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I'm a nonnative speaker of English and I've always been unsure about the pronunciation of "i" inside words like direct, organization, etc. I was thinking that it's a matter of choice between American and British usage to pronounce that "i" as ɪ or , or even ə, but looking at some dictionaries made the situation more complex for me. For instance, MacMillan dictionary gives the American English pronunciation of "indirect" as

/ˌɪndɪˈrekt/
/ˌɪndaɪˈrekt/

whereas the British English pronunciation is given as

/ˌɪndəˈrekt/
/ˌɪndaɪˈrekt/

So both of them include two versions and ɪndaɪrekt in common. I thought that only British English had ɪndaɪrekt.

The same dictionary given the pronunciation of "organization" as /ˌɔrɡənɪˈzeɪʃ(ə)n/ for American English and /ˌɔː(r)ɡənaɪˈzeɪʃ(ə)n/ for British English.

Is there a prevailing rule in international English for this kind of pronunciation? What do native speakers think and suggest?

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As far as I'm aware, this is essentially a US vs. UK difference. Other examples where UK English has a /aɪ/ vowel and US English has a schwa include "missile", "volatile", "hostile", etc. which in the US effectively tend to be pronounced as through written "mis(t)le", "volatle", "hostle", etc.

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    As I mention in my answer, I overwhelmingly hear /ˌɪndəˈrekt/ in the U.S. That rules it out as a strictly British pronunciation, IMO. – Robusto Sep 14 '11 at 15:10
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    Conversely, US English often pronounces a final 'i' as /aɪ/ where UK doesn't: "anti", "semi". I first encountered "Jedi" in print before the films came out, and naturally preonounced it "jeddy". – Colin Fine Sep 14 '11 at 15:43
  • Colin -- yes, though this isn't an alternation with a schwa, so slightly different case. – Neil Coffey Sep 14 '11 at 20:11
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In English, in a non-stressed syllable, a schwa often replaces the vowel. This is what is going on here. The second syllable of both indirect and organization is not stressed. In this word, it is acceptable to replace the /aɪ/ with a schwa. And in some American dialects, when you replace an /aɪ/ with a schwa, what you get is typically an /ɪ/ and not an /ə/.

All three of these pronunciations are pretty much interchangeable to a native English speaker's ear. Pick one, and don't worry about it. Native English speakers generally only pay close attention to the vowels in syllables with primary or secondary stress.

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I suggest that the differences are small and pronunciations vary widely. For example, although your reference lists /ˌɪndəˈrekt/ as the preferred British pronunciation, and doesn't list it at all for American English, I overwhelmingly hear /ˌɪndəˈrekt/ in the U.S.

In short, I don't think this is anything to be troubled about. People will know what you mean, whichever pronunciation you use.

  • You never heard my Aussie teacher – Dr. belisarius Sep 14 '11 at 23:14
  • @bel: What does this have to do with my point about U.S. English? – Robusto Sep 15 '11 at 0:04
  • It HAS to do with People will know what you mean, whichever pronunciation you use. :) – Dr. belisarius Sep 15 '11 at 0:18
  • @bel: You mean Aussies won't know if you pronounce it differently, mate? – Robusto Sep 15 '11 at 1:05
  • Much worse (for me). I don't understand them :) – Dr. belisarius Sep 15 '11 at 1:07

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