Regional pronunciation of the word "realtor" with added vowel
March 19, 2013 11:25 AM   Subscribe

A coworker asserts that there is a regional prevalence to the pronunciation of the word "realtor" by adding a vowel between the l and the t, and I want to know more about that pronunciation.

Wiktionary lists various pronunciations for realtor:
(US) IPA: /ˈril.tɚ/, /ˈriəl.tɚ/, /ˈriəl.tɔɹ/, /ˈɹiləɾɚ/
Pronunciation /ˈɹiləɾɚ/ is usually considered incorrect.
Is there a particular region of the USA where that final pronunciation is more prevalent? Is there research into this type of change (additional vowel) that could tell me more about it?

A coworker and I were discussing the fact that some people, notably more than one former president, pronounce the word "nuclear" by adding an extra vowel. We also noted that this variant seems to be regional, or at least there is a public perception that it is regional. This coworker posited that there is a different regional pronunciation that people don't generally mention as a regionalism: realtor. It's written on my whiteboard as "reel-i-tor" now, but the wiktionary entry doesn't quite match that. My main question is whether or not people think there is a region of the USA where this variant of realtor is more prevalent, and if people here agree on what that region is. A secondary question is why some words (notably nuclear and realtor) end up with added vowels when spoken by some subset of the public in the good old US of A. Pointers to open access journal articles would be fantastic, with gated articles or blog posts by academics in relevant subfields of linguistics close behind.

To sum up and restate, there are two questions here:
  • Do certain words end up with added vowels on a regional basis? If so, what region is associated with adding a vowel to the word realtor?
  • By what mechanism(s) do we get more vowels in words like realtor and nuclear?
As an aside, writing this question both without naming regions or coming off as prescriptivist was intentional.
posted by tarheelcoxn to Writing & Language (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I live in Southern New England (Western Massachusetts to be precise) and we do not add vowels to words. Usually we subtract letters! (aka Worcester is pronounced "Wooster", Amherst is pronounced "Amerst").
posted by Hanuman1960 at 11:31 AM on March 19, 2013


I'm in the Midwest and have heard real-a-tor all my life. People also say Warshington, at least outside of the city.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:32 AM on March 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


See: "masonry"
posted by humboldt32 at 11:32 AM on March 19, 2013


In Texas, it was real-a-tor. It's still a struggle for me to pronounce correctly.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:33 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nthing Lyn Never. I'm in Texas and it's real-a-tor.
posted by getawaysticks at 11:34 AM on March 19, 2013


I heard it real-a-tor when I lived in North Carolina and Georgia. I had to re-learn it when I moved to New Jersey.
posted by fr0zen at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a good general rule for the Southeast that you're gonna hear "real-uh-ter".
posted by deezil at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am never the person you want answering these questions because my accent is weird. But I'm pretty sure I'm getting Chicago's pronunciation here. I say both 'real-ter' and 'ree-lit-er'. What I categorically do not say is 'real-tore' which is how it's pronounced in ads.

(The Worcester example shouldn't tell you anything about New England accents more generally because it's named after the other place called Worcester. See also Gloucester, MA.)
posted by hoyland at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2013


Western Illinois born and bred -- "real-a-tor" for the first 20 years of my life.

(Like "warsh" it now drives me crazy, but I'm sure this is a self-loathing look-at-me-I'm-in-the-big-city-now sorta thing. I actually have never noticed how others in Chicago pronounce it.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:41 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up in the south and always heard real-a-tor. And in fact I thought it was spelled relator until the one day I actually *looked* at the word. Since then I've always pronounced it RE-ul-tur. (I also pronounce February Febrooary, so perhaps I'm weird.)

See also: jewelry. Drives me up the freaking wall when people pronounce it jew-lurry. (Ivanka Trump during whatever season of the Apprentice they pimped her bling, I'M LOOKIN' AT YOU.)
posted by phunniemee at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Adding a vowel--usually a schwa--between consonants or at the begining of a word is a form of epenthesis. Usually it happens because a consonant cluster is difficult to pronounce.
posted by not that girl at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


As others have said, in the Midwest we say real-a-tor. I have no idea why.
posted by cessair at 11:43 AM on March 19, 2013


On failure to preview, what MCMikeNamara said about having no idea how other Chicagoans pronounce it.
posted by phunniemee at 11:43 AM on March 19, 2013


It's [ɹil.ə.ɾɚ] in Iowa. I think it's a plains/midwest thing, generally. It might have something to do with the fact that throwing in an extra schwa is often an American thing vs. the British pronunciation, and generally New England trends toward British pronunciations to a degree, or has historically.

