'Forward', in General American English (GenAmE), is typically pronounced


with strong first r and a little weaker second r (GenAmE is very rhotic).

But anecdotally, I'm hearing more and more people pronounce it by dropping the first r:


the first r dropped and vowel hanged to a diphthong (to rhyme with 'toe').

The phenomenon would be classic dissimilation ... except I am unsure of how widespread the change is.

Is there any evidence that this is widespread? Or am I just happening to hear the very earliest stage of the change? Or are the couple of people I hear this from just making a mistake?

(I hear the word often enough in the relatively new phrase 'going forward' to mean 'in the near future')

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    Do the couple of people you hear this from come from some other part of the country? – Peter Shor Nov 10 '17 at 16:03
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    If you could only hear the single word forward (with no surrounding context) as enunciated by me in normal conversation, at least half the time it would probably be impossible to distinguish it from ford. – FumbleFingers Nov 10 '17 at 16:05
  • FWIW, I hear the "r" pretty often in rural New England, and less in mid-Atlantic south. I suspect there may be a variety of regional and cultural factors in play. – Rob_Ster Nov 10 '17 at 16:26
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    I think some people do pronounce it this way. You'll also see plenty of people misspelling it that way (example), which may be a reflection of this pronunciation. – Laurel Nov 10 '17 at 16:28
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    @PeterShor I'm in the Boston area. I heard it very distinctly from a California native visiting (where I first noticed it), but I've heard it from others (for whom I don't have a systematic life history) around here. Also, vaguely, TV, maybe? – Mitch Nov 10 '17 at 17:21

The existence of pronunciations of "forward" with dropping of the first /r/ is mentioned in "R-Dissimilation in English", by Nancy Hall (June 21, 2007). There are also pronunciations of this word where the second /r/ drops instead (so it sounds like "forwud").

The cited source for the pronunciation with /r/ dropped in the first syllable is George Hempl's 1893 "Loss of r in English through dissimilation" (Dialect Notes 1:279–81), which Hall describes as "the first description of the phenomenon [of r-disssimilation] by a linguist [...], based on his own Southern Michigan dialect" (2).

The basic idea of dissimilation as I understand it is that it's harder to hear how many occurrences of a particular sound occur in a word than it is to hear whether the sound occurs at all. Occasionally, we see the reverse process of assimilation of r-coloring, as in "sherbe(r)t".

Hall gives the following summary:

Looking at the examples in Tables 2–4 together, we see that dissimilation is usually anticipatory: of 85 examples, there are only 8 where the last /r/ of the word deletes: paraphe(r)nalia, Purmo(r)t, cereb(r)al palsy, frat(r)icide, interp(r)et, propriet(r)ess, Trist(r)am Shandy, Gira(r)d, and forwa(r)d (forward has also been reported with deletion of the first r, as shown in Table 4). In each of these exceptions, the preceding /r/ is either stressed or intervocalic, factors which decrease the chance of deletion. (6)

Since "forward" is usually pronounced with /w/, the /r/ is not intervocalic in this word, but it does occur in a stressed syllable. Evidently, though, this doesn't eliminate the possibility of deletion for all speakers (and indeed, there are other examples of /r/ being deleted after a stressed syllable in dialectal pronunciations of words like corner that you can see in Hempl's and Hall's lists).

Hall has an interesting discussion of the quality of vowels in stressed syllable when a following /r/ has been deleted.

For some speakers, dissimilatory deletion can also occur in syllables that have primary or secondary stress, as in the words in Table 4. The greatest number of these cases involve a coda /r/ deleting after /o/ as in (4a), or /ɑ/ as in (4b), or occasionally a stressed [ər] turning to [əˑ]. The restriction to these vowels is less remarkable when we consider that there are not many vowels that can appear in the position before rC in most American dialects. [...]

According to some descriptions (Swadesh 1947, Canepari 2005), these unique allophones survive when /r/ is deleted through dissimilation, so that quarter, for example, is [kwoɾər], with a first vowel unlike that of quote [kwoʊt]. This would mean that American /r/- dissimilation creates a new [o]/[oʊ] vowel contrast, despite claims in the literature that dissimilation is universally structure-preserving (Ohala 1993, Kiparsky 1995). This problem is discussed further below in section 3.5. (4-5)

In "forward", I would speculate that a pronunciation with /oʊw/ could perhaps be attributed partly to assimilation of the /r/ to the following /w/; this seems to me to happen with another consonant, /l/, in the word "always" (which I think I often pronounce roughly as "awweys" [ɑwez~ɑwɛz~ɑwɪz], even though I don't vocalize /l/ to /w/ in general).

  • Nice. I forgot to ask if there are other 'for-' words that behave similarly (with or without following 'w') or similar '-or-' words. – Mitch Nov 10 '17 at 19:25
  • There is this. – MikeJRamsey56 Jul 24 '18 at 22:40

My suspicion is that in African American English, you may hear this. In this dialect, "for" is often pronounced "fo" and for example "forty" as "fohtee"

Otherwise, I've never heard the pronunciation you mention in standard AE.

  • Yes, I do hear the 'r' dropped in forward among people I hear speaking AAE, but AAE is mostly non-rhotic (drops syllable end 'r's), so that's expected. I'm talking about the phenomenon among rhotic speakers. – Mitch Nov 10 '17 at 17:17
  • For example, like the non-rhotic Boston city dialect:, 44 is pronounced 'fawty-faw' – Mitch Nov 10 '17 at 19:26
  • @Mitch: Are you sure it's not pronounced fawty-foah? Certainly, four is pronounced foah in a traditional Boston accent. – Peter Shor Jul 24 '18 at 21:02
  • @PeterShor Sure that's probably better. I was just informally trying to give some nonrhotic way. Yours is surely better. – Mitch Jul 25 '18 at 1:18
  • @Mitch: In New York it would be fawty-faw, but in Boston it's fawty-foah (rhymes with boa). A subtlety of Northeastern non-rhotic accents I only know because I've been living near Boston. (And I suspect this distinction may be fading with time.) – Peter Shor Jul 25 '18 at 2:48

I have been hearing this more and more these days, to the point that is has become a pet peeve of mine. I live in Northeast Florida, and I hear it all around me, but not from people with what would be considered a southern accent. This part of the country has many people with heavy South Georgia/North Florida accents, but I hear "foe-ward" from people with accents that sound like they are from other parts of the country. I have heard many TV newscasters/personalities (local and national) recently using this pronunciation and I am baffled because most of these speakers do not have easily identifiable accents - they typically have what I would consider a non-accent. Yet lately I seem to hear it more than I hear the traditional (correct) pronunciation, and I'm wondering if this is the way a younger generation is being taught to pronounce it. Or it could just be that I am noticing it when it is mispronounced but not when it is pronounced correctly.

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    Georgia and North Florida accents are members of the Southern accent family. The stereotypical Southern accent for some comes from the Georgian Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind." It is very typical in Georgian Southern dialect to drop the r. – Karlomanio Oct 23 '18 at 17:14
  • As mentioned, I am hearing it from speakers from all parts of the country, as noted when I mentioned national newscasters in my post. So to me it appears to be more than just southern speakers who are using this pronunciation. – Mark Oct 24 '18 at 17:20
  • I don't disagree with you on that. I think it is more of a national trend and it bugs me, too. I just know it is very common in Southern dialect, especially in Georgia. I'm from the South (or Southwest if you prefer), and I try to use a more standard Midwestern dialect myself. Thanks for your interesting comment. – Karlomanio Oct 24 '18 at 17:36

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