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It seems to me that there are 2 ways to pronounce "handler":

Macmillan and Oxford's dictionaries pronounce it either /ˈhændlə(r)/ or /ˈhændlər/. In other words, both have a "soft" /d/ sound:

Meanwhile, Merriam Webster pronounces it with a very strong "dᵊl" sound: /han-dᵊl-ər/

At first, I thought that is a difference between British English and American English, but that is not true according to the Macmillan and Oxford's dictionaries. Because I assume that both pronunciations are correct, why are there two different ways to pronounce the word?

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    The speaker in Merriam-Webster's example seems to put an extra syllable in. I'm not American, but I would have thought that was non-standard. – Kate Bunting Nov 27 '20 at 9:51
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    Many English words are pronounced differently in different countries and in different parts of countries. Within the UK some accents prolong the transition from the 'd' to the 'l' when saying 'handler' and some do not. – Michael Harvey Nov 27 '20 at 10:54
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    I am British and the speaker is American. I have watched American Movies and TV but I've never heard /han-dᵊl-ər/ before. Certainly it's not a normal British pronunciation. Note: Here is a site where you can compare pronunciation from various regions. wordreference.com/definition/handler - Just click the down arrow and select the accent you want. – chasly - supports Monica Nov 27 '20 at 13:47
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There's no correct or incorrect pronunciation. Both of them are correct and sound natural to me. Most dictionaries pronounce it with two syllables, however, Merriam-Webster pronounces it with three syllables.

The pronunciation given by Merriam-Webster is /han-dᵊl-ər/, with three syllables. Here, the second syllable is formed by the syllabic /l/.

We've learnt that a syllable has to have a vowel, but that's not necessary, we have syllabic consonants that form syllables on their own.

Sonorants (/m n l/ and /r/ in AmE etc) often form a syllable on their own whenever they're preceded by obstruents (/s z t d k g p/ etc). Most people tend to insert an extra syllable in words having an obstruent followed by a sonorant. So handler can either be disyllabic or trisyllabic, depending on the speaker. The same goes for battling, rhythmic, handling etc.

The second syllable in rhythm is formed by the syllabic /m/: [ˈɹɪ.ðm̩].

In handler, the obstruent /d/ is followed by the sonorant /l/, so it's trisyllabic for most speakers.

Another similar example would be battling; most people pronounce it with two syllables, but the pronunciation with three syllables is also common: [ˈbæ.tl̩.ɪŋ], here the second syllable is formed by the syllablic l.

The second syllable in handler sounds strong because it's syllabic and syllabic consonants are often longer and more prominent than normal. Here the air is released laterally. Normally, the stops /t/ and /d/ are released by releasing the closure from the centre of the tongue; however, in lateral release, the closure is released from the sides of the tongue.

Button is usually pronounced [ˈbʌ.tnn̩] with a nasal release, here the stop (/t/) isn't released normally but by lowering the velum and allowing air to escape through the nose.

In dictionaries, syllabic consonants are represented by writing a superscript schwa before the consonant: [ˈhæn.dᵊl.ə(ɹ)]. In phonetic transcription, it's represented by a small vertical line below the syllabic consonant: [hæn.dl̩.ə(ɹ)]

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