152: 's-c-h' and the word 'schedule'

An American/British difference and a Greek history.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 152nd episode.

This podcast uses some upper-level English, so reading along with the transcripts may help your comprehension of the topic. You can find the transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

I've been receiving a lot of requests lately for more podcasts highlighting differences between British English and American English. So today I thought I'd talk about the word schedule which is pronounced as sh-schedule in British English. Also I'll discuss the more general s-c-h pronunciation pattern.

The word schedule has an interesting history. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this word points all the way back to Greek about 2500 years ago, give or take a few hundred years. Then the word traveled through a couple of versions of Latin, then into Old French, and finally, in the late fourteenth century, into English.

That tour through Old French is probably what created the sh-schedule pronunciation that the British still use. I've done podcasts before about words in English that have retained their French influence in their English pronunciation. This includes words like cafe and ballet. However, it's unusual that the word sh-schedule, using the British pronunciation, held on to the French influence. This is because words that are older than the seventeenth century usually fit into modern spelling and pronunciation patterns. The modern pattern is that words that are spelled s-c-h are pronounced (s sound+k sound), especially if they came from Greek. This includes words like school, scholar, scheme, and schematic.

The Online Etymology Dictionary credits Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, for updating, or at least solidifying, the pronunciation of schedule in the United States. Apparently he thought the pronunciation of the word should reflect its Greek roots, and not the pass through French that the British still hold today. This gave us two different pronunciations for the same word. Now, let me say that both pronunciations are correct. It just depends on which continent you're on.

I don't think that our friend Mr. Webster was trying to confuse future English learners of the world by putting the word schedule into the dictionary with the (s sound+k sound) pronunciation. I think that he was simply trying to help English become more regular by matching it with its cousins who also migrated linguistically from Greek. Undoubtedly, some parts of English would be easier to learn if we didn't have Webster's influence causing a greater schism between Englishes. Hmm, schism, now there's an interesting s-c-h word. I'll let you do the research on that one if you want to.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening.