Monday, 27 February 2012

puma

Some people call it a cougar, some call it a catamount, panther, or mountain lion. A Canadian lady I was talking to the other day, who was telling me about the hazards of hiking in the Pacific Northwest, called it a puma, and this is also its usual name in Britain.

What struck me was that my Canadian friend pronounced it ˈpuːmə, whereas I say ˈpjuːmə.

According to the OED the immediate source of this word is Spanish (and ultimately Quechua). In the case of Spanish and Italian words containing stressed u, anglicization always involves something of a contest between a foreign-style with no preceding palatal semivowel and a more native-style juː with one.

In the case of the island of Cuba the ordinary English pronunciation is ˈkjuːbə. It would be most unusual to pronounce it Spanish-style with no j.

Canned/tinned tuna likewise seems to be pronounced English-style. We Brits, who have tj- or its successor tʃ- in tube, tutor, tune, say ˈtjuːnə, ˈtʃuːnə (making it for most of us a homophone of tuner). Those Americans who have plain t in tuːb, ˈtuːt̬ɚ, tuːn say ˈtuːnə. (This is not exactly a Spanish word, since in Spanish the fish is atún, from Arabic تون tun and Latin thunnus, Greek θύννος thynnos. It is not clear why we stopped calling it ‘tunny(fish)’ and started calling it ‘tuna’. The OED says it’s American Spanish.)

In the phrase numero uno (actually of Italian rather than Spanish origin) the nu- part has or doesn’t have j according to the way we pronounce new and nude; but the uno always, I think, has plain with no preceding j.

Utah always has juː-, but several other words seem to be variable, with Brits tending to include j and Americans usually omitting it: barracuda, iguana, jaguar, iguana, mulatto, Nicaragua, vicuña.

Back to puma: I hastened to check whether I had included the yodless form in LPD. I was relieved to find that — unlike the OED and the ODP — I had. The fact that it is in thin (not thick) black type after the || shows that it is what the database calls an AME VARPRON, i.e. not the main AmE pron. I continue to regard ˈpjuːmə as the MAINPRON for both BrE and AmE, whatever my Canadian friend says. Perhaps I ouɡht to do a preference survey.

74 comments:

  1. Perhaps you ought to!
    For what it's worth, I'm an American raised in the Midwest and living in North Carolina and I've never heard anyone non-British say pjuːmə once in my life. That sounds quite strange to be frank; I knew that BrE had that as standard but I would be surprised to find any American at all that does not say puːmə.
    In fact, if I were to rank the AmE pronunciations of the word "puma" using your database system I would say that puːmə would be MAINPRON and pjuːmə would be neither MAINPRON nor VARPRON, for it is entirely unheard!

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    1. Strange then that Webster's Collegiate includes ˈpjuːmə. And it's the ONLY form given in my American Heritage Dictionary.

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    2. A lot of those dictionaries must be based on the way people like Kelsey Grammar, David Hyde Pierce and James Lipton speak (or maybe the way they would have spoken had they lived in the 19th century).

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    3. ". . . and I've never heard anyone non-British say pjuːmə once in my life."

      I suspect a case of selective attention. I've heard both, but I grew up (in Seattle) saying pjumə, as did my schoolfellows.

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    4. "I suspect a case of selective attention. I've heard both, but I grew up (in Seattle)"

      Perhaps a regional thing more than "selective attention"? I've never been west at all but I'd like to make it clear that I'm not just trying to be "different" or problematic; I'm just an American giving my opinion that I honestly do not believe I've heard anyone but the British say pjuːmə. Perhaps my experience is atypical however.

      "And it's the ONLY form given in my American Heritage Dictionary."

      Regarding this however, that's just ridiculous. Perhaps I could be convinced that in certain parts of the country pjumə is acceptable, but there is NO convincing me that pumə is the "only" acceptable AmE pronunciation of the word. Ask any American from anywhere if pumə is an acceptable pronunciation and I can guarantee your response!

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    5. Seems to me that this is one of those words that don't come up and conversation much, and that many of us know from seeing it in writing. So, while the pjuːmə pronunciation is new to me upon reading this post, I can't really be sure if that says anything about how people around me pronounce it.

