It’s elementary…or is it pronounced elementary?

Pop quiz:

How do you say the word elementary?

If you’re like most Americans, you pronounce it like documentary or complimentary just like Merriam-Webster suggests.

But here in Upstate NY, people pronounce it differently. In Upstate, elementary rhymes with fragmentary. The emphasis is on the wrong syllable (the penultimate one in case you pronounce the other words differently, too).

This regional dialect seems to be largely overlooked by the many regional dialect maps. As far as I can tell, there’s one working paper that explores this odd pronunciation for elementary (it does reference a couple of other studies). All Over Albany made a brief reference to this odd pronunciation, and the Central New York Wiki page refers back to the same working paper.

I haven’t noticed too much of an accent for the Albany area (aside from the airport, of course), but the working paper from U Penn sums up the importance of elementary’s pronunciation:

[The pronunciation of elementary’s] overall distribution is shaped by overt regional
boundaries and communication patterns. The stressed-penult -méntàry pronunciation, therefore,
can be seen as a unifying linguistic feature of Upstate New York.

So, how do you say it? If you’re from Upstate, you probably pronounce it differently from everyone else. It certainly drives me crazy.

3 thoughts on “It’s elementary…or is it pronounced elementary?”

  1. Add me to the “drives me crazy” train! I’ve lived in the DC area almost all my life. My wife is from the 1000 Islands region. First time I met her family, I thought her brothers had a speech impediment. My wife got her BA and Masters degree DOWNstate, so no penult in her speech. After we were married, she suggested we move back to where her family lives.

    I’m also gonna fight this dialect. My daughter will NOT refer to her school as Guardino elemenTARY! On a side note, I wish my wife and I still lived in Northern Va. Four years of these merciless North Country winters make me homesick!

  2. I have been living north of Albany for almost twenty years and I still laugh (silently, to myself) on how they pronouce elementary. Don’t they hear the word pronouced on TV, radio, and by the hundreds of others who move into the area. There are other words said differently, but like water, but elementary is the most noticeable.

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