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I'm wondering what mechanism puts a y sound (IPA /j/) into words like coupon, which presumably had none when it came into the language. French pronunciation would seem to indicate it would be pronounced [ˈkuːpɔ:n], not [ˈkjuːpɔ:n], but many people pronounce it the latter way.

Similarly, why do we have such a difference in a word like duke, which can be pronounced [djuːk] or [duːk], when dude only ever seems to be pronounced [duːd]?

addendum

An even more puzzling example, brought up in the comments below, is that of Houston, which is pronounced with the /j/ when it refers to the city in Texas, and without it when referring to the street in Manhattan.

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    I think interpolating a "y" sound into coupon would be a "hypercorrection". It's not the same as, say, duke - which Brits (but not all Americans) pronounce as /djuːk/. – FumbleFingers Feb 19 '15 at 21:37
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    "Coupon" is "coup" followed by "pon". (Never mind that the first syllable is really open and there is only one "P" sound.) "Coup" is like a chicken coup, then tack on the "pon" sound. "Coupon". – Hot Licks Feb 19 '15 at 21:45
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    (There are some in the US, though, who pronounce it "cue-pon". But ever since the folks on TV started using "coup-pon" back about 1960 that pronunciation has gotten rarer and rarer.) – Hot Licks Feb 19 '15 at 21:46
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    Really, duke and dude should have the same vowel. But you hear duke in movies where everyone speaks with an upper class British accent, and dude in movies where bowlers speak with laid-back California accents. And so these are the pronunciations you use. – Peter Shor Feb 19 '15 at 23:32
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    Thanks for using IPA: the non-IPA comments are not useful and should be revised or deleted so people can understand them. The reason you’re hearing them as different because /u/ and /ju/ are phonemically distinct in English: consider the minimal pair cute and coot. So it is not just allophonic variation. For the record, the French pronunciation would be /kupɔ̃/. – tchrist Feb 20 '15 at 3:23
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Just guessing, but perhaps the /ju/, which came by breaking a high front rounded [y] in words borrowed from French, came to be regarded as a high prestige form. Then, hearing /u/, some English speakers interpreted that as a mistaken or low-class way of saying /ju/ and decided to correct it in their own pronunciations. If that's right, the /ju/ from earlier /u/ should turn up in words most easily interpreted as having been borrowed from French. Folk loan phonology.

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    The /ju/ came from several places: the action of the Great Vowel Shift on the vowel /y/, which was actually used in Middle English for words of French origin like duke, and the action of the Great Vowel Shift on Middle English diphthongs like dew, which came from Old English diphthongs. See Wikipedia, which says that three different diphthongs and the vowel /y/ all got merged into /juː/. – Peter Shor Feb 20 '15 at 22:36

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