Lieutenant pronunciation in The Twilight Zone

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Eebster the Great
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Lieutenant pronunciation in The Twilight Zone

Postby Eebster the Great » Sun Nov 08, 2015 11:29 am UTC

So I am familiar with the standard GA and RP pronunciations of "lieutenant," with the former including an archaic ef sound and the latter replacing it with a semivowel u (or however you express the distinction in precise terms). But internet sources seem to suggest that the American pronunciation is well over a century old, with "LEF-ten-ant" dominating over "LOO-ten-ant" only in the 19th century and earlier. I am almost certain that cannot be right. In The Twilight Zone season 1 episode 18 "The Last Flight," 1959, a pilot from the Royal Flying Core flies from 1917 Britain to then-modern 1959 America. Attention is given to the aircraft, uniform, and mannerisms of the pilot, who would have represented a generation a full 42 years before the airing of the episode. They were not just British but quite obviously outdated for the time. Yet the American Major General pronounces "Lieutenant" with a very clear ef at least three times, suggesting that pronunciation was dominant at least in proper usage of the USAF in 1959. Obviously a TV show is not a great source, but surely if it were unusual the producers, director, and actors all would have noticed the oddity long before airing. If it were anachronistic it would have destroyed the whole theme of the episode.

So did Americans really pronounce "lieutenant" with an ef sound in the late 50s, or was that a holdover only seen in the military?

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gmalivuk
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Re: Lieutenant pronunciation in The Twilight Zone

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Nov 08, 2015 4:03 pm UTC

Does he use that pronunciation when referring to US lieutenants, or only to the British pilot?
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Lazar
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Re: Lieutenant pronunciation in The Twilight Zone

Postby Lazar » Sun Nov 08, 2015 7:20 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:So did Americans really pronounce "lieutenant" with an ef sound in the late 50s, or was that a holdover only seen in the military?

Neither, I'm pretty sure. My guess would be that the American general is just pronouncing it that way as a courtesy to the British guy.
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Eebster the Great
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Re: Lieutenant pronunciation in The Twilight Zone

Postby Eebster the Great » Mon Nov 09, 2015 2:10 am UTC

He uses it in reference to the British lieutenant Decker. It's still pretty strange though.

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Znirk
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Re: Lieutenant pronunciation in The Twilight Zone

Postby Znirk » Mon Nov 09, 2015 8:06 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:So I am familiar with the standard GA and RP pronunciations of "lieutenant," with the former including an archaic ef sound and the latter replacing it with a semivowel u

Just to clarify: Did your "former" and "latter" get mixed up here? You seem to be saying that /lɛfˈtɛnənt/ is the GA version, but the rest of the discussion seems to assume the opposite. (Genuine question here - as an ESL speaker I know both variants, but couldn't place either geographically).

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Eebster the Great
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Re: Lieutenant pronunciation in The Twilight Zone

Postby Eebster the Great » Mon Nov 09, 2015 11:06 am UTC

Yeah I screwed that sentence up. /lɛfˈtɛnənt/ is RP.


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