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Orally Aural. Oh Really?

I suppose these questions are frequently preceded by an argument between one regarded as a pedant and another who is one secretly. I’m the pedant. Are these words pronounced so similarly as to be only identifiable by their context? For instance ‘a dentist works orally’ or ‘I am to give an oral presentation.’ This can lead to ambiguity (if they are pronounced the same): ‘I can only learn a language aurally/orally.’

  • September 18, 2007
  • Posted by ben
  • Filed in Misc

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It depends who you're talking to. In my experience, British English has ORALLY and AURALLY pronounced exactly the same. Elsewhere, I have heard the AU of AURALLY pronounced OW.

dave September 19, 2007, 1:59am

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It may not be correct, but I pronounce them differently. I would pronounce aurally almost like "ARE-aly," though not as strong. Visually, the "au" seems softer than the "o" in orally. Could be that I'm just strange . . .

Jason September 19, 2007, 7:18am

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They are most often pronounced the same. (See earlier Harvard studies of regional US pronunciations, apparently no longer on the web where I used to find them.)

Janet September 20, 2007, 3:34am

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I have generally heard them pronounced identically and it has troubled me, though not nearly as much as the sound-alikes "diarrhetic" and "diuretic," which, given a certain context, could result in a horrible misunderstanding.

Drew September 21, 2007, 8:01am

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This is one instance that Australian English differs from English from England - as a Nurse these terms are fairly commonplace in my vocabulary, and I hear my English colleagues pronounce them identically. In Australian pronunciation, it is 'oh-rally' (orally) and 'owr-ally' (aurally). this is quite important when telling someone how to take a medication.... :)

justine September 29, 2007, 8:29pm

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How in California, I don't know that I've heard anyone who pronounced the two identically. I certainly differentiate between the two, but I do recognize the similarity and often find myself attempting to make up for it by overemphasizing the "awr" (or the "ôr" for our pedantic topic starter) in aural.

deric September 30, 2007, 8:24pm

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I've never heard them pronounced differently (to give the Canadian perspective.) I only wish people would pronounce them differently than my name!

orlee October 2, 2007, 6:27am

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Imagine my surprise when I checked the dictionary and found that they are usually pronounced the same. The only difference I found listed was that some pronounce oral as oh-ral (1st syllable rhymes with "owe", something which I almost never hear, by the way).

Like some others above, I, too, emphasize the aw- more in aural. I actually use a vowel sound half-way between aw- and ah- for aural. Mind you, I'm not saying this is correct. I wonder whether this is a regional thing, maybe an older pronunciation, or just my own affectation (one shared by at least a few).

porsche October 3, 2007, 10:30am

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I live in Oregon of the United States and I have never heard these two words pronounced the same. Aural is always spoken with an and ah- sound, where oral is pronounced with an oh-. But then, I do not hear these words spoken very often, so I may be going on this from a very small group of people.

Yellow Archer October 9, 2007, 11:57pm

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Another Aussie perspective, and from one who works in the Health industry as well, is that the 'o' in orally is pronounced as in 'got' and that the 'au' in aurally is pronounced 'or'. To mirror my fellow Australian, justines' comment, this could indeed be potentially embarrassing when prescribing medicine intake!

cdundurrigo October 11, 2007, 11:08pm

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I'm with Cascader, offering the Kiwi perspective. I feel the words should be pronounced differently. In NZ they are.

makkawhiteman October 14, 2007, 5:20pm

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cascader, did you say the opposite of what you meant? I've always heard and said aural as ah- and oral as or-

Anonymous October 15, 2007, 10:51am

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I'm with Jason on this one. I pronounce them differently; ARE-aly and an "o" in orally.

Slade October 15, 2007, 2:00pm

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Cascader is using the Australian pronunciation - I agree with his/her description of how we pronounce the words. The American pronunciation is quite different.

justine October 17, 2007, 9:26pm

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orly? yarly. no wai!!1

sorry. I couldn't resist.

AO April 10, 2008, 3:30am

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You can always send off for the free booklet on how to get round homophones in the English language. This delightful little vignette describes practical ways of pronouncing words that sound the same so you never get confused between boy and buoy, aural and oral, and free and three.

The booklet is absolutely free. Send an SAE to:
Mr Kenneth Cymbalta Haynes
Cytanog, 17 Parva Springs,
Tintern Parva, Monmouthshire NP16 6TT, UK

medphilips December 29, 2008, 6:29am

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I don;'t know if this is a regional thing or not but I am from the UK (West Midlands) and have always pronounced orally 'ore-ally' and aur'ally as is in 'ow, that hurt!-ally'. My partner has just stopped me in my tracks and told me I'm wrong but I'm usually right, so stuff him.

palaceuk May 31, 2012, 2:35pm

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Medphilips. The booklet may be free but contains one error already; "three' and "free" are not homophones as they both begin with different phonemes.I haven't got a phonemic alphabet font but the Greek one will suffice. 'th' is shown as /θ/ and 'f' as /φ/.
There can be no confusion whatsoever.

Robert Harrison April 10, 2013, 12:11am

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We British pronounce them the same. Americans say 'au' differently from us. To a Brit the American 'au' sounds like 'ah'.
The Australian 'owrally' is impossible...

Skeeter Lewis April 10, 2013, 9:29pm

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Skeeter. What a ridiculous generalisation; given the many different regional accents that exist in both countries. As for 'owrally' being impossible?? I would imagine that the majority of people in English-speaking countries would have no problem at all in pronouncing it (whether you mean 'ow' as in 'ouch' or as in 'blow'). Either would present no difficulties at all that I can foresee.

Robert Harrison April 11, 2013, 12:24am

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Robert: yes, there are many regional accents but I was assuming standard pronunciation for both the UK and US.
As for 'owrally' I was imagining a rhyme with 'cow' (see palaceuk) but even a rhyme with 'blow' would be odd.
Perhaps Aussies could clarify.

Skeeter Lewis April 11, 2013, 4:52am

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Fair play Skeeter. I am unaware of Standard Pronunciation in American English ( not saying it doesn't exist). RP or Standard Pronunciation certainly does in English as I'm sure you're away. I'm not really certain as I'm really just re-hashing some stuff I did years ago in Linguistics. Seeing if I can still remember it. Not really a pedant,I just get bored at times and look around for answers to things that puzzle me. Hence the hunt for an answer to the Oral/Aural dilemma. I seem to remember that in Latin it would definitely be OWral as in "ouch" or 'Gaudete'.

Robert Harrison April 11, 2013, 6:10am

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Yes     No