American English Pronunciation: February and Colonel

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Dear February,

I’m in need of an R, and you don’t seem to be using yours.
May i borrow it?

Sincerely,
Colonel

Confused? Well, don’t be. Let me explain it to you.

The common pronunciation for most Americans is /ˈfe-byə-ˌwer-ē/. The first r in Feb(r)uary is dropped. They simply don’t like to have two r’s so close to each other. It’s called dissimilation in linguistics where we lose one sound because another of the same sound is too close to it.

The word colonel is pronounced /ˈkər-nəl/. It was taken from the Italian word colonnello. In translation from Italian to French, the word got corrupted from colonello to coronel. The British took the word from the French and then later slurred down to kernel, but using the same spelling coronel.

By the end of the 16th Century, scholars changed the spelling back to its Italian origin. After a while, the scholars decided that the word would be spelled colonel, but that the proper pronunciation would be kernel because at the time, most poor people were illiterate. They had learned the word orally, and didn’t know that the spelling of the word had changed.

So there you go! Feb-yoo-air-ee and kernel.

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