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When someone with a Received Pronunciation accent pronounces the word duke, as in The Duke of York, he doesn't pronounce it with a "hard" 'd', as one might pronounce the word duh, but a softer type 'd', which I can only spell phonetically as "dj", so as to pronounce duke somewhat like "djuke."

My question is composed of two parts:

  • What would a linguist call this phoneme?
  • What is the difference in articulation between it and a "regular" /d/?
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I think it's modern RP rather than upper class. I pronounce 'dj' too. – z7sg Ѫ May 27 '11 at 13:06
Hungarian spells the sound "gy", and it's one of the hardest for non-native speakers to learn (especially when it occurs in the middle or end of a word). – Marthaª May 27 '11 at 13:39
I've re-asked this question on the Linguistics beta site, where it will be busy for people not committed to the beta in five or six days. Please let me know if this is a problem. – hippietrail Sep 16 '11 at 2:18

This is called palatalization of the /d/ sound: under influence of a /u/ sound ("oo" as in moon), the preceding consonant sometimes gets the palatal glide /ʲ/, pronounced like "y" in yoke. This results in /dʲuːk/, also rendered /djuːk/.

I believe this palatalization can occur with any /u/ sound, as in news, /nʲuːz/, but it is much less common with short /ʊ/ as in book or put, that is, I can't think of any example. It generally depends on the word and the dialect whether the consonant is always, sometimes, or never palatalized. There appears to be less palatalization in America and in Estuary English (middle-class South-East England) than in Received Pronunciation. This pronunciation /duːk/ is sometimes called yod dropping, from the name of the semi-vowel y in linguistics. There may be rules behind this, but I don't have the full picture, especially not on the elusive pronunciation of lu-.

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For duke, the sound that is being palatalized is not /d/ but /dj/ (dyook). This is not yod dropping. Yod dropping is when Americans pronounce duke, tune, and news like dook, toon and nooz. I believe this is the first stage of yod-coalescence, which has been around for some time in English. The second stage of yod-coalescence would turn it into a /dʒ/ sound, getting juke. – Peter Shor May 27 '11 at 17:18
@PeterShor: Eh, I see that my syntax was misleading: my apologies. The which before yod dropping was supposed to refer to less palatalization, not to RP. I will fix it. // I don't understand what you mean by the sound that is being palatalized is not /d/ but /dj/: to palatalize is "to modify into a palatal sound", according to the OED: it is therefore the non-palatal sound (/d/) that is being palatalized, not the resulting palatalized sound (/dʲ/), which only emerges after palatalization. – Cerberus May 27 '11 at 17:26
@Cerberus: I'm saying it wrong. What I think the OP is hearing is the first step in /djuk/ being turned into /ʤuk/, so a consonant halfway between /dj/ and /ʤ/. You are right that this is not palatalization. I don't know what linguists would call this consonant. But it's possible that I'm wrong, and your answer is correct. – Peter Shor May 27 '11 at 17:40
@PeterShor: Hmm, why do you think so? It could be that; but @Billare was comparing this sound x to the hard /d/ in duh, which led me to believe that it was simply the /d/ – /dʲ/ opposition he was after. – Cerberus May 27 '11 at 18:02
@Cerberus: Even though I'm American, I am accustomed to hearing both /djuk/ and /duk/, so neither of these strike me as anything out of the ordinary. I also do occasionally hear a consonant that I think is halfway to yod coalescence, I believe mainly from British speakers, and I do notice that. Also, Billare spelled it as "djuke", which I interpreted as meaning something like /ʤ/, but maybe he meant /dj/. Quite likely you're right. – Peter Shor May 27 '11 at 18:36

I'm a speaker of Australian English (AusEng has the "y" sound in Duke that AmEng lacks) and an armchair linguist (read extensively but no formal study).

Phonology is a complex field with many approaches, analyses, and competing theories and though I know IPA I'm not an expert at phonology.

Having said that, in British and Australian dictionaries the sound in "duke" is simply regarded as /j/, the very same sound made by the letter "y" in regularly spelled words. In IPA it is called a Palatal approximant. As such it is distinct from the processes known as palatization and iotation (which in turn are not the same as each other). This means the sound in "duke" is not the same as the Hungarian "gy".

