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Some American speakers pronounce both 'woman' and 'women' as 'woman' (ˈwʊm.ən). Is this a recent pronunciation change? Where, why, and when did it originate?

I specified the American accent because other accents, such as New Zealand and South African accents, naturally have similar sounding vowels in that word.

Example: Video posted by Savanah Hernandez on Twitter

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  • For background, there are multiple questions about the New Zealand pronunciation but there's also this question which discusses the American pronunciation. It would help if you could characterise where the speakers are from and how you would transcribe the common pronunciation.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 3, 2023 at 12:56
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    No, American English speakers in standard speech make the difference between the singular and plural.
    – Lambie
    Dec 3, 2023 at 14:25
  • I find that, when I'm saying something that I'm "inventing off the top of my head", my brain may not have picked the right pronunciation by the time I get to the word. So I pick the pronunciation that is easiest to pronounce.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 3, 2023 at 15:03
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    The second interviewee in that video (well, third, but the first two are in a group together) definitely does pronounce women with a vowel that is a lot closer to [ʊ] than to [ɪ]. The main difference between the two vowels is roundedness, and the preceding [w] is heavily rounded, so it’s a fairly straightforward case of phonetic assimilation. Changes like [wɪ/wə ~ ɪw/əw] to [wʊ ~ ʊw] have happened in lots of languages over time, and if it’s currently happening in some accents of English, that’s typologically unsurprising. Dec 4, 2023 at 0:30
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    Some of the interviewees are simply switching back and forth between "woman" and "women" very quickly and not always getting the right word. "The woman's bathroom" and "The women's bathroom" are both acceptable, which adds to the confusion. Mar 16 at 15:32

3 Answers 3

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Janus Bahs Jacquet commented:

The second interviewee in that video (well, third, but the first two are in a group together) definitely does pronounce women with a vowel that is a lot closer to [ʊ] than to [ɪ]. The main difference between the two vowels is roundedness, and the preceding [w] is heavily rounded, so it’s a fairly straightforward case of phonetic assimilation. Changes like [wɪ/wə ~ ɪw/əw] to [wʊ ~ ʊw] have happened in lots of languages over time, and if it’s currently happening in some accents of English, that’s typologically unsurprising.

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To use the term "Woman" instead of "Women" is often used to express female empowerment and strength in the face of adversity. ie "I am woman"

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Jan 18 at 14:52
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    The video seems to have instances where only 'women' can be correct ("... women are ...") and where the pronunciation is non-standard. Perhaps people are conflating the (anarthrous) singular and plural generic forms erroneously. Jan 18 at 16:29
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For the same reason it is called mankind not menkind. This is the domain of man not men - men is gendered the term man is not. Woman is being used as a plural. "add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct."

This is common parlance. Both "this is a woman and women thing" are routinely used in everyday speech. It is not a pronunciation issue in this answer but could be in their question. Add in wimmin for that which has many connotations - not sure how many characters I have to answer. I'm new.

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Apr 19 at 14:07

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