I'm not sure if we can say much about the addition and subtraction of vowels generally across dialects in the US, but there vowels do tend to vary from region to region. The Northeast, for example, tend to distinguish between [cɑt] and [cɔt] (cot vs. caught), where the west coast doesn't really have the [ɔ] vowel, and uses [ɑ] for both. The West coast will also pronounce [Ɛ] for [æ] in some circumstances, like [flƐg] for [flæg].
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:45 AM on March 19, 2013


I grew up in Western CT and noticed after moving that we drop internal consonants, particularly "t" 's .... "New Brih-in" (New Britain), "Wessport" (Westport), etc. I think it's just lazy lack of enunciation, such as when everyone thought I was 16 working at a bar (as opposed to a barn.)

And more topically, my Midwestern family uses real-a-tor. But they say Iowans have no accent, so they must be correct. ;-)
posted by keasby at 11:48 AM on March 19, 2013


Adding a vowel--usually a schwa--between consonants or at the begining of a word is a form of epenthesis. Usually it happens because a consonant cluster is difficult to pronounce.

Yeah, it's not unlike, actually, how midwesterners tend to pronounce 'something' [sʌmpθɪŋ] (sumpthing), where we add the p because of the difficulty of going from the bilabial [m] to the interdental [θ]. For a lot of folks, moving from [l] to [ɹ] is tricky, even though they're both laterals, so we throw a schwa in there.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:48 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


In Texas, it was real-a-tor.

Yep. My dad was a Realtor (it's a registered trademark!) and his ex-wife, from Dallas, said "re-al-i-dur" [ɹi.'æl.ɪ.ɾɚ] all the time. We lived on the West Coast, where the rest of us said "reel-tur" ['ɹil.tɚ].
posted by psoas at 11:50 AM on March 19, 2013


I've heard it all over (northeast, south, midwest). This and "nucular" never seemed like regionalisms to me, just common mispronunciations.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:51 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


My impression is that people all over the US, including many Realtors (TM), pronounce it "Real-i-ter"or "Real-a-ter"or "Real-uh-ter". Or even "Re-luh-ter." I have found people complaining about it in Florida, Cinncinnatti, and Maryland. My family pronounced it this way, and we're from California.
posted by muddgirl at 11:51 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm midwestern, but I have a mother and grandmother that were English teachers. For me, "realtor" always had three syllables, however the first two syllables blend together with little notice. RE-ul-ter.

I'm curious if the common mispronunciation originally stems from people seeing the word "real" and unintentionally pronouncing it as a single syllable, rather than two? Entirely possible that I could just be thinking too hard about it.
posted by erstwhile at 11:54 AM on March 19, 2013


Alaska here, and I've always heard real-uh-ter. Trying to say real-ter is clunky.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:58 AM on March 19, 2013


From my interactions with the National Association of Realtors, they prefer the two syllable "Real-Tor."
posted by lstanley at 12:02 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


From Maryland, now live in Wisconsin, have never heard "real-i-ter" in my life and didn't even know it was a thing. "Real-ter," two syllables, for me.

Also, the alternate pronunciation of "nuclear" is surely a shift of the vowel, not an added vowel, right?
posted by escabeche at 12:03 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


From Chicago, I have always heard it pronounced "real-ter".

(Also, never as "real-tor", except recently in ads).
posted by marimeko at 12:08 PM on March 19, 2013


I'm from Cincinnati and both REAL-uh-tor and REAL-lit-er sound correct to me. Real-tor sounds funny, though.
posted by coppermoss at 12:12 PM on March 19, 2013


deezil: "It's a good general rule for the Southeast that you're gonna hear "real-uh-ter"."

That's the way I say it. My parents are both from Georgia. My wife, who grew up in Charleston and has one parent from Ohio, says I'm an idiot for saying it that way.
posted by theichibun at 12:16 PM on March 19, 2013


I worked in the housing industry in Portland, OR for a number of years, and it was always pronounced "REAL-i-ter" in my office. Now that I think about it, though, I'm not sure exactly who I remember saying it, so it could still have been an imported regionalism.
posted by dialetheia at 12:22 PM on March 19, 2013


I grew up a Midwest/Southern hybrid and it's real-uh-tor in my area of the country (Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas).
posted by mrfuga0 at 12:30 PM on March 19, 2013


Chicago area, three syllables.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:39 PM on March 19, 2013


In Georgia, it's pronounced Real-a-tor.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:41 PM on March 19, 2013


Another vote for real-uh-ter for the southeast.
posted by bradbane at 12:41 PM on March 19, 2013


Growing up in the Northern Virginia/DC burbs, where I was exposed to a pretty broad range of accents, I heard both "reel-ter" and "reel-uh-ter." (My favorite weird regional pronounciation was crayon, which some people said as "kray-awn" and others as "krown.")