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    6. Also interesting Dr. Wells is that the online version of your above-referenced American Heritage Dictionary lists puːmə as its first entry.

      http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=puma&submit.x=0&submit.y=0

      I'm not sure which version you're using, but apparently not one that used AmE as the basis for its pronunciations...

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  2. Years ago, on the PM programme on Radio 4, a sportswoman was extolling the virtues of teamwork and described it as /ˌnju:mərəʊ ˈwʌnəʊ/. The presenters went on to have a field day.

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  3. the nu- part has or doesn’t have j according to the way we pronounce new and nude


    That's not the key variable for me. It depends on whether at the time of speaking I'm feeling it to be a 'foreign' phrase or a 'naturalised' phrase. I might well say ˈnu:mərəʊ but I would never say ˈnu:mərəl.

    Similarly with barracuda, iguana, jaguar, iguana,
    [Repetition! Should there be a different word here?]
    mulatto, Nicaragua, vicuña. I never have any sense of jaguar being 'foreign' so my ˈdʒægjuə pronunciation is constant. The other words don't always feel 'naturalised' but some are more likely to have ju: than others. At the opposite extreme to jaguar I'm unlikely to encounter vicuña as anything but a written word with its decidedly foreign appearance.

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    1. I'd go further: I don't believe I'd ever have /j/ in "numero uno" but I always do in "new", "numeral" etc.

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  4. I'm American and I was surprised to see iguana included in the list of words in the penultimate paragraph. I've only ever heard it pronounced ɪ ˈɡwɑːnə or maybe i ˈɡwɑːnə sometimes. I didn't realize j could be used anywhere in the pronunciation of that word. I was surprised to see jaguar on that list of words that could possibly have a jod too until I imagined David Attenborough talking about big cats on TV.

    I hope this isn't too off topic, but in America jaguar can also be pronounced 'ʤæɡwaɪr. This pronunciation is stigmatized as far as I can tell. My guess is that it is a hypercorrection of the monophthongization of before r which takes place in some American accents and can make tire and tar homophones for some people.

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    1. Jason

      I have only the vaguest idea of what an iguana is, but I do (I think) remember that there's a play called Night of the Iguana. That's why I would (usually) say ̩ɪgjuˈɑ:nə.

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    2. I pronounce it /ʤæɡwɑr/.

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    3. John Cowan

      I pronounce it /ʤæɡwɑr/.

      Three syllables for me. That way it fits the tune of Tannenbaum/The Red Flag

      The Commissar for Potters Bar
      Goes riding in his Jaguar
      He steers it up and down the lanes
      Inspecting munic-eye-pal drains
      He isn't one of Uncle Joe's
      But that's the way the party goes
      The working class can kiss my arse
      I've got the foreman's job at last

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    4. I have schwa in the last syllable. As a Northerner, those lines fail to rhyme in other ways for me anyway.

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    5. It would be consistent with the meaning of the song if it contained an imitated upper-class pronunciation rather than necessarily a typical RP pronunciation. I class myself as an RP speaker, and have schwa in the last syllable; "Jaguar" rhyming with "Bar" sounds upper-class to me. It also appears to me that the song is deliberately drawing attention to it by scanning in such a way as to give emphasis to this usually unstressed syllable.

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  5. ɪˈɡwɑːn.ə is the main pronunciation for iguana for both AmE and BrE in the LPD. ˌɪɡ.juˈɑːn.ə is given as an alternative. No ɪg.juˈæn.ə to be seen, though.

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  6. Tuna: OED etymology (unrevised) does say American Spanish. But if it were, a Google books search for Spanish texts with tuna + Thunnus ought to show it. I draw a blank.

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    1. I can confirm it's used in South America. (So can Google, if you look for, say, "filete de tuna".)

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    2. I'm South American and "filete de tuna" sounds like an anglicism to me :). But I wouldn't go as far as stating that there's no way "tuna" comes from South American Spanish.

