I am just wondering which pronunciation of the two below native speakers of North American English would prefer to use for the word during.

  1. /ˈdəːrɪŋ/
  2. /ˈd(j)ʊriŋ /

Most of the EFL dictionaries published in Japan list No. 1 as the recommended pronunciation for the word. Do you have any comment about this information? Do you think this reflects the facts about the English spoken in North America?

Your feedback is very much appreciated.

  • 1
    Which professionally compiled English dictionaries have you consulted and why did the information found therein not suffice for your question? – AmE speaker May 6 '18 at 17:49
  • That depends. There are some speakers in North America who never use the combination /ʊr/. Those speakers would pronounce it as (1). Most of the rest of us would pronounce it as (2). See the POOR-PURE split. – Peter Shor May 6 '18 at 19:12
  • Whether by reality or by consensus, the 'schwa' sound /ə/ is never used in a stressed syllable and is never lengthened with /:/. Did you intend the first syllable to rhyme with 'duh'? I (an AmE speaker) pronounce the first syllable as the NURSE vowel namely /ɚ/. – Mitch May 6 '18 at 20:58
  • @Mitch No, the NURSE vowel is /ɝ/, because it’s stressed. /ɚ/ is the unstressed one. A word like firmer or burner has both versions: /ˈfɝmɚ/, /ˈbɝnɚ/. Sometimes people write those as /ˈfʌrmər/, /ˈbʌrnər/. – tchrist May 7 '18 at 0:29
  • @tchrist I took my IPA from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… It gives for GenAmE /ɚ/. – Mitch May 7 '18 at 0:47

The pronunciations /ˈdəːrɪŋ/ and /ˈdʊriŋ/ are both used by lots of Americans. If you use either one of these, nobody is going to think you're speaking strangely. In some parts of the country, the vowel combination /ʊr/ is slowly disappearing from English and being variously replaced by /əːr/, /ɔːr/, and /uːər/, depending on the exact word and the part of the country you live in.

And if you pronounce during /ˈdjʊriŋ/, which I don't believe is very common anymore in American English, nobody is going to notice that, either ... at worst, we'll think you learned English from a British teacher.

  • Perhaps it’s because for me the tense–lax distinction is neutralized before phonemic /r/, but I can't for the life of me imagine how /ur/ and /ʊr/ would ever differ, whether in during or elsewhere. I guess I do know Easterners how pronounce tour with the vowel of took, but I use the one from moon myself. I always have to listen carefully to make sure they haven’t just said tore. :) – tchrist May 7 '18 at 0:32
  • @tchrist: the distinction between /ur/ and /ʊr/ is neutralized for me, too, (except maybe for compound words like Dudley Do-Right), although the vowel I use is closer to took. – Peter Shor May 7 '18 at 3:02
  • And lots of Easterners (and I think Southerners, Westerners and Midwesterners as well) pronounce tour and tore as homophones. – Peter Shor May 7 '18 at 3:03

Nursing the CURE Vowel

The pronunciation of ‘during’ with the NURSE vowel /ɜr/ rather than the CURE vowel /ʊr/ is an example of a current trend in rhotic American accents of a merger — called, appropiately enough, the NURSE-CURE merger — affecting some words in the CURE group, especially among younger speakers.

Dictionaries have generally been slow to acknowledge this change. While Merriam-Webster lists the pronunciation of during as:

/ˈdu̇r-iŋ also ˈdyu̇r-/ = ('dʊr-iŋ, djʊr-)

the entry for cure itself offers the NURSE pronunciation as an alternate:

/ˈkyu̇r , ˈkyər/ = ('kjʊr, 'kjɜr)

For both these examples I have supplied a more standard IPA transcription to the right. Your dictionaries in Japan, then, seem to be ahead of the curve in recording this pronunciation. This also suggests that CURE may soon lose its usefulness as a member of a lexical set.

Now I would suggest that the cause of this merger is the result of the slight lip rounding of an American r reducing the fuller rounding of the /ʊ/, yielding a vowel actually closer to a /ɯ/. That vowel, however, is only found as one possibility in the New Zealand treacLE set, so American ears are more likely to hear a schwa or an /ɜ/, if they prefer not having a schwa in an accented syllable. But if there is the slightest lip rounding the vowel cannot be /ə/ or /ɜ/.

