Initials, Acronyms, and Abbreviations
Which letter to stress
Here’s a document version of this newsletter.
Stress Placement in Initials, Acronyms, and Abbreviations
Initials are the first letters of each word in a group of words and you pronounce each letter as if you were spelling it. You’ll see them written with periods (also called “dots”) after the letters to indicate that the single letter is the shortened version of a longer word and you’ll see them without any periods. Both ways are fine, and not using periods is what you’ll see more often in casual writing. If you’re writing an academic paper or manuscript, be sure to check the style manual required for your field.
In general, start with a low pitch and step up in pitch to the last letter. You can say the letters before the final letter with a flat pitch, but need to go up in pitch on the final letter to fit the pattern the American English listener is expecting.
Calvin Klein = C.K. = C_K↗
automatic Bank Teller = ATM = A↗ T↗ M↗ or A_T_M↗
Acronyms use the first letters of the words being represented and instead of pronouncing each letter individually, the letters can be pronounced together like a word. In other varieties, the first syllables of each word is used and sometimes there are combinations of some initials pronounced individually plus some initials pronounced together like a word.
In general, if it’s a two-syllable word, stress is on the first syllable because the initials are representing names of nouns (people, places, things).
National Aeronautics and Space Administration = NASA - pronounced: NA-suh (the final “sa” isn’t stressed so it can change to the schwa “uh” sound)
National Biscuit Co = Nabisco - pronounced: nuh-BIS-ko
Combination of syllable and first letters
Radio Detecting and Ranging = RADAR - pronounced: RAY-dar
Combination of first initial + pronouncing final initials as a word
Medical College Admission Test = MCAT = M-cat - pronounced: EM-kat
“jpeg” is an example of pronouncing the first initial separately from the final initials:
J-peg - pronounced JAY-peg
It is also an example of how acronyms are used as single words so frequently that very few people know what words the shortened version represents. I used “jpeg” for years without knowing that it represents “joint photographic experts group.”
Some cause different opinions on how to pronounce them, such as, “graphics interchange format” = GIF
Do you prefer to pronounce the “G” as a “J” as in “jump”?
Do you prefer to pronounce the “G” as a “G” as in the word it represents, “graphic”
There are times when the letters don’t represent the spelling of the words represented, they represent the sound. When you pronounce the letters you’ll hear the words they represent.
CYA = see ya
CUL8TR = see you later
GR8 = great
Abbreviations are shortened or contracted versions of the full words. In contrast to initials and acronyms that are shortening more than one word, abbreviations are usually shortening just one word. They usually use a period/dot after them to show that they are shortened versions.
doctor = Dr.
appointment = appt.
incorporated = inc.