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Why do the British Sound Symbols are the same, but the Americans' are different?

  • In my (British) lect they sound the same (though I would transcribe them as ['riəl], not [ri:l]). I wasn't aware that they were different in AmE, but I don't know. Evidently the compilers of your dictionary think so. – Colin Fine Apr 16 '18 at 9:27
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    When it comes to pronunciation, there is no single AmE - there are many dialects. I'm from the northeast and pronounce these words the same, but I can imagine people from the southeast pronouncing reel with a pure vowel, but real with a diphthong or even two syllables. – Canadian Yankee Apr 16 '18 at 11:54
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It has to do with accent differences, it might not even be universal throughout the United States. I'm from the Southern United States and I have heard people pronounce real all sorts of ways. If you pronounce them the same people will understand from context or might not even notice your technically pronouncing it differently.

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I am British, and I speak (mostly) Received Pronunciation, and I pronounce real, zeal, meal, etc with a dipthong, and reel, feel, keel, heel, etc without.

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