      I'm from Buenos Aires and "tuna" for "atún" sounds really odd here. But in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, there's an important influence of North American English into Spanish. So I would have imagined that "tuna" came from English to Spanish, not the other way round.

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    3. Yes, that's well possible, and I should have said Central rather than South American. (Chile has atún, too.)

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  7. puma Some people call it a cougar, some call it a catamount, panther, or mountain lion.

    How strange! Apple named version 10.1 of their operating system Puma but they're naming the forthcoming 10.8 version Mountain Lion.

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    1. Small wonder.

      Given that 'puma', despite its delusive simplicity, is not uncontroversially pronouncable (as the discussion above and below shows more than amply) across the Anglo-Saxon world, Apple are well-advised to rename their OS, while retaining the substance. What's in a name? A puma, by another name, will prey just as ferociously...

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    2. You misunderstand, Wojciech. Apple did name the system Puma back in 2001 — between original Cheetah and 2002 Jaguar. These were follow by Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard and Lion. My surprise was at the their choosing both Puma and Mountain Lion in the sequence — if, indeed, they are always the same animal.

      These cat names are all versions of Mac OS X — which I'm told they insist on pronouncing əʊ ɛs tɛn.

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    3. Sorry. Thank you. I have overlooked something.

      I'd suspect that Apple either don't know that Puma=Mountain Lion, or if they do they think few (amongst their prospective customers) know and/or care.

      In Poland there are ('are' in the sense of 'are known about') three big felines, lampart, pantera and leopard, zoologically all panthera pardus, but I have often observed that many thought these be three different species. If 'panther' and 'leopard' in English be or not be the same I don't know. Maybe in the Apple world they aren't.

      Anyway, the unpronounceability of 'puma' does not help

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    4. As I understand, "panther" in English is used mainly for the black varieties of both leopard and jaguar (or to the puma). In Dutch, "luipaard" is used mainly for the African variety, while "panter" is used for the Asian ones.

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    5. This is because you-guys (English, Dutch etc.) are colonial nations and have experience with 'exotic' animals. We, by contrast, confined to Middle-European fauna, have neither the need nor the nerve for such differentiations as 'black', 'pink' and what not. But strangely, instead of regarding 'lampart', 'pantera' and 'leopard' as synonyms, we usually think they refer to three different species. If Apple had been a Polish business, they could have scot-free multiplied their feline Oh-Esses.

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  8. I have noticed a tendency in AmE to pronounce gu where older and non-American pronunciations have gju in words of comparatively rare occurrence, at least in "gewgaw" and "lugubrious." I am not aware of any examples of this happening after k.

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    1. That was supposed to be phonetic "k" rather than roman "k" at the end.

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    2. In LPD I give -ˈɡuːb- as the MAINPRON for lugubrious in both BrE and AmE.

      After k? How about recuperate?

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    3. I stand corrected, on both "lugubrious" (I always thought the version with gu was an Americanism!) and "recuperate."

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    4. John Wells wrote:

      In LPD I give -ˈɡuːb- as the MAINPRON for lugubrious in both BrE and AmE.

      A pronunciation unknown to the NED (1908), which has (lⁱugiū·briəs) only.

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  9. How about ˈsentjʊəri or ˈsentjəri (we do have senˈtjʊəriən) or ˈpɪktjʊə or ˈkləʊzjʊə?

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    1. Are you sure it's /senˈtjʊəriən/ and not simply /senˈtjʊriən/? (I take it that /iə/ is a disyllable here.) That's what I'd expect based on my AmE /senˈtʃuriən/

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    2. I've just checked it once again, and yes, the LPD gives the pronunciation just as I wrote it.

      :)

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    3. @John C:

      As a native BrE speaker, I can confirm that I would say /tjʊər/.

      I can't think of any words with /ʊr/, apart possibly from JW's famous "courier".

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    4. /tjʊər/ for me too, although /ʊə/ has a monophthongal allophone (distinguished from the /ʊ/ of "courier" primarily by length) in that environment.

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    5. Ah, length. As a Murkin, I'm deaf to length.