Now the complexity of phonology comes into play because sound systems are subject to many changes so the actual realization of such words in some varieties of English may be affected by these processes after all, and I don't know enough about RP specifically.

I think we need the help of a real linguist or at least some good texts which address this specific point.

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I think all the answerers agree that in RP duke, is supposed to be pronounced /djuk/, with the palatal approximant. But what is the consonant the U.K. speaker is making on this website? It doesn't sound like /dj/ to me. I think that's the consonant Billare is asking about, and not /dj/, but I could easily be completely wrong. – Peter Shor May 28 '11 at 14:56
Well I would say /djuːk/ but even British dictionaries treat their phonemic descriptions in various manners. As for the website I think his pronunciation is indeed undergoing a phonological process which probably is palatalization. Whether this makes him a standard RP speaker or not I cannot say without recourse to an expert but it sounds like what some Australians would pronounce and others might even correct them for \-: – hippietrail May 28 '11 at 15:09
Yes, it would be grand to have a professional linguist at our beck and call. sigh My problem is that reading texts myself, I can't connect the manner they say I'm producing words with how I feel like I'm articulating them. I wish I Henry Higgin's mirrors or something, but I don't. – Uticensis May 28 '11 at 15:11
Why do you say that a palatal approximant (/j/) added to /d/ does not constitute palatalization? From the Wiki article "Palatalization": a palatalized consonant is one pronounced with a palatal secondary articulation, indicated in IPA by a superscript j, e.g. [tʲ]. Is this about /dj/ v. /dʲ/? I thought they both represented palatalized /d/? Does @Kosmonaut agree with you? – Cerberus May 29 '11 at 1:55
@Cerberus: No English doesn't feature secondary articulations like some other languages do. /dj/ is merely two singly-articulated phonemes in sequence. But historic and current sound changes in English do include the process of palatalization, just not at the phoneme level. This is how it "gets complicated" as I mentioned. – hippietrail May 29 '11 at 2:06

I think it's simply a d with a y-glide, which can make it sound like dj when spoken quickly: Dyook rather than dook.

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Accents from most of England pronounce the words "beauty", "cute", "duty", "refute", "hue", "mute", "newt", "pewter", "tutor" with a /j/ (like a consonantal 'y') preceding the main vowel. In the case of "d", in rapid speech the glide may coalesce with the consonant giving /ɟ/ (like Hungarian 'gy') or /ʤ/ (like 'j' in 'judge'); and similarly for 't'. With 'l' and 's' ("lute", "suit") some speakers pronounce the /j/ and palatalise the consonant in rapid speech, but most do not. – Colin Fine May 27 '11 at 14:55
@Colin Fine: It's the same in American English. So much so that Woody Allen joked about it in Annie Hall, having the character he played neurotically upset over gentiles' pronunciation of "Did you eat?" as "Jew eat?" – Robusto May 27 '11 at 15:04
@Robusto: I don't know whether it's /d/ with a y-glide. That's how duke is supposed to be pronounced in RP, but I think it may be a different sound. IPA has a bunch of consonants which lie between /dj/ and /ʤ/, and I think one of these is what the OP is hearing. One of them is the Serbo-Croatian consonant /d͡ʑ/. @Colin mentions the Hungarian consonant /ɟ/. I don't even know what the difference between these two is, let alone how to tell which one would be more likely to be pronounced by an upperclass RP speaker in the word duke. – Peter Shor May 27 '11 at 17:44
@Robusto: "y-glide" is a sensible sounding explanation but it's not the name of a phoneme as the OP asked. @Colin: When you learn Hungarian as an English speaker you are told that our "dy" is a good enough approximation to their "gy" but they will also try teach you the correct sound soon enough. The same goes for French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish gn, nh, ñ, gl, lh, ll - which all are close to but not the same as English ny and ly. – hippietrail May 29 '11 at 2:15
@Robusto: It is the same in US for the contraction "d'you", but in at least some parts of the US some of the words I quoted are pronounced without a glide at all - at least "duty" and "new". – Colin Fine May 31 '11 at 10:55

I'd point out that, in England in particular, there is a continuum between the 'precise' pronunciation, 'dyook' and the perhaps more common 'juke' (as in juke-box). In Britain, I don't think the American 'dook' is common - maybe some people in East Anglia say it that way (?)

