April 4, 2012

Pronouncing "permit"

Here's something that makes my skin crawl.  I have noticed many people pronouncing the noun "permit" with the stress on the second syllable, /per-MIT/: "Can I get a per-MIT to do this?"  I believe that it's /PER-mit/ and dictionaries agree with me, although some list /per-MIT/ as a secondary pronunciation.  Everyone thinks the verb is the one pronounced /per-MIT/.  So saying "the city gave me a /per-MIT/" sounds wrong.

A change in stress occurs in other noun-verb homographs--compare the noun /PRO-duce/ to the verb /pro-DUCE/.   As with "produce," the noun usually stresses the first syllable, and the verb the second syllable.  Here's a good list. This change in stress carries over to the nominalized form of the verb--/pro-DUC-tion/ is a noun that comes from the /pro-DUCE/, not the verb noun /PRO-duce/.  Whence we get second syllable stresses in /per-MIT-ting/ and in /per-MIS-sion/, the noun form of the verb /per-MIT/.

Curiously, there seems to be another series.  A government's procedure for issuing a (noun) /PER-mit/ is called the /PER-mitting/ process; in making a verbal gerund out of the noun, it ignores the second-syllable stress the verb typically gets.   So we now have /PER-mitting/ as well as /per-MIT-ting/.

Of course, this latter series won't exist if you pronounce the noun /per-MIT/.  By the way, I can't tell if per-MIT is a regionalism, and I've exhausted the dictionaries on the reference shelf at the New York Public Library.