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  10. A guest professor (from the US) at my (Canadian) university was surprised that some of us say baɪ.ˈlɪŋ.ɡ(j)u.əl instead of baɪ.ˈlɪŋ.ɡwəl. Seems related...

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    1. Wait a minute. This is what I've encountered in that syllabification article and was going to ask Prof. Wells: a full stop followed by a stress mark isn't wrong and superfluous? I'm sure I saw it even stated that way someplace.

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    2. I don't know what the convention is; I only thought to use the dots to better illustrate the pronunciations I was trying to express. Sure, it's redundant.

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    3. Is a baɪˈlɪŋɡ(j)u.əl someone who speaks two ˈlæŋg(j)u.ɪdʒɪz ?

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    4. As an aside parallelism: in German, 'linguistisch' (linguistic) is normally pronounced 'lɪŋ'wɪstɪʃ', but some Germans (known to me) say 'lɪŋ'uɪstɪʃ' (four syllables), likewise 'pɪŋ'ui:nə' (penguin).

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    5. lɪŋ'gwɪstɪʃ or lɪŋgu'ɪstɪʃ, surely. The first might have a variant without the g, the second, which is at least as widespread, hardly. And for the versions with there are versions with and without the glottal stop, and with a short u or a ʊ. The stress is on the penultimate, never on the u/ʊ.

      Like wise pɪŋgu'i:n(ə).

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    6. Sorry, almost always 'pɪŋgui:n(ə).

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    7. And there are accepted versions with v (with or without the g.

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    8. Re stress, you're right, the penultimate, sorry.

      On the rest---might well be that you are right, esp. concerning the 'g', but I wouldn't argue. Re polar bird I sort of regard pɪŋ'gwi:nə (3 syllables) as normal but I may be wrong in this expectation.

      Never heard 'biling'Ual'. four syllables, though. Next time I hear someone say 'ling'Uistisch' (four syllables) I'll try to elicit a statement on bilinguality from her/him/it/them.

      nb. 'bilingual' in Chilean Spanish seems to mean that one has, apart from native Spanish, some smattering of another language, not necessarily real bilinguality.

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    9. The majority pronunciation is 'pɪŋgʊi:nə, I think. Stressing it on the penultimate is something I shouldn't consider wrong, but I don't remember hearing it. If so, the register wouldn't fit the w, and it would have a full syllable there.

      I've certainly heard bilingual with four syllables though three might be more common. The word almost always has initial stress, and otherwise the stress is on -al- (only in an attributive position).

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    10. Well,stress is a side issue here, although I must admit that you're probably right; what I meant was the unusual -gu- pronunciation like 'gʊ' rather than 'gw'.

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  11. Interesting that despite favouring u: over ju: for the "u" words, AmE has /hjuːstən/ for Houston and /kjuːpɑn/ for coupon.

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    1. Hmm, that unrounded low back vowel in coupon didn't come out how I intended it, don't know what happened there...

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    2. I'm somewhat vexed for a short moment every time I hear an an American say figure with a j and a ʊ.

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    3. Yes: /kjuːpɑn/ really pisses me off :) But the yodless form of this word seems just as common to me in AmE.

      Perhaps the yodful "coupon"'s currency is related to a lower awareness of French, and French reading-rules, in the US, while the yodful Spanish loanwords in BrE are likewise related to a lower awareness of Spanish there.

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    4. Well, it depends on which Houston you mean. The city and the county in Texas (not related to each other) are both /hjuːstən/ after Sam Houston, but the street in Manhattan and the county in Georgia are /ˈhaʊstən/ after William Houstoun (of Scottish extraction — he or his ancestors presumably said /ˈhustən/), one of the delegates from Georgia to the U.S. constitutional convention of 1787. The hamlet in Shelby County, Ohio, is likewise /ˈhaʊstən/ according to Wikipedia, but I do not know its etymology.

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    5. I am not convinced that the pronunciation of "coupon" with ju is predominant in AmE. There is probably a variation by region and social class. I grew up (in Seattle) hearing and saying kupɑn, and distinctly remember that the first time that I heard (or at least noticed) someone say kjupɑn, the speaker was an attendant at a gas station (petrol station?). I don't think that I ever heard (in those times) an announcer in a television or radio commercial say kjupɑn.