The difference between the two pronunciations is subtle and not likely noticed by native speakers, especially because a preposition rarely receives sentence stress.

D or DJ

Merriam-Webster offers a /dy/ = /dj/ alternative pronunciation. Now that little j is a tricky creature. It can primarily affect the vowel, as in few /fju/ or a consonant, as it can here with initial d. This effect is called palatization, where the blade of the tongue moves toward the palate. A long /i:/, for instance, palatizes the k in key, but the initial consonant in cat is a garden variety k. British speakers may also palatize the t in tea.

Americans who regularly pronounce the word as /'dʊr-iŋ/ may palatize the d in certain environments. My own pronunciation is as follows:

During the day No palatization
They fought during lunch. Slight palatization
He called during lunch. Stronger palatization

Real Life Examples

Forvo.com offers registered users the opportunity to record themselves pronouncing words or phrases. Of the North Americans who posted, I heard the following pronunciations:

/'dɜr-iŋ/ SeanMauch, Tong, migueld, Atalina
/'dʊr-iŋ/ mmdills
/djʊr-iŋ/ Slick, itiwat, IAmMaidOfTheMist

Since ears have accents as well, others may hear these pronunciations differently.

Compared to the British users, the palatization among the last three North American users is slight. For comparison, the RP pronunciation not only prescribes a palatalized d, but also a schwa glide after the vowel: /ˈdjʊərɪŋ/. Of the three British users, TopQuark and BritishEnglish have both palatalized d and glide, while mstorm has the d but no glide.

A special case is at the bottom of the page where an American with a broadcast accent pronounces the sentence:

He played golf every day during his holiday.

as if he were narrating, say, a war documentary. While his pronunciation would also be transcribed as /djʊr-iŋ/, the vowel rather than the consonant is affected, making the word almost sound like dearing.

  • In the U.S., it's not just that CURE merges with NURSE. The CURE vowel splits, with some of the words going to the NURSE vowel and others going to the FORCE vowel. It's very rare that tour is pronounced with the NURSE vowel (I have heard it occasionally), which would make toured and turd homonyms. Usually, tour goes to FORCE, which makes toured and my pronunciation of toward homonyms. – Peter Shor May 7 '18 at 17:16
  • Let me remark that I've noticed this pronunciation of tour mainly because I wince whenever I hear somebody say something like "I turd the city". It doesn't happen very often at all. – Peter Shor May 7 '18 at 17:22
  • I am only going by the article I linked to, which primarily deals with British changes to the CURE vowel. I can't get to turd or toward without putting on one of several heavy Inland South accents. – KarlG May 7 '18 at 17:27
  • I think I actually do have some lip rounding in words with the NURSE vowel--at least, my lips aren't spread as far horizontally when I pronounce it as they are for the FLEECE, TRAP, or DRESS vowels. The consonant /r/, which shows up when an vowel-initial affix is attached to a word ending in the FLEECE vowel, is usually labialized (although this seems somewhat variable for me, and I think with /r/ I tend to use a labiodental secondary articulation rather than a bilabial articulation as with /w/). – sumelic May 7 '18 at 17:29
  • @sumelic: as I mentioned, the r has slight lip rounding, but if you rounded your lips for the entire articululation, you'd end up with something like an œ, I think. – KarlG May 7 '18 at 17:36

The dictionaries are correct. While the second pronunciation wouldn't sound incorrect, per se, it would sound extremely affected—like someone trying to put on a British accent but not quite succeeding.

  • I think that really depends on where you live, and what regional dialect of American you speak. Not all of us rhyme during and touring with purring. – Peter Shor May 6 '18 at 19:13
  • Where in North America would the second pronunciation be seen as correct? Maybe in a high-class New England accent, but those are seen as affected too. – PinkAmpersand May 6 '18 at 19:14
  • So do you rhyme touring with boring or with purring? It's supposed to rhyme with during, and neither one of those. I'm talking about the vowel, not the pronunciation dyuring, which really does sound affected. – Peter Shor May 6 '18 at 19:15
  • With boring. And "supposed to" in which accent? A General American accent? – PinkAmpersand May 6 '18 at 19:17
  • "Supposed to" according to the dictionary. During and touring. There are lots of Americans who still rhyme during with touring (although there are also lots who don't), so when you say it sounds "extremely affected", you're probably denigrating over half the population. – Peter Shor May 6 '18 at 19:21

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