01 July 2007

Phonetics of Evo-Devo

While listening to this week's NY Times Science Times podcast earlier today, it occurred to me (being unable to turn off the pedant module in my brain) that it is strange that this week's topic - evo-devo - is pronounced eevo-deevo ['i:vəʊ 'di:vəʊ] rather than evo-devo ['εvəʊ 'dεvəʊ]. In other words, even though evolution and development are both pronounced with an open ('short') e sound in U.S. English, somehow the es have become close ('long') in evo-devo. Even in (Southern Standard) British English, only evolution (and not development) has an initial close e.

To be fair, ['εvəʊ 'dεvəʊ] doesn't sound great but it did occur to me that creationists may have wished to promote the eevo-deevo pronunication because eevo is almost homophonous with evil. Then again, devo (with an open e) sounds quite a lot like devil, so this theory probably isn't very sound.

Another linguistically interesting point is the use of the suffix -o after the shortened form of development, which is a very Gallic form of clipping (intello (intellectual), sciences po (political science), etc.). I suppose that in this case, the desire to create a catchy name for the field (provided by the repeated sounds) overcame the rules for word truncation.

In any case, whether it should be pronounced evil-devo or evo-devil, the podcast and special issue of the NY Times were both very interesting.

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