The long u can be difficult to recognize in multi-syllable words, especially when it's reduced.
Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 106th episode.
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For today's show, I'm going to talk about a sound that really gets overlooked, the long u. The long u sounds like (long u), as in the word cute. Today, I'm going to talk about long u in multi-syllable words, and how to reduce the long u sound. When I say reduced long u sound, I'm talking about the long u when it occurs on an unstressed syllable of a multi-syllable word.
A common long u substitution is the oo sound. This is because the sounds are so similar; the long u sound is just an oo sound with a y sound before it. The oo sound is pronounced as (oo sound), and the long u sounds like (long u). Can you hear the difference: oo sound (oo sound), long u (long u)?
I often hear words like accumulate pronounced as *accoomoolate, or document pronounced *docooment. Don't get me wrong, these accidental substitutions will probably not cause miscommunication, they just enhance your accent, and you may want to be aware of them.
The spellings for the long u sound in multi-syllable words can be difficult sound to grasp because, as words gain syllables, their phonetics often become considerably harder to see. In big, long words, the long u sound is often spelled with just the letter u somewhere in the middle of a word, and often the word has a suffix.
Before we look at longer words, let's find the patterns of short, single syllable words. The general pattern for the long u sound is that it can be spelled:
u-consonant-e, as in the word cute
u-e, as in the word fuel
e-w, as in the word few
The confusing part is that those spellings can all also be pronounced as the oo sound. There is a way to know if the pronunciation will be long u or oo sound, however. The long u sound is more likely when the consonant sound before the spelling is any of the following six consonant sounds:
m sound, as in the word amuse
k sound, as in the word cute
n sound, as in the word continue
f sound, as in the word few
b sound, as in the word distribute
v sound, as in the word view
As I already mentioned, spelling patterns become less important in multi-syllable words because suffixes and other circumstances can affect and change spellings.
Here are some examples of words that have the long u sound spelled with just the letter u. In single-syllable words, the long u pronunciation is unlikely with just a single letter u; in multi-syllable words, however, it comes up more frequently.
I want to focus on the word accumulate for a bit because it gives us an interesting comparison of a stressed long u sound and an unstressed long u sound in a single word. Because the word accumulate ends in the -ate suffix, we know that the word is stressed on the third from the last syllable. In the word accumulate, the stressed syllable falls on the c-u syllable, acCUmulate. The c-u syllable of the word accumulate sounds like (k sound+long u), accumulate.
Immediately after the c-u syllable in the word accumulate is the m-u syllable, which also has a long u sound. However, since the m-u syllable is next to a stressed syllable, the m-u syllable gets reduced. This is a common function of schwa, or reduced vowel sounds. Your dictionary shows schwa as an unside-down letter e. The m-u syllable of the word accumulate sounds like (m sound+y sound+schwa), accumulate.
The important thing here is that the long u sound, which is pronounced as (long u) when it is stressed, is pronounced as (y+schwa) when it is unstressed. So, if I break the word accumulate into its individual syllables, it is pronounced a(c)-cu-mu-late.
Your American English dictionaries will probably show the c-u syllable in the word accumulate transcribed as a k sound, then a y sound, then an oo sound. That gives you (k sound, y sound, oo sound) It will then show the m-u syllable as an m sound, a y sound, and then a schwa, which gives you (m sound, y sound, schwa), a(c)-cu-mu-late.
Let's compare some stressed long u sounds to some unstressed long u sounds. In the following words, the long u is stressed:
And in the following words, the long u is reduced:
I'm going to say all eight of those words again for you to repeat after me. Here is the stressed long u:
And here is the reduced long u:
That's all for today, everyone. If you have a pronunciation topic you'd like me to discuss in a podcast, let me know in our forums. I get a lot of ideas from the forums, and I like the opportunity to interact with all of you! So go check them out at www.pronuncian.com/forums. Forum accounts are always free.
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