2017 – Twenty seventeen

A notable feature of confusion in the English language over the past generation or more has been the pronunciation of years in the 21st century. Did the London Olympics occur in twenty-twelve or two-thousand-and-twelve?!

Interestingly, there is less doubt as to the long-term answer to this than the short-term. In the short term, the tendency was to carry over the tendency from the first decade of referring to, for example, the Beijing Olympics of “two thousand and eight”. Thus, even the Rio Games were, for some, in “two thousand and sixteen”. There is a certain logic to this – “2016” is so pronounced otherwise, and most other languages of which we are aware (admittedly those more distant linguistic cousins of Latin rather than Germanic origin) make no distinction between the pronunciation of years and the pronunciation of numbers in general.

However, the long term trend in English is towards first two digits followed by final two digits pronounced as separate numbers. This year will, a generation from now, always be pronounced “twenty sixteen”. This tendency will work backwards too; 2012 will almost certainly come universally to be “twenty twelve” within the next few years. In fact it is not impossible that, in the second half of this century when it is out of living memory for most, even 2008 will come to be “twenty oh eight”, although this is less predictable.

The same did not quite apply in the 20th century, but there is a slight parallel. At the time, the years of the Edwardian era were lengthened by many speakers so that, for example, by maternal grandfather was born in what was often pronounced at the time as “nineteen hundred and six”, even occasionally “nineteen and six”. It was only later that “nineteen oh six” became universal.

Perhaps because of the extra syllable, next year will come even in its own time to be almost universally “twenty seventeen”, and it is this which will see previous years gradually re-pronounced by analogy (a significant aspect of linguistic change which is still very much apparent).

So, Happy New Year and wishing readers a very prosperous twenty seventeen!



2 thoughts on “2017 – Twenty seventeen

  1. Iain McKerrow says:

    Thanks for another very interesting article (as usual) and best wishes for 2017!

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