RIP Prints: the unlikely homophone.


Yesterday saw the announcement of Prints’s death. An artist whose work spanned many genres and was loved the world over. He probably won’t be remembered for his name being a homophone, though.

But ‘Prince’ is, or at least, can be, a homophone. It’s an unusual one too, joining a select group of words (not recording artists) including “chants”, “mints” and at a push “fine ants”.

It all points to this: English speakers don’t tend to pronounce the cluster /ns/ with just the two sounds /n/ and /s/. They tend to put an extra sound in, normally a /t/ or glottal stop /ʔ/. So instead of just saying PRINCE as /prɪns/, they would say /prɪnts/ or /prɪnʔs/.

Why?

Normally the combination of a nasal sound /m,n,ŋ/ followed by /s/ has a voicless plosive in the cluster:

/m/
mumps
wimps
glimps

/ŋ/
thinks
banks
conks

/n/
wants
agents
accents

There is no voiceless consonant in the Latin spelling -nce, but it’s so unusual to English speakers to say it without the voiceless plosive, we put it in, just for good measure. Can you hear the /t/:

compliance
announce
occurence

It should be stressed that we don’t have to say the /t/. But if we do add it, the following are homophones:

chance / chants
mince / mints
prince / prints
finance / fine ants*

*The stress in this would be on ‘ants’ rather than ‘fine’ in most cases though.

So farewell Prints and your unusual homophone of a name, this weekend we will be dancing to your tune.

By | 2016-04-22T10:34:52+00:00 April 22nd, 2016|Pronunciation, Words, Written English|0 Comments

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