Why Is Colonel Pronounced As Kernel

Understanding the intricacies of the English language can be a pain in the neck, especially for non-native speakers. From the silent “e” to the anarchic spelling defying the grammar rules can make it challenging to grasp the language in its entirety.

What Does Colonel Mean?

In British English, colonel is a military title given to the highest-ranking leader of an infantry battalion, regiment, brigade, or division.

In American English, a colonel is a military title awarded to the highest-ranking officer in the army, air force, or marine force. A colonel ranks above a lieutenant colonel and below a brigadier or brigadier general.

white and black printer paper with different words scattered around
Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Why Is Colonel Pronounced As Kernel?

Pronouncing a word can be easier when you know the origin of the language for an unknown word. The development or evolution of a word over time plays a significant role in how we pronounce it. For the word “colonel,” both the origin and evolution are involved in its pronunciation.

The word “colonel” is pronounced as “kernel in the English language.” This may seem unusual, but there are reasons for it.

The word “colonel” is adapted in English with an Italian and a French influence. In many languages, when a word has two similar sounds, one of these sounds would be altered through time. This process of change is known as dissimilation.

But the question is, how do you spell colonel correctly while writing? Understanding the etymology of the word in terms of spelling and pronunciation will help you remember the word better.

Italian Influence on the Word ‘Colonel’

The first usage of the word was around the 15th century when the Italian Renaissance ruled Europe. The word has its origin in the Italian word “colonnello,” which means “column.” This was because the rank was given to the commander of a column of troops. In simpler words, the word “colonel” was connected with the word column in a similar way a “brigadier” is associated with a brigade.

French Influence on the Word ‘Colonel’

The word was then adopted by the French from the Italians, and this is when the pronunciation first started to change. The French changed the word ‘colonnello’ to ‘coronel’ when translating the term into their language. The language specialists deduced that the French wanted to introduce the “r” sound instead of the two “l” sounds. Therefore, the first “l” sound was changed to “r” in the word.

English Influence on the Word ‘Colonel’

Finally, when the English adopted the word, there were two variants of the word. The one of Italian origin had the letter “l” in it, while the French used the letter “r.” The English and the French always had a contentious yet diplomatic relationship, and they borrowed the word from the French first.

After the dissimilation of the French word “coronel” into English, some Italian treaties were translated into English. In these translations, the spelling “colonel” was used to represent the word’s Italian roots. However, by that time, the “r” pronunciation was widely accepted.

How Do You Spell Colonel the Right Way?

“Colonel” does not have an official way to be spelled in a different way. It should be pronounced in the same way as a kernel. And you may have to extend your English pronunciation to not trip up on the letter combinations. The colloquial pronunciation is just as correct.

There are many reasons why the word is spelled as “colonel” and not “coronel,” so they’re not as simple to answer. To spell “colonel” the right way, you need to consider its origin, evolution, and adaptation in the English language.

To Wrap Up

In a nutshell, the word “colonel” is derived from the Italian and French variations. Since the word is not spelled the way it is pronounced, people are often confused about it while writing. The etymology of the word is discussed in this article to help you understand its background and recall the correct spelling.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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