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As far as I know, it is the only word where wo is pronounced as wee. What is the reason for this? Does it have to do with the origin of the word?

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20  
I'd say it's pronounced as "wi" (with a short "i"), rather than "wee". –  Steve Melnikoff Nov 4 '10 at 11:58

3 Answers 3

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Etymonline explains:

woman
late O.E. wimman (pl. wimmen), lit. "woman-man," alteration of wifman (pl. wifmen), a compound of wif "woman" (see wife) + man "human being" (in O.E. used in ref. to both sexes; see man). Cf. Du. vrouwmens "wife," lit. "woman-man." The formation is peculiar to English and Dutch. Replaced older O.E. wif, quean as the word for "female human being." The pronunciation of the singular altered in M.E. by the rounding influence of -w-; the plural retains the original vowel.

Emphasis added.

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8  
I should say that every time the pronunciation of women comes up, someone inevitably links to ghoti, so I might just as well do it myself, adding right away that the most important part of that article is the explanation why it cannot be pronounced as fish. –  RegDwigнt Nov 4 '10 at 11:10
    
actually, it doesn't (contain such an explanation). The section was removed in February, as it was original research (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:OR) and not allowed by Wikipedia's rules. –  Colin Fine Aug 9 '11 at 14:22
    
@Colin Fine - Well then, perhaps it should be added to a question/answer set here. Then it could be added back into Wikipedia as a reference to our site, as it would no longer be original research. :-) –  T.E.D. Nov 2 '11 at 21:42
    
@T.E.D. : actually, no it couldn't, since our site would not count as reliable. Find a published source that makes this (good) point, and it can go into both WP and here. –  Colin Fine Nov 3 '11 at 10:02
    
@ColinFine - * offended * :-) –  T.E.D. Nov 3 '11 at 14:08

I think the initial vowel sound DOES NOT change in the plural, but all my fellow ESL teachers disagree with me. I find it impossible to actually say 'wimmin' without making an effort to do so. Woman and women sound exactly the same to me.

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1  
I might find that believable if you were from New Zealand. –  RegDwigнt Jul 5 '12 at 22:07
    
@RegDwightΒВB I wouldn't. –  user16269 Jul 5 '12 at 22:15

Well, here in the Midwest of the US, we don't pronounce it 'wee'.

In the singular form, 'woman', we use a sound similar to the word "wool". The IPA is: `wʊ̈-mən.

In the plural form, 'women', we use the pronunciation that RedDwight has in his answer, with a sound similar to the word 'it' or 'win'. The IPA is: `wɪ-mən.

So, in neither case does a long "e" sound.

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1  
Yeah, the American pronunciation is /ˈwɪmən/, and the Received Pronunciation is /ˈwɪmɪn/. The New Zealand pronunciation is particularly interesting, see e.g. here. –  RegDwigнt Nov 6 '10 at 12:29
    
wɪ-'mən in Canada (source: Gage Canadian Dictionary) –  Theta30 Mar 8 '12 at 13:31
    
@RegDwight: you shouldn't trust dictionaries on whether the pronunciation of unaccented syllables in American English is /ɪ/ or /ə/. This varies by dialect even more than most American pronunciation. American Heritage has /ˈwɪmɪn/. –  Peter Shor Jul 5 '12 at 22:00

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