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    6. MKR

      The Coupon Song with ju: pronunciation (at least in the versions I've heard) was a popular song in an idiom geared to to White Southerners and migrants of Southern origin. To me this suggests a pretty widespread pronunciation.

      I don't know when the song was written but it it was recorded as early as 1935. Bill Monroe recorded it in 1941.

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    7. Perhaps the yodful "coupon"'s currency is related to a lower awareness of French, and French reading-rules, in the US, ...

      Sounds plausible, but by the same argument you'd expect the BrE and AmE pronunciations of "herb" to be the other way around.

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    8. All initial /h/ was lost in the most recent ancestral variety, anyway, and restored erratically and imperfectly from the spelling. BrE and AmE did the restoration differently.

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    9. I became aware of the /kjuːpɑn/ pronunciation only a few months ago, when I heard it from a TV character with a New York accent. I was startled -- it sounded like a mistake. I asked my Ann Arbor friends; some say it that way and some don't. I'm from northern California; I notice the other speaker on this thread who doesn't think /kjuːpɑn/ is established as the AmE standard is from Seattle.

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  12. Other words in which I've heard /u/ or /w/ in the US but /ju:/ or /jʊə(r)/ in BrE include the countries "Honduras" and "Uruguay", and also the Hawaiian "ukelele".

    The pronunciations with /j/ presumably originated as spelling pronunciations, since the correspondence of /j/ to orthographic U normally only applies to words English received from French (which includes the name of the letter U itself).

    No doubt the rise of the yodless pronunciation in the US is due to the increasing knowledge and awareness of Spanish. I wonder whether "Cuba" itself will eventually become /kuːbə/.

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    1. I'm sure there are already some who are proud of saying kʰʊ̈ʉbə, just like the locals. :-)

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    2. But how can it be universally of spelling pronunciation origin if it only applies to French words?

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    3. I've never heard them (from native English speakers).

      And as long as /kjuːbə/ remains the standard AmE form, I have a riposte to anyone who criticizes my /hɒnˈdjʊərəs/ etc. as demonstrating ignorance of Spanish :)

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    4. @Duchesse:

      It's a spelling pronunciation (according to my hypothesis) when applied to words of non-French origin.

      In long-established words of French origin, it's generally a result of the regular historical development French /y/ -> English /iu/ -> English /ju:/.

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  13. Some people may distinguish "puma" the New World big cat from "Puma" the German sports brand with a puma logo. A Germanised pronunciation for the latter is not implausible.

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  14. I'm a Canadian who has only said "puma" (and has most-often, but not always, heard it here) with j.

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  15. pu·ma /ˈpu:mə, Brit ˈpju:mə/
    Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary
    http://www.learnersdictionary.com/search/puma

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  16. As a rather young American, I can say that all of the forms with /j/ you mention strike me as almost clichédly British, not something I would ever hear in speech.

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  17. If you're still accepting anecdotes, I too am an American (born/raised in NYC and the NE US, resident in Chicago for 20+ years; I have plain old in tuna, newt, etc.) who cannot recall ever hearing any other American say ˈpjuːmə or anything but ˈpuːmə for puma. My partner (who's lived primarily in eastern Michigan, NYC, and Chicago) reports the same, and I'm extremely confident that in neither of our cases has selective attention played a major role.

    The non-IPA-using OAD (widget version, at least) has ˈp(y)oōmə.

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    1. I wholeheartedly agree; it's nice to see someone who's been around the country who also finds ˈpjuːmə to be utterly bizarre. Any American dictionary listing ˈpjuːmə as the only pronunciation should try asking an American how they pronounce "puma" and adjust their transcription accordingly.

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    2. Unavoidably, general dictionaries are rather more prescriptive about pronunciations than about definitions and usage: until very recent years, they have not had decent-sized speech corpora to work from.

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  18. If you've never heard an American say ˈpjuːmə then you didn't see the Smothers Brothers' "Boil That Cabbage Down" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIfl2o44zb0 about 45 years ago.

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