-PEN-the-sis

Examples and Observations

  • "In certain varieties [of English], a vowel breaks up the cluster (epenthesis): film becomes [filəm] in Ireland, Scotland, and South Africa."
    (Elly van Gelderen, A History of the English Language. John Benjamins, 2006)
  • "The history of English provides examples [of epenthesis] like the development of aemtig into empty, with epenthetic p, and of þunor into thunder, with epenthetic d. Non-standard pronunciations include 'athalete' for athlete and 'fillum' for film,' with epenthetic vowels."
    (R.L. Trask, A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology. Routledge, 1996)
  • Fambily for Family
    "She were gentle an' sweet, an' the mos' beautiful creetur in all--in--in the place where we lived. An' her fambily was that proud an' aristocratic thet no one could tech 'em with a ten-foot pole."
    (L. Frank Baum, Aunt Jane's Nieces at Millville, 1908)
  • Athalete for Athlete
    "'That's the thing,' said McCloud plaintively. 'A athalete has to keep up appearances. Sure, people think a athalete makes plenty, and he do on paper. But people never stop to think he's allus gotta keep up a expensive front.'"
    (Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano, 1952)
  • Mischeeveous for Mischievous
    "The pronunciation (mis-chē'vē-ɘs) is considered nonstandard and is an example of intrusion, a phonological process that involves the addition or insertion of an extra sound. Mischievous is properly pronounced with three syllables, with the accent on the first syllable. The word is often misspelled with the suffix -ious, which matches the mispronunciation."
    (American Heritage Dictionaries, 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses. Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, 2004)  
  • Vowels and Consonants
    - "Epenthetic sounds are not always vowels. For example, consider the two indefinite articles a and an. We know that a is used before consonant sounds and an is used before vowel sounds . . .. We may view this [n] as an epenthetic sound that breaks up a sequence of two vowels: a apple - an apple."
    (Anita K. Berry, Linguistic Perspectives on Language and Education. Greenwood, 2002)
  • The Effects of Epenthesis on Spelling
    "Epenthesis occurs frequently, both in legal and in lay language. The addition of an i before the t in speciality is an example. The pronunciation of jewelry as 'jewelery' is a result of epenthesis, as is the pronunciation 'contentuous' for contentious. Other examples of epenthesis: the ubiquitous 'relitor' for realtor and that favorite of sports announcers, 'athalete' for athlete.
    (Gertrude Block, Legal Writing Advice: Questions and Answers. William S. Hein, 2004)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Epenthesis." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Definition and Examples of Epenthesis. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Epenthesis." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 7, 2023).

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