A student of mine is working on the realisation of CURE in South African English. We are coming to the tentative conclusion that a current locus of change is the replacement of CURE by NURSE (with a few exceptions like ‘sure’ which are often said with /o:/ and a few others which mutate into GOOSE).He asks whether I have come across anything similar elsewhere, to which the answer is no.
I’m aware that there are similar developments elsewhere; in particular parts of the US and East Anglia. What seems different, however, is that the use of NURSE extends (we think) to non-post-palatal or palato-alveolar contexts. Thus while it’s not particularly surprising to find ‘pure’ pronounced as [pjɞː] (using ɞː [— my symbol, JCW, replacing Ian’s @: —] to indicate the rounded SAE NURSE) we seem to be finding pronunciations like [twɞː] for ‘tour’ and [pwɞː] for ‘poor’.
If these pronunciations are verified, they would represent a development comparable to the change in the NEAR diphthong from ɪə to jɜː that is familiar from South Welsh English (and treated by Daniel Jones as an RP possibility in EPD, an option dropped by Gimson when he took over as editor).
The putative South African change is structurally identical, but back rather than front.
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This blog will now take a month’s break. Next posting: 19 March.