One of the songs our choir is practising for our Christmas show is I wonder as I wander, which is a “traditional Appalachian carol” or, according to another account, was “written in 1933 by John Jacob Niles from a fragment of a song he heard sung during an evangelical church fundraising meeting”.
I notice that our singers find it quite difficult to pronounce the two verbs accurately. They sometimes seem to sing aɪ ˈwɒndər æz aɪ ˈwɒndə. I even caught myself doing it when not concentrating properly. Here’s a fragment of our tenor 2 rehearsal track that we use for practice: see what I mean.
Presumably we all agree that I wonder (how Jesus the Saviour did come for to die) should have the STRUT vowel, thus ˈwʌndə (or perhaps the Appalachian equivalent ˈwəndɚ); while I wander (under the sky) should have the LOT vowel, ˈwɒndə (or ˈwɑndɚ).
Or are there people who pronounce the two words as homophones? Some subset of the English people who have ɒ in one and among? Or do some people neutralize the two vowels in the context of a preceding w?
Failing that, I think the difficulty may be due to the difficulty of parsing and understanding the phrase I wonder as I wander out of context and of identifying the appropriate word from the spelling in each case.
Wonder is one of those words in which the STRUT vowel is spelt o instead of the more usual u (compare under, thunder, asunder, which rhyme with it), while wander is one of those words in which the LOT vowel is spelt a instead of o (compare ponder, yonder).