Why is “bicycle” pronounced differently from other obviously related words such as unicycle and motorcycle ?

Questions about IELTSWhy is “bicycle” pronounced differently from other obviously related words such as unicycle and motorcycle ?
Huy Quoc Staff asked 1 month ago

Although such variation could be the result of things like when the word was borrowed into the language, this variation is probably due to the prosodic structure of the words; we get different vowel sounds because of the way that stress influences vowel quality in English.

In English, unstressed vowels are generally reduced. Take the word record for example.

  • The noun form takes first syllable stress: [ˈrɛ kɚd]. If you aren’t familiar with IPA, note in particular the [ɛ] vowel and the [ɚ] r-colored schwa vowel. Schwa (and sometimes [ɪ]) is what often shows up in reduced, unstressed vowels in English. Since stress is on the first syllable, we get the r-colored schwa in the second syllable.
  • The verb form takes second syllable stress: [rə ˈkoɹd]. Note that the now-unstressed [ɛ] was reduced to [ə], schwa, while the [ɚ] now retains the full [o] sound (with an [ɹ] “r” after it).

Now for bicycle and unicycle:

  • bicycle [ˈbaɪ sɪ kəl] has primary stress on the first syllable. The “cy” syllable is unstressed, and so it is pronounced as a mere [sɪ] (or even [sə] by some). Note that tricycle has the same stress pattern, and has the same vowel.
  • unicycle [ˈju nɪ ˌsaɪ kəl], being a longer word, has multiple stressed syllables. Primary stress, again, falls on syllable #1, but the important thing is that secondary stress falls on syllable #3, the “cy” syllable. This means that “cy” is pronounced as a full [saɪ] instead of a reduced [sɪ]. Note that motorcycle has the same stress pattern and, again, same vowel.

Main IELTS Pages:

This website is to develop your IELTS skills with tips, model answers, lessons, free books, and more. Each section (Listening, Speaking, Writing, Reading) has a complete collection of lessons to help you improve your IELTS skills.

Get all the latest updates/lessons via email:

Subscribe for free IELTS lessons/Books/Tips/Sample Answers/Advice from our IELTS experts. We help millions of IELTS learners maximize their IELTS scores!

Subscribe to IELTS Material to receive the latest lessons

Did not See What You Were Looking For? - Try Search!

Rate this post

The following two tabs change content below.

Huy Quoc

Latest posts by Huy Quoc (see all)

Welcome to IELTS Material! Check it daily to receive useful IELTS books, practice tests and tips to get high score in IELTS exam

Your Answer

12 + 9 =