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I've seen several different pronunciations of the word character in several dictionaries (Cambridge, Oxford, MacMillan,Collins, Merriam Webster and Wordreference). All of this pronunciations were shown as the main pronunciation (Not the weak ones).

So, my question is which is the main pronunciation for General American English and the main for British English (RP)?.

For General American English I've seen:

/ˈkær·ək·tər/ From Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries of American English

/ˈker.ɪk.tɚ/ (Also from Cambridge dictionary and, like the one above, shown as the main one. This is the main pronunciation in Merriam Webster and WR too)

/ˈkerəktər/ From MacMillan dictionary

For RP I've seen:

/ˈkærɪktə/ From Collins, Cambridge and MacMillan dictionaries

/ˈkærəktə/ From Oxford dictionary

I'm talking about the main ones, not the weak ones. Thanks in advance!

1 Answer 1

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(Warning: IPA ahead)

This is readily explained by the Mary-marry-merry merger, mergers that are pretty common in American (heck, close to 60% of them) and Canadian English, and pretty much absent in any other dialects.

The merger deals with "air" vowel /ɛə/, "short A" /æ/, "short E" /ɛ/ in front of an R sound, hence the respective minimal set "Mary", "marry", "merry".

For the merger, all of those three vowels, before an R sound, will merge into a single sound which ranges from /ɛ/ to /ɛə/ or other short E-ish vowels. Dictionaries will choose a short E to take care of the merger.

This creates many words with the merged sound in North American English:

Mary, marry, merry, hairy, Harry, parrot, carrot, ferret, character, carriage, marriage, Erin, Aaron, narrator, arrogant, arable, Arab, baron, barren, Eris, Eric, herald, Harold,

countless others.

You can see this jarringly when you watch a Harry Potter movie ( all of them are made in the UK) and then try listening to any North American English speaker discuss anything about it. The "a" in "Harry" has jarringly different enunciations in North America vs. everywhere else.

I was born with the merger (in Canada). It really depends on your accent preference on whether you merge or not.

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