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I was looking at how "eer" is usually pronounced and I used the CMU pronouncing dictionary (American accent). I saw that most of the time (around 95%) "ee" before "r" is pronounced /ɪ/, but there are a few words like seer for which the dictionary says that "ee" is /i/. However, when looking at the oxford dictionaries (Received Pronunciation), all the words that the CMU says that have an /i/ are indicated as being pronounced with a /ɪ/.

Is the CMU dictionary wrong or is seer (or bucaneer or puppeteer) really pronounced with /i/ while other words like steer, deer, veneer and peer are pronounced with an /ɪ/?

Some links:

I know RP and Ame are different, but I'm adding it anyway because it supports a bit the argument saying that seer is /sɪr/

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  • Please give links. And wouldn't '[O]xford Dictionaries' give more UK-related pronunciation? Jun 20, 2020 at 15:38
  • Certainly "Received Pronunciation" would indicate a distinctly British accent: comparing British pronunciation with American will find differences, quite apart from the differing conventions in IPA.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 20, 2020 at 15:41
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    As a standard American lunkhead it looks to me like they are all pronounced with "ear". Color me mystified with any other pronunciation.
    – Elliot
    Jun 20, 2020 at 15:59
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    The Oxford/Lexico "US" pronunciation of the word does not sound right to my Midwestern ears. I pronounce it, as Peter Shor suggested (before he deleted his comment), as see-er (though not in two distinct syllables).
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 20, 2020 at 16:22
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    I mean in the same way that a peer (someone who pees) is not said the same as a peer (a lord or associate). Jun 20, 2020 at 16:22

1 Answer 1

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Some people pronounce seer to rhyme with freer (more free), but this isn't what the CMU dictionary is talking about. The CMU dictionary encodes freer as F R IY ER, not F R IY R. The problem with seer is that the CMU dictionary is inconsistent as to how it encodes these phonemes.

The CMU dictionary has

bier, ear, hear, here, seer, tier, weir

as /-ir/, and

beer, cheer, clear, dear, deer, ear, fear, gear, jeer, mere, near, peer, pier, queer, rear, sear, sere, shear, sheer, smear, sneer, spear, sphere, steer, tear, veer, year

as /ɪr/.

Furthermore, beard is B IH R D and bluebeard is B L UW B IY R D.

I don't think that any Americans actually differentiate between these two sets of words, although some Americans pronounce all these words with /-ir/ and some with /-ɪr/, so either of these notations would be a reasonable representation of these words. But the CMU dictionary is inconsistent, which is not reasonable.

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  • Downvoter: please either explain what is wrong with this answer, or give your own answer. I don't believe that beard and bluebeard are pronounced differently in any reasonable dialect of English. Jun 20, 2020 at 16:54
  • I certainly not the downvoter, but I will note that there is a slight difference in emPHAsis between "beard" and bluebeard". The final "rd" sound is more distinct in "beard". As for "seer", the "e" sound is "longer" (using the archaic meaning of that term for pronunciation) than most of the other examples quoted, in part because separating the "see" from the the final "r" sound leads to that pronunciation.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 20, 2020 at 17:03
  • > "But the CMU dictionary is inconsistent, which is not reasonable." @PeterShor yep, that's what I thought, thanks. Any idea what is most common or what is considered more like the standard general american/canadian? As in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_American_English
    – Damaru
    Jun 20, 2020 at 20:00
  • General American is a myth, but the majority of Americans use /- ɪr/. See this Harvard dialect survey question, which uses the word miracle, that also has the strange pronunciation mericle. Jun 20, 2020 at 20:22
  • Thank you. Btw, did you mean to paste a different link? I don't see a survey there.
    – Damaru
    Jun 21, 2020 at 8:38

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