So, Cambridge Dictionary proposes "/su:/" and seems most of the examples on youtube for instance have this form.

However many dictionaries offer an alternative form as "/sju:/", and it is articulated here for example: Macmillan dictionary

I wonder which one is correct and which dialect each of them belongs to?

  • 1
    Some words that have a stressed /u:/ sound, sue, coupon, etc., acquire a y-glide. That's all.
    – Robusto
    Sep 16 '20 at 0:44
  • 8
    What does "correct" mean?
    – tchrist
    Sep 16 '20 at 1:17
  • 3
    Some people say /sju:/ and some say /su:/. Most people talk like the people around them, or like the people they want to emulate, or both. Sep 16 '20 at 1:58
  • 2
    Are you asking about the girl's name or the legal process? The name is pretty obviously going to be pronounced the same as the first syllable of Susan, but for the other meaning the pronunciation does vary.
    – nnnnnn
    Sep 16 '20 at 2:21
  • 1
    Related: How do you pronounce 'news'?
    – GSerg
    Sep 16 '20 at 10:40

In many accents of English, /sj/ at the start of a syllable has been simplified to /s/. This simplification has progressed further in North American English than in British English, but it's gone pretty far in both. The pronunciations aren't neatly divided between different dialects of English: there may be some Americans that use /sj/ in sue (I know that some Americans use /nj/ in new), and there are certainly Britons that use /s/ in sue. One of them is not "correct".

/sju:/ is the pronunciation of sue in accents without this simplification.

/su:/ is the pronunciation of sue in accents with this simplification.

This is not a matter of words with a stressed /u:/ sound "acquiring" /j/ in some accents. Words such as soon and soup are pronounced with /su:/ rather than /sju:/, even in accents that use /sju:/ in sue, suit, or super. It's just like the contrast between /buː/ in boot and /bjuː/ in beauty that exists in all widespread accents of English (although not in some regional accents of England, where /bj/ at the start of a syllable has been simplified to /b/). The simplification of consonant clusters with /j/ is called "yod-dropping", after the Hebrew letter yod/yodh which represents /j/. Words that historically contained /juː/ are typically spelled with u, ew or eu.

The name Susan traditionally started with /sju:/ not /su:/, so there is no underlying reason why sue and Sue should be anything but perfect homophones. However, some speakers show variable simplification of /sj/ to /s/, where only some of the words that historically had /sj/ are pronounced with it. It is conceivable that Sue and sue might be distinct in this way for some speakers, but I doubt it is systematic.

The entry for U in Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage from 1926 noted that /sj/ already showed a tendency to be replaced with /s/ in southern British English of the time:

After s & z there is a tendency to convert the orthodox ū to o͞o or o͝o, e.g. in superior, Susan, supreme, suzerain, suicide, suet, suit, presume, Zulu ; this class is comparable to the lu words, but the decline of ū is far less marked.

Fowler uses ū, o͞o, o͝o to denote /ju/, /u/, /ʊ/.

  • 2
    A common example of yod-droppong is stupid: /stju:pɪd/ in BrE, /stu:pɪd/ in AmE. Sep 16 '20 at 6:48
  • 5
    Nit pick: One of them is not "correct" - which one? Or Neither of them is "correct"? Sep 16 '20 at 8:01
  • Yes, when we were at (English) primary school many years ago the teacher insisted that my sister was called Syoosan. While everybody else knew she was called Susan. But would anyone do that now?
    – RedSonja
    Sep 16 '20 at 11:28

As Robusto mentioned, some words have a stressed "u" sound. Sue in British-English has two main definitions; 1/to institute a process in law against; bring a civil action against:to sue someone for damages.

2/ a noun, a female given name, Susan, Susanna.

From 40 years+ of my lived experience in England, definition 1 is pronunced with a stressed "u", similar in sound to few.

Definition 2 is pronunced with a softer "u" sound similar to moo or loo. The two words sound so similar that only context could offer a discernable distinction between the two words amongst the most native of English speakers.

  • 1
    Where in England? To me (SE London originally, now Bristol) the different pronunciation of def. 1 is uncommon, tending towards old-fashioned or posh
    – Chris H
    Sep 16 '20 at 14:53
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    My life long residency has been West of London, in the Greater London area. Two bloodlines, having a different geographical origin of birth, both share the same pronunciation of the words "persue" and "Sue", which might explain an unconscious reason for my own pronunciation of the same words at this moment in my life. However, my own thoughts on pronunciation of words extend back before my teens, when words like bottle were pronunced by some friends (but not all) with a glottal, a conscious choice I decided for myself to follow for some years after. Persue, persuit, suit has me pondering too.
    – Dixie
    Sep 16 '20 at 15:44
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    @ChrisH - I'm Herne Hill SE24, now St Werburghs BS2. My father used to say syoot for suit, syoosan for Susan, etc. Thought himself posh. I don't think I'm posh, I know I am, and I don't do this. Sep 16 '20 at 20:25
  • @Dixie - of course you mean pursue and pursuit? Sep 16 '20 at 21:33
  • @Chris H- According to David Crystal, an expert on the subject of linguistics, Received Pronunciation is relatively recent amongst English accents, which arrived near the end of the 18th Century. cambridge.org/elt/blog/2020/06/04/… .The son of David Crystal, Ben Crystal, has a fascinating disquisition further towards a theory in the usage of iambic pentameter among Shakespeare plays, adding "Shakespeare plays were written to be performed and not read".youtu.be/iqmgeth4tFY both are relevant to what people might perceive as being posh.
    – Dixie
    Sep 16 '20 at 23:06

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