I would say, for the most part, it is older members of the aristocracy that tend to use 'dyook' in its purest form. I think the gradient between 'dyook' and 'juke' may have some relation with perceived social class.

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I assume for the purposes of the question that the Original Poster's J in "djuke" has a similar sound to the J in "jump".

1. What would a linguist call this phoneme?

The phoneme is a voiced postalveolar affricate, /dʒ/.

2. What is the difference in articulation between it and a "regular" /d/?

This sound has an onset similar to a /d/ but retracted to the edge of the alveolar ridge. This involves a complete blockage of the air leaving the vocal tract. The air builds up behind the blockage increasing the air pressure within the aural cavity. Whereas with a /d/ this air would be released rapidly causing sudden audible plosion, in the case of /dʒ/, the air is forced across the surface of the tongue and through a narrow aperture between the tongue and the alveolar ridge. Along with the continuing vocal fold vibration from the larynx, this causes voiced audible friction.

Further information

Occasionally the adjustments we make to pass smoothly from one sound to another result in a new sound replacing the original two. This is known as coalescent assimilation. In both Southern Standard British English and also in General American this can happen when we have a /d/ followed by a /j/. The resulting sound is recognised as /dʒ/, the first sound in the word jump. For example in the sequence would you, we are likely to hear wouldju /wʊdʒu/.

Southern Standard British English often has an intervening /j/ between alveolar consonants and a following /u:/ in words where most General American speakers use only the initial consonant and the /u:/. For example the word news is /nju:z/ in SSBE, but /nu:z/ in general American.

For this reason many words that begin /du:/ in General American begin with a /dʒu/ in SSBE for many speakers. This has nothing to do with class.

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Robusto is right. It's simply a d with a y-glide because the u is pronounced as a u and combined with the sound of the letter before it (d). It’s the same with multiple, other words. Like music or enthuse.

It’s a nuance in the British way of speaking English that seems to be lost on certain people. That's why it is sometimes mispronounced and the u gets merged with the previous letter to form a different sound. The example given in the question, the word duke, will end up sounding like djuke when mispronounced by people who fail to appreciate the nuance of the u.

When pronounced properly, duke will not sound like djuke. As Robusto wrote, it should sound like dyook.

This is because the letter u should be pronounced as a u; rhyming with the word you. When pronounced, the letter before it should be combined with the u but, not merged with it. In this example, pronounce the d sound and then the u, without a pause. It's like the words do and you. When in the same sentence, they would be pronounced separately. Now imagine that there is no gap between them so that they are written doyou. Now imagine that the o after the d were removed. That would be written as dyou. Then add the k sound on the end. Therefore, dyook. That's the way to pronounce duke correctly.

You can apply the same method when pronouncing other words, that are like that. For example, enthuse. Consider the th sound and then the u.

What’s strange is why this has generally been changed in American English to an oo sound. I say generally because this does not seem to be the case with the word music in American English. I haven't noticed any Americans say moosic.

Another thing worth mentioning is that this is not particular “Received Pronunciation”. It is common across the UK, eve for people with different regional accents.

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I can help with one question you have. In American English, the y-glides are often dropped after n,t,d,l but never after k,g,p,b,m. But I believe some Americans use y-glides after d, and I don't think the consonant I hear from some British speakers saying "duke" is anything I hear in the U.S. Listen to the U.K. speaker here. – Peter Shor Jul 2 '12 at 18:03
Let me add that most British speakers sound perfectly normal to me when they say "duke"; it's just a few who produce a consonant somewhere between [dj] and [ʤ]. – Peter Shor Jul 2 '12 at 18:46
That sample that you linked to, is an example of the word being pronounced like "djuke". – Tristan Jul 3 '12 at 14:06
Why is that the u has changed to an "oo" sound for most words in American English, but not all? – Tristan Jul 6 '12 at 16:22
The phonemic phenomenon is that it changes ONLY after some consonants. See yod dropping in Wikipedia. I don't know phonemically why this is, but there are lots of similar sound changes in most languages. For example, why does "ar" change to "ore" in "war, warp, wharf, ward, warm, warn," but not after other consonants? In the U.K., why do you pronounce brass, class, grass, glass differently from ass, crass, lass, mass? That last sound change makes no sense to me at all. – Peter Shor Jul 6 '12 at 16:38

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