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"In my neighborhood in Pawtucket, it’s common to run into your neighbors on summer evenings."

-- Curt Columbus, The Importance of Neighbors - audio link

What is the pronunciation of the ‘aw’ in Pawtucket?

  1. /ɔ/

  2. /3 or ə/ (dictionary.reference.com: /pɔˈtʌkɪt/)

I hear (2). If that is so, does the dictionary reference have the wrong pronunciation? Or is there a pronunciation phenomena that /ɔ/ is changing into (2)?

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    Wikipedia has the right pronunciation, I think: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pawtucket,_Rhode_Island
    – user230
    Sep 26, 2013 at 0:19
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    There's another audio file on this page. I've attended a baseball game at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket; both audio links seem to match the way I'd say it fairly closely.
    – J.R.
    Sep 26, 2013 at 0:30

2 Answers 2

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People who have never actually been to Rhode Island and know Pawtucket only as a name on the printed page look at the word and assume that paw is pronounced /pɔ/, with secondary or even primary stress. The locals, however, who not only hear the word constantly but may be presumed to constitute the only authority, pronounce it with a schwa and unstressed. They deeply resent (as they should) the complacent ignorance of foreigners from places like Connecticut and New York. Here's one of them (who admittedly lived there only for several years in his childhood) complaining about

CBS Correspondent Steve Hartman who didn’t know how to pronounce, “PAWTUCKET.” After years of enduring the slings and arrows of this verbal ignorance/harassment this for me was the last straw and fodder for yet another ranting post. Gees people, can’t you get the name straight?

[...]

When I went to school at Moses Brown and then on to St. Dunstan’s in nearby Providence never did I hear anyone - Family member, fellow student, faculty or any Rhode Islander mispronounce (OK, let’s be objective now) – pronounce the name of this august little town – ancient fishing grounds and the birthplace of the industrial revolution in the United States of America via the Old Slater Mill – any other way than the correct way.

Seems that Steve Hartman and admittedly many other broadcasters, sportscasters, commentators want to accentuate the "Paw" in Pawtucket so it comes out like, "PAAAAW-tucket" when the name is correctly pronounced Puh-TUCK-et as in "Bucket" with a soft “P” and the stress on "tucket". Maybe it’s their way of amusing themselves and having fun like a carnival barker accentuating what they think is an affectation of the name.
- Ned Buxton, Might of Right (blog), May 1, 2011

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    It always amuses me when people get upset about others pronouncing place names as they're spelled, when they have no particular reason to know it ought to be done otherwise. New Orleans is probably the most famous example (and so arguably most people do know the local way to pronounce it, I suppose.) Then there's always Yellow, Texas. Absolutely no one pronounces that as it originally should have been, and you'll probably get some very odd looks if you try... (+1 :))
    – WendiKidd
    Sep 26, 2013 at 0:52
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    @WendiKidd When I first came to St. Louis I gave all the French names French(ish) pronunciations and was soundly sniggered at. I still don't know where Demonbreun [dᵻ 'mʌn bri 'jʌn] came from. Sep 26, 2013 at 1:04
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    Right up the street from Pawtucket is Worcester, Mass. The locals pronounce that town as "Whistah" (just about rhymes with "twister" – or does rhyme with that word, if you say that word like the locals would say it). There's a town in Pennsylvania named Wilkes-Barre, but, if you didn't know how to spell it, and listened to the local radio stations, you'd probably guess it was spelled either Wilksbury or Wilksberry. @WendiKidd - so, how DO you pronounce Yellow when referring to the town in Texas?
    – J.R.
    Sep 26, 2013 at 9:47
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    I'm reminded of my grammar school geography teacher in England correcting my pronunciation of "Michigan" to "Mitchigan", basically explaining that we nekulturny Americans couldn't even pronounce our own state names correctly. Apparently the British are generally unaware that the word is a French transliteration of the Native American (Ojibwa) "Mishi-gami", or big water. After all, no self-respecting Crown subject would dream of pronouncing Chopin's name "Tcho-pan". :)
    – BobRodes
    Sep 26, 2013 at 13:23
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    @J.R. Sorry, I think I went a little too far with the joke there. Amarillo is Spanish for 'yellow', and in Spanish is pronounced ahh-mahh-ree-yoh. But of course no one here pronounces the name like the original Spanish.... It's aah-muh-rih-loh. And since the two pronunciations vary so widely, people who don't know the original Spanish roots would be quite confused to hear your say it the original way! (I don't know that many people actually refer to it as "Yellow", Texas, which is where the joke went a bit too far ;)).
    – WendiKidd
    Sep 26, 2013 at 22:27
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One way to find out the correct way to pronounce the name of a city is to listen to the local population. Ten or twenty years ago, that might have meant a long trip, but, with YouTube, you can usually find something from the comfort of your own home.

Try this link, for example. (You only hear the city's name mentioned once, near the beginning on the story.)

One other thing worth mentioning here is that "correct" pronunciations are sometimes not exactly fixed. There may be a "standard" pronunciation, but local accents and dialects as well as personal speech patterns may affect an individual's pronunciation. Sometimes a vowel gets pronounced "lazily", particularly when the following syllable makes a word's preceding syllable hard to enunciate.

It doesn't surprise me that, if you listen very closely, you may hear some slight variations in first syllable of Pawtucket, ranging from an unmistakeable "aw" as in raw to a more relaxed "uh" as in putty. That's just how people talk. In a similar way, you might hear some variations in the last syllable of Washington or London, ranging somewhere between how one might pronounce tin or ten or ton, or din or den or done. It's not uncommon for a syllable to have a small range of acceptable pronunciations, even if dictionaries only list one.

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