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I am from Germany and I am having a question regarding the pronunciation of AmE and BrE.

I have a book and the text there says that there is a two syllable-pronunciation in BrE R.P. of the word secretary [sektrɪ] and in rapid BrE speech whereas in AmE it is pronounced [ˈsɛkrəˌtɛrɪ]

In the lecture we learned that 'in the UK' secretary consists out of three syllables (but it is not R.P. meant but standard BrE???) since the book says two.

other words that can be included are dictionary and necessary Thanks,

  • American variants: ['sɛkrəˌtɛri], ['sɛkəˌtɛri] (4 syll); ['sɛktɛri], ['sɛkətri] (3 syll); ['sɛktri] (2 syll). – John Lawler Jun 24 '14 at 18:50
  • In the UK, I frequently hear people use both the secretary and secretry pronunciations. – Tristan r Jun 24 '14 at 18:51
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    @Tristanr It is more RP to say secretry. But even that to my mind amounts to three syllables. – WS2 Jun 24 '14 at 19:01
  • WS2, it is but, a lot of people in this part of the world don't speak RP. – Tristan r Jun 24 '14 at 19:03
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    @tima: No, that's not what I mean. I believe that for most words that are polysyllabic, AmE and BrE agree on whether and where there is secondary stress. Just not for most ending with -ary or -ory, e.g. laboratory, military, corollary, extraordinary, circulatory, ancillary, secretary, ... – Peter Shor Jun 24 '14 at 19:17
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I'm in Singapore, and some of our pronunciation is based on BrE pronunciation.

It's normally three syllables /ˈsekrətri/, but I've heard the four-syllable version /ˈsekrətəri/ as well as the two-syllable version /ˈsektri/. There's obviously variation within BrE accents. In general, there is less reduction in Northern English accents.

The pronunciation /ˈsekrəˌtɛːri/ is largely AmE.

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In a non-searchable and potentially ephemeral comment to the original posting, Professor Lawler kindly presented the following answer:

American variants:

  • Four syllables:       [ˈsɛkrəˌtɛri], [ˈsɛkəˌtɛri]
  • Three syllables:     [ˈsɛktɛri],        [ˈsɛkətri]
  • Two syllables:        [ˈsɛktri]

I’ve marked this posting Community Wiki because it is John’s answer not my own, and so I deserve no reputation from it.

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