There’s no word at the centre of a pronunciation debate like “GIF,” and chances are, you’re still not saying it right.
Linguists have finally revealed how the acronym “GIF,” associated with “Graphic Interchange Format” should be pronounced; and it’s not what the creator of the bitmap image format claims.
“As linguists, we don’t have any opinions on how things should be pronounced, but rather we study why people pronounce words the way they do,” said Frans Adriaans, an NYU professor who specialises in computational linguistics.
However, according to Steve Wilhite, the creator of the image file format, the word is pronounced with a hard G, “GIF,” like “gift”—not with a soft G, like “jif.”
“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Wilhite told the New York Times. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story,” he said.
However, even though he did invent the cherished format, he did not invent the English Language.
Since the ‘G’ in GIF stands for graphic, which is pronounced with a hard ‘G’, it does not make sense for the acronym to be pronounced with a soft’ G’.
Meanwhile, NYU linguistics professor Lisa Davidson has put forth an interesting argument, explaining, “’Gift’ is GIF’s closest neighboUr. ‘Lexical neighboUrs’ are words in your mental dictionary (lexicon) that are different from other words by one sound.” In the case of GIF, Davidson says, “It’s only one sound off from ‘gift,’ so it’s an exceptionally close lexical neighbour.”
Further, every word that starts with G, then a vowel, then an F, is pronounced with a hard G, according to a GIF truth-er website run by Aaron Bazinet. For example: Gaffe. Gift. Guff. Guffaw. Adriaans notes that a computer would pronounce the acronym with a hard “G” because text-to-speech software uses both phonetic dictionaries (where they look up the pronunciation of words that have been listed explicitly) and grapheme-to-phoneme rules (more general pronunciation rules that can be used to convert unknown written words or acronyms to text).
“Because GIF is an acronym and not a word, a computer would use its closest lexical neighbour to determine pronunciation. And as we’ve already indicated, that neighbour is ‘gift’,” the professor added.
And lastly, the reason Wilhite has to use his 15 seconds of Webby Award fame to explain the pronunciation is because our brains logically just want to pronounce it with a hard G. That’s probably also why he has to explicitly write, “It’s pronounced ‘JIF’.” Think about it.