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Here in Missouri, most people born here pronounce the state as /mi.'zuɹ.ə/ (instead of /miz.'uɹ.i/ or something like it). This is a lot more noticeable in the south/central, rural parts of the state. Is this pronunciation used much outside of Missouri? I'm particularly curious about the South, like Arkansas.

Much of the South has a similar dialect as Missouri, but a lot heavier and more pronounced. Is this phenomenon noticeable in other areas?

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As opposed to what pronunciation? (Maybe I'm just not understanding your IPA, but that looks like how I'd pronounce it, and I've never been anywhere near Missouri.) – Marthaª Dec 19 '13 at 0:35
Most non-natives would pronounce it as /miz.'uɹ.i/. – American Luke Dec 19 '13 at 0:38
I would pronounce it with an /i/ sound at the end, too, though not a long one like Susan. And I would not separate the syllables after the z and the r, but before them. In fact, I've just tried, and I find it quite difficult to do so even consciously. Ignoring, as my phone forces me to, the finer points of IPA, I'd pronounce it /mi'zu.ri/. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 19 '13 at 1:01
No, the people who say Missoura used to be the ones that also say Miama, Cincinnata, and Hawaya. I've googled this, and there seem to be people who use this pronunciation scattered all over the Midwest (or at least, in a swath between Ohio and Missouri); not the South. (My grandmother, originally from Illinois, was one of them). I don't think anybody knows where this pronunciation comes from. – Peter Shor Dec 19 '13 at 1:15
I find it weird that all you guys keep saying you have an /u/ in that word rather than an /ɝ/ or some such. – tchrist Dec 19 '13 at 1:18
up vote 2 down vote accepted

From Wikipedia:

The state is named for the Missouri River, which was named after the indigenous Missouri Indians, a Siouan-language tribe. They were called the ouemessourita (wimihsoorita), meaning "those who have dugout canoes", by the Miami-Illinois language speakers. As the Illini were the first natives encountered by Europeans in the region, the latter adopted the Illini name for the Missouri people.

While many American states have names that its natives and non-natives pronounce dissimilarly, Missouri is the only one whose name is pronounced differently even just among its present-day natives — the two most common pronunciations being /məˈzɜri/ and /məˈzɜrə/. This situation of differing pronunciations has existed since the late 1600s. Further pronunciations also exist in Missouri or elsewhere in the United States, involving the realization of the first syllable as either /mə/ or /mɪ/; the stressed second syllable as either /ˈzɜr/ or /ˈzʊər/; the third syllable as /i/, /ə/, centralized /ɪ/ ([ɪ̈ ]), or even ∅ (in other words, a non-existent third syllable); and the phoneme /r/ as either of two allophones: [ɹ] or [ɻ]. Any combination of these phonetic realizations may be observed coming from speakers of American English.

Politicians often employ multiple pronunciations, even during a single speech, to appeal to a greater number of listeners. Often, "eye dialect" spellings of the state's name, such as "Missour-ee" or "Missour-uh," are used informally to phonetically distinguish pronunciations.

Personally, I use /məˈzɜri/ - though it's hard to say where I picked up the pronunciation from (North-Eastern US, Texas, or South Florida are most likely). The most common pronunciations I hear are /məˈzɜri/ and /məˈzʊəri/ (the later, for example is used by a friend of mine raised in Canada as a child and moved to Atlanta, Georgia in her teens)

Edit: First paragraph from the wikipedia article added to the quote and the link is now provided.

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1600's? There was a place called 'Missouri' in the 1600's? If not, that's a very misleading stemmed about differing pronunciations. – Mitch Jan 6 '14 at 23:55
Indeed: apparently the earliest document that names the Missouri river is only from 1714. – Colin Fine Jan 7 '14 at 0:40
Sorry, I didn't think to include the first paragraph since it didn't have anything to do directly with the conversation. I'll add it in a moment, and that should clarify some things (specifically, the Missouri River was named after a native american tribe that lived in the area). – Doc Jan 7 '14 at 2:01

Having grown up in a nearby metropolis (Tulsa, OK), and married to a person who grew up in one on the opposite side of that state (Cinncinnati, OH), I can tell you that outside of Missouri, almost everyone in neighboring states pronounces it with a long-E sound.

