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Why is convenient/ce pronounced with a long e? (Sounds like veen to me)

I would expect the ven in convenient to be pronounced as it is in oven , seven, venn diagram, vendor, venison, convent, ventricle, adventure...

I looked at a list of words containing "ven" and the only pattern I recognized where "ven" was not pronounced as "ven", is when the "ven" spans between the base word (usually adjectives) and it's suffix (as in attentiveness)... but maybe that actually has to do with syllables.

So why is convenience pronounced differently?

Surely there is some rule I learned as a kid that I've since forgotten.

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    Oven, seven, venn diagram, and the others words you listed exemplify two different pronunciations of the sequence <ven>, at least in my English. But anyway, looking for logic in English orthography is often a fruitless exercise. So can you make this on-topic in some way? I'm not sure how to link this to linguistics. – Wilson Sep 6 at 12:58
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    If you are pronouncing the 'ven' in oven and seven like the 'ven' in vendor and venison, then you are pronouncing at least two of them wrong. Oven and seven have unstressed [vən] or [vn̩], while vendor and venison have stressed [vɛn]. If you're not familiar with phonetics, you might be fooling yourself into believing they are both pronounced the same, but listen closely. – Mark Beadles Sep 6 at 16:54
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    To the close-voters: yes, this question is language-specific, but it certainly isn't about grammar or usage. I think we've collectively gotten far too trigger-happy about that close reason. – Draconis Sep 6 at 17:27
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    THe interesting question is why trisyllabic laxing doesn't apply. – Colin Fine Sep 6 at 19:04
  • @ColinFine: It has been argued that "trisyllabic laxing" is not a rule per se, but instead merely what happens when no lengthening process applies to a vowel. Accounts that do treat "trisyllabic laxing" as a real process would just have to specify that it doesn't apply in the more restricted environment that I discuss in my answer. – sumelic Sep 6 at 19:44
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The pronunciation of the first E in convenient follows a spelling/sound pattern that arose from a sound change that apparently occurred in Middle English.

The Oxford English Dictionary's first citation for this word is from "c1374":

G. Chaucer tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. iii. xi. 97 Nature yeueth to euery thing þat þat is conuenient to hym.

Its etymology is given as a borrowing from Latin.

The sound change

During the Middle English period, it seems that when an "a", "e" or "o" sound was followed by a single consonant, and then an unstressed "e" or "i" sound, and then another vowel (this is a type of sequence that did not occur in native English words, but that did occur in many borrowed words), it was regular for the "a/e/o" to be lengthened. Lengthening also applied to "a/e/o" when they were followed by a single consonant and then a schwa. The word-final schwas of Middle English ended up being lost, while an "e/i" before another vowel ended up mostly loosing its syllabicity and turning into a palatal glide (/j/). So both of these sound changes can be analyzed as involving a type of "compensatory lengthening": when one syllable is lost, another is lengthened. For some reason, the high front unrounded vowel "i" was in general not subject to compensatory lengthening in either of these contexts. (In words borrowed from French or Latin, the vowel spelled "u", which had already been fronted in French to something like [y], ended up developing in English to the "long u" sound [ju] whenever it came before a single consonant followed by a vowel, regardless of what followed that vowel).

I think that the first place I saw the compensatory lengthening analysis of this sound change was in "The Architecture of the English Lexicon", by Jonathan B. Alcántara, May 1998, section 5.2.2 "Compensatory lengthening within the stem" (p. 5-176). The sound change is mentioned in Otto Jespersen's Modern English Grammar (1954).

None of the other "ven" words that you list have this kind of "veni + a vowel" structure. "Venial" and "Slovenia" are pronounced with a long E. In fact, the preceding v is irrelevant, so you could just as well compare convenient to genius, selenium, senior, lenient, menial or to words with another consonant after the E like medium, premium, tedious, expedient.

I made a post with more details about this sound change (and the corresponding modern English spelling pattern) here: Why is “salient” pronounced with a “long a” sound?

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    "This question is specific enough to English that I imagine it will end up being closed on this site." There are plenty of language-specific questions on this site, which are absolutely on-topic, and this one is more than salvageable. – Wilson Sep 6 at 14:19
  • @Wilson: I don't think this question is off-topic (I answered it, after all), but 3 people have already voted to close it. – sumelic Sep 6 at 14:29
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    I'd vote to send it to English Usage SE, if I could; but that's no longer an option. The question arises from a vast misunderstanding; the OP believes that spelling produces sound, instead of vice versa. If the question had been "Why is 'convenient' spelled that way?" we could answer it; as it is, we have to unteach the standard Anglophone gospel first. – jlawler Sep 6 at 15:21
  • @sumelic I think people have been very heavy-handed with using that "language-specific grammar or usage" reason, perhaps not understanding that it means something has to be "language-specific" and about either grammar or usage. I also think this tendency hasn't been helped by the Slavonic serial asker... Anyway, when I see this reason, I almost systematically vote to keep open, and sometimes point it out in a comment when it's particularly egregious. – LjL Sep 6 at 15:46
  • @jlawler - Sorry I didn't ask my question in a way that accurately conveyed my intent (I don't believe that spelling produces sound). – AncientElevator9 Sep 10 at 9:05
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A stressed vowel is tensed (or lengthened) before consonant, unstressed /i/ and a vowel, and the stressed vowel is vowel-shifted, as a consequence. SPE gives a special rule for this. Besides the /e:/ of convenient, we also get long /e:/ in ethereal, long /o:/ in arboreal, long /u:/ in mercurial. I don't know why it happens.

This SPE rule is apparently the same change as discussed by sumelic in his answer above.

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