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I had a debate with a non-native speaker who pronounced

  • infer as /ɪnˈfɪə/; rhymes with career

  • inference as /ɪnˈfirəns/; rhymes with clearance; stress on the second syllable

and claimed that this pronunciation was common (in particular in American English), though they admitted that it’s not the only possible option.

However, all sources I consulted listed:

  • infer as /ɪnˈfɜː/ or similar; rhymes with refer ¹ ² ³

  • inference as /ˈɪnfərəns/ or similar; rhymes with conference; stress on the first syllable ¹ ² ³

On the other hand, I see no way how the first pair of pronunciation should emerge from a mistake: All orthographically similar words I can think of (refer(ence), defer(ence), prefer(ence), confer(ence), circumference) are pronounced in a consistently different manner and I can’t even think of any word that could be used as a blueprint for this pronunciation. This is a hint (but nothing more) that these pronunciations may be real.

Therefore I am asking: Did I miss something and do any native speakers actually use the first pair of pronunciations?

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    I speak AmE, and I don't believe I have ever heard these pronunciations. – Peter Shor May 12 '17 at 11:32
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    The word interference is orthographically similar to inference, and could be used as a blueprint for its incorrect pronunciation. – Peter Shor May 12 '17 at 11:38
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    The inference-pronunciation I can actually undertand, following Peter Shor's point. But why anyone would pronounce -fer as -fɪə is beyond me. – oerkelens May 12 '17 at 12:01
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    @oerkelens: once you're started pronouncing inference as /ɪnˈfirəns/, wouldn't it be natural to pronounce infer as /ɪnˈfɪə/. – Peter Shor May 12 '17 at 12:15
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    I'm guessing this non-standard pronunciation arose through conflation with interfere, interference (the orthographic route, not a mishearing). If this was a common mistake for certain nns to make, it might be worth addressing it on English Language Learners, but I can't see the point of it here on ELU. – FumbleFingers May 12 '17 at 12:16

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