I had relatives in the extreme Southwestern county (Macdonald) of Missouri, and they pronounced it with the "uh" sound at the end instead. As a result, I learned to code-switch: Inside Missouri it is "Missouruh", and outside "Missouree". So I'm fairly certain that pronunciation is just something residents use locally to identify fellow residents (I've observed this phenomenon in more localities than I can mention. Most prominently New Orleans, which residents pronounce more like "Nawlins").

As far as dialect goes, Missouri is an interesting case. You could simplify and just say the state speaks American Midland, which is probably the closest live dialect to "Standard American English". However, the truth is not quite so boring. St. Louis has its own dialect, but otherwise the state exists on the border between the North Midland and South Midland dialect. My SW Missouri relatives definitely were in the South Midland camp.

University of Missouri English professor Donald Lance made an impressively complete study of the high vowel vs. schwa issue. It turns out that its use in the confines of Missouri is even more complex than outside (so thankfully you didn't ask about inside the state). But it does appear that the original introduction of that pronunciation is most likely a feature of the South Midland dialect area. As of the 1960's it was in fact still pronounced that way by some folk outside the state.

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However, younger people (I'm guessing those growing up with access to national media via radio and TV), largely quit pronouncing it that way.

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So if you find yourself a non-Missourian South Midland speaker born before 1930, there should be a good chance you will hear "Missourah".

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As someone born and raised in St. Louis, I and nearly everyone I interact with in the city ends with /i/. Ending with /ə/ is seen as a "rural" thing; I only hear it when people imitate or make fun of "rural" people. – Keith B Jan 6 '14 at 23:48
@KeithB - Thanks, I was wondering about that. As I said, my info comes from folk in a South Midland area. I tried asking my son (a SLU student) about how they say it there, but he hangs with too many non-Missourians for good intel. So now I'm wondering if it is really a rural/urban divide, a St. Louis vs. the rest of the state divide, or a North Midland/South Midland divide. Anyone know of a map for this word? – T.E.D. Jan 7 '14 at 13:37
OK. Found a good source, with maps, and updated the answer. – T.E.D. Jan 7 '14 at 15:09
Lol. It never fails. I post this, then immediately hear author Joel Greenberg on the Dianne Rehm show pronounce it with the schwa multiple times (so no accident). Don't know if he has Missouri roots or not, but he is a resident of Chicago now, and I hear quite a bit of that Chicago twang in his speech. – T.E.D. Jan 7 '14 at 16:32

I'm from rural Southeast Missouri, Perry County to be exact. I have never heard anyone in either Southeast Missouri or in St. Louis ever use the pronunciation /mi.'zuɹ.ə/. I've always assumed this stereotype of Missourians using /ə/ at the end of the name was either a joke or myth held in popular belief by non-Missourians.

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You should listen in on the legislature. It's surprising who uses that pronunciation and who doesn't. I've found it a lot more common around Springfield, but I don't go north much. – American Luke Jan 29 '14 at 15:31

Having lived in New York and Southern California, I will vouch for at least SoCal (what does it mean to be a New Yorker, anyway?) that we pronounce it /miz.'uɹ.i/ , and I have not encountered a person from outside the general vicinity of Missouri who pronounces it as those do who live within the said general vicinity.
Here's a site with a bunch of sources which argues for regional pronunciation patterns which would support OP's idea. As an additional lead for your research, note the recent BusinessInsider article about regional pronunciations of individual words, which you have perhaps already seen.
I can't speak to the point on the South. Am quite curious as well.

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So do you really say the middle just exactly like the normal English word zoo? – tchrist Dec 30 '13 at 1:57
@tchrist: I don't think it's a /u/; it's the vowel of poor, which I believe in some Midwestern accents with the pure/poor split can become a /u/ in the phonetic environment it has in Missouri. But phonemically, it should be /miz.'ʊr.i, miz.'ʊr.ə, miz.'ɝr.i, miz.'ɝr.ə/ in IPA. To elaborate, the people who say /tuɚ/ for tour will say /miz.'ur.i/ for Missouri. – Peter Shor Jan 2 '14 at 22:24

Most vowels become "ə" ("uh") in many parts of the rural Midwest, particularly if they are unstressed. I'm not sure this is anything but an example of that phenomenon. There are people here in Ohio who pronounce it ə-hi'-ə. I'm sure those same people would call Missouri mə-zɜr'-ə.

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