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Is the following pronunciation of the word “tour” attested in any common dialect of British English?

  • [tɔ˞]

This is approximately how I, a native British English speaker, pronounce it. However, it’s been described by a non-native speaker as “unintelligible”.

The dictionary pronunciation is [tʊər], which — if you ignore my non-rhotic accent — is pretty close to mine. So close, I find it hard to believe it’s unintelligible; I can barely hear the difference. There is an allophone and near-allophone in my idiolect -- "tor" ([tɔ˞]) and "taw" ([tɔ]) -- but these are very niche words (I can safely say I've never heard or used the latter!)


The Free Dictionary gives two pronunciations for tour. The American Heritage entry, using its own transcription gives: (to͝or). This vowel is the same vowel as in the word book. I'm sure I've never heard that! The other entry for British English, by Collins Dictionary gives /tʊə/. However, it's well known that dictionary's often don't give alternative standard pronunciations, or regional ones and often use out of date ones too.

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  • I don't have anything like Jonathon Woss's "speech impediment", but my speech is completely non-rhotic, and I'm totally incapable of rolling my r's. But 50 years ago in my first university linguistics lecture it became apparent that I have a smaller set of "significant phonemes" than most of my compatriots. Unless I make a real effort to enunciate in a way that feels unnatural to me, my four, fool, fall, full are all pretty much indistinguishable without context. Oct 29, 2022 at 12:49
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    Cambridge gives audio pronunciations for UK and US dialects. We can't hear how you say it. Oct 29, 2022 at 13:36
  • The OED gives Brit. /tʊə/, /tɔː/, U.S. /tʊ(ə)r/
    – Greybeard
    Oct 29, 2022 at 14:47
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    @Greybeard FYI, that /tʊ(ə)r/ isn’t so great a representation of even the rhotic American pronunciations of tour; see my comment to Araucaria’s answer. Our rhotic speakers with the Mᴀʀʏ-ᴍᴀʀʀʏ-ᴍᴇʀʀʏ merger neutralize all lax–tense distinctions before phonemic R in the coda—and may smooth diphthongs into monophthongs—leaving tour with tense vowels like [tʰuɹ], [tʰuwɚ], [tʰoɻ] for most of us, with diverse narrower transcriptions also possible. ¹²
    – tchrist
    Oct 29, 2022 at 17:23
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    "The American Heritage entry, using its own transcription gives: (to͝or). This vowel is the same vowel as in the word book." It's certainly not the vowel that "book" has in Standard AmE. Oct 30, 2022 at 3:29

1 Answer 1

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John Wells, in his interesting and very readable paper Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation? makes the following observations about what is known as the CURE vowel, the diphthong /ʊə/, which a small number of speakers in the UK use for the word tour:

Decline and disappearance of /ʊə/. Words formerly containing the diphthong /ʊə/ have come increasingly to be pronounced with /ɔː/ instead. Thus your is no longer /jʊə/ but /jɔː/. Poor, sure, moor, cure, tourist are often /pɔː, ʃɔː, mɔː, kjɔː, ˈtɔːrɪst/. My survey figures for poor showed that when we group all ages together /pɔː/ was preferred over the traditional /pʊə/ by a margin of 57% to 43% of the respondents; but when we look at different age-groups separately /pɔː/ was preferred by only 27% of the oldest respondents (born before 1923) as against a massive 81% of the youngest (born since 1962). Words such as jury, rural seem generally to be resistant to this change, and do not rhyme with story, choral. Rather, they seem now typically to be pronounced with a monophthong of the [ʊː] type, perhaps to be interpreted as a variant of /uː/.

We can see there that the old CURE vowel, /ʊə/, has become virtually obsolete in the UK, certainly amongst RP speakers and has been replaced by /ɔ:/. The dictionaries seem to be a bit reticent about recognising this or giving /ɔ:/ as the predominant pronunciation. The Original Poster, however, specifically asks about /tɔ˞/ for the word tour, with an r-coloured vowel This is a rhoticised version of the modern RP one, and it would be surprising if there weren't some rhotic speakers in the UK who used it.

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    The vowel in North American rhotic pronunciations of tour notably varies from east to west. In the Northeast it can be the one you describe in /tɔ˞/, but any further west and it’s much more apt to be the ɢᴏᴏꜱᴇ vowel than the ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜᴛ vowel or the ɢᴏᴀᴛ vowel. Whether you write that as [tʰuɹ], [tʰuwɚ], [tʰʊwɚ] may depend on just which features you’re trying to illustrate. The tense–lax distinction is neutralized before phonemic R here for nearly all of us: we hear any such vowel as tense/close. Having the ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜᴛ vowel there is a Northeastern oddity to the rest of us.
    – tchrist
    Oct 29, 2022 at 15:49
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    For my two cents (midwest), "tour" is decidedly a two-syllable word containing the GOOSE vowel. It doesn't rhyme with "four" or "poor" but basically rhymes with "fewer". Oct 29, 2022 at 21:52
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    The OP says they have a non-rhotic accent.
    – PM 2Ring
    Oct 30, 2022 at 0:24
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    @tchrist: Are you saying that pronouncing "tour" to rhyme with "more" is uncommon in the US outside the Northeast? In my own personal experience it seems quite common. Oct 30, 2022 at 3:36
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    @EricWofsey Yes, with the vowel of tour being the same as in tourist and touring. All three of those have the /u/ of two, not the /o/ of toe.
    – tchrist
    Oct 30, 2022 at 3:58

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