Cervical (pronunciation)

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The 1889 edition of OED records two pronunciations of the word cervical. (This term, mostly anatomical, means 'to do with a neck'. It was originally the connection between the head and the body, and the cervical vertebrae are still the seven at the top of the spine. It is extended to other neck-like structures, most commonly the opening of the uterus or womb: cervical cancer being a scourge of the female population.)

  • The first pronunciation, traditional in British academic circles, has the stress on the first syllable. The vowel of the second syllable is the 'short' '-i-' of 'it' and 'is'. So the whole sounds like 'SERR-vick-el' (IPA: /'sər vik əl/). This pronunciation is said by LPD to be less common than the second, although it is the commoner in the United States.
  • In the second pronunciation, the stress is on the second syllable, which has the diphthong or vowel sound of 'eye' and 'I': 'ser-VAIK-el', IPA: /sər 'vaɪ kəl/. (This pronunciation follows the spelling pattern of 'vital' and 'viral'.)
AWE prefers the first pronunciation, although it is now in the minority. This is mainly because of the traditional and conservationist tendencies of all usage guides. Both pronunciations appear to reflect the original Latin cervicis (base form cervix) in different ways. The middle vowel was long, which suggests the stressed 'eye' pronunciation in English. But its quality is likely to have been the '-ee-' sound, which often leads to the short '-i-' sound in English.
If this article is of interest to you, you may also like to see Cerebral (pronunciation) and skeletal.