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The OALD reports two pronunciations for been, used in British English:

  • /biːn/
  • /bɪn/

The latter is the same pronunciation reported for North American English.

When is been pronounced in a way, rather than the other one? Is it just a matter of the position of the word in the sentence?

  • /biːn/ is British strong form of the word, pronounced when the word is stressed. /bɪn/ is the weak form. – Fantasier Jul 20 '13 at 17:54
  • I'm not great with the pronunciation symbols; are we talking "bean" vs "bin"? – WendiKidd Jul 20 '13 at 23:50
  • @WendiKidd Nope. It's been, the past participle of be. – kiamlaluno Jul 20 '13 at 23:57
  • @kiamlaluno Whoops, my mistake, I should have been clearer. That was me attempting to sound-spell the different pronunciations of "been" to make sure I understood what you were asking. Having failed, I shall leave this to those who know better than I ;) Have a +1! :) – WendiKidd Jul 21 '13 at 0:04
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    @Fantaiser Post that as an Answer, maybe with a citation or so, and I'll upvote it. – StoneyB Jul 21 '13 at 12:31
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/biːn/ is British strong form of 'been', pronounced when the word is stressed. /bɪn/ is the weak form, whose vowel – /ɪ/ – is reduced from /iː/ Similar phenomena happen with other words, especially with pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, articles, and auxiliary verbs: 'a' (/eɪ/ => /ə/), 'she' (/ʃiː/ => /ʃi/), and 'would' (/wʊd/ => /wəd/, /əd/) etc.

These are because when people actually speak, these kinds of words are with other more important words which carry the stress.

Source:

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So it actually helps to be aware of language history. Obviously American English comes from England, but why do the two sound so different? Well, one of them changed over time, and it's probably not the one you think. The American English accent is actually what was spoken back in the 17th century and before in England, and the British English accent changed after the American colonies were well established. In short, the [bɪn] or [bɛn] (bin) pronunciations were first, as attested in old dictionaries and poems (by comparing rhyming words). It wasn't until the mid 19th century that British English speakers began using the [bi:n] (bean) pronunciation in order to have it fit more with the spelling (From "English Spelling and Spelling Reform", Thomas R. Lounsbury (1909)).

I realize this is an old question, but I hope anyone else looking up the answer to this question finds this helpful!

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The word been is normally pronounced the same as the word bean. Pronouncing it as bin the same way as the word for a container for waste http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/bin_1?q=bin , is a weak pronunciation and something colloquial. There is no particular rule about it. It is just a personal thing that some people do.

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