You may be interested to learn that in the U.S., "Realtor" is a registered trademark that is supposed to only apply to members of the National Association of Realtors, and that others in this line of work should (according to trademark rules) be referred to as real estate agents or real estate brokers.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:46 PM on March 19, 2013


I've heard "real-a-tor" growing up in Southern CT, residing in Western Mass, and in at least one tv commercial that the voiceover stated was "paid for by the national association of real-a-tors" where the narrator's accent was otherwise pretty generic Mid-Atlantic.
posted by camyram at 12:48 PM on March 19, 2013


From my experience, "real-a-ter" is practically universal in downstate Illinois, but I seldom hear that in Chicago.

I prefer "real estate sales person" because it grates on my last nerve that Realtor is capitalized. (This would likely be less of an issue for me if my last real estate transaction had been't such a god damn debacle.)
posted by she's not there at 12:49 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Indiana here. All my life I've heard is as reel-uh-dur
posted by Thorzdad at 12:52 PM on March 19, 2013


I used to date a guy who was one of those. He said "ree-al-tor" and it drove him nuts to hear "real-uh-ter." He always said "If you can't pronounce it, you shouldn't be allowed to do it."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:54 PM on March 19, 2013


I am the daughter of a realtor in Southern California, and every single person I know (I'm not kidding) says "real-tor" or "real-ter" (the latter being my preferred, natural choice).
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:11 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Arizona, everyone says real-ter/tor. I think "reel-a-tor" would definitely stand out as someone who was visiting from out of town.
posted by celtalitha at 1:18 PM on March 19, 2013


(My favorite weird regional pronounciation was crayon, which some people said as "kray-awn" and others as "krown.")

Sorry, but as a fellow DC-burber, I have to insist that "crayon" rhymes with "span."
posted by escabeche at 1:19 PM on March 19, 2013


In central Alabama, I'd say the more blue-collar set says "real-it-ter" and the one who wear suits to work and are trying to impress you with the fact that they went to the University of Alabama or Samford say "rea-al-TOR" with this heavy landing on the TOR part. These same people also have friends who are leg-is-late-TORs
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:31 PM on March 19, 2013


Thanks to all the folks chiming in with different regions where they have heard realtor pronounced with three syllables and the variants of the added vowel. Also thanks for teaching me the word epenthesis and giving an explanation. By all means keep giving places you've heard pronunciations and any links or comments that would give a better understanding of epenthesis.

Also, the alternate pronunciation of "nuclear" is surely a shift of the vowel, not an added vowel, right?

The alternate form I'm familiar with and that people noted in our former presidents had an additional vowel between the c and the l, not a vowel shift.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 2:08 PM on March 19, 2013


I think the point is that the mispronunciation of nuclear is "noo-cue-lar" and not "noo-cue-lee-ar." So the "e" after "l" disappears and turns into a "u" before it.
posted by celtalitha at 2:14 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh interesting. Thanks to celtalitha for pointing out I'm wrong:
(US) IPA: /ˈnukliɚ/, /nukjəlɚ/ (see usage notes)
so it is a shift and not an addition.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 2:28 PM on March 19, 2013


Lots of people say "reel-uh-ter" around here (Texas -- experienced this in Houston, Austin, and Dallas), and most of them also say "ath-uh-lete". Both of these things drive me bananas.
posted by katemonster at 4:18 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tennessee. Definitely real-a-tur.
posted by Cocodrillo at 4:48 PM on March 19, 2013


Ever since Dubya was president, hearing the word "nucular" makes me want to slap the person who says it.

Not sure how regional it is; I grew up in the south but rarely heard it used.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:48 PM on March 19, 2013


From my interactions with the National Association of Realtors, they prefer the two syllable "Real-Tor."

They also prefer it capitalized as Realtor®, which is silly.

Otherwise, here in Missouri, yeah, I grew up hearing it as real-ih-tur. But professionally, I say it real-tur.
posted by limeonaire at 5:45 PM on March 19, 2013


Chicago here, and I grew up mostly in the Midwest, and I've always pronounced it as it's spelled, real tor. Then again, I also say cray on, not cran, like most people I know; man, that drives me nuts in a tiny way. Same with di a per. I do not prefer di per! See also: di a mond, not di mind. I could go on... but I won't. The list is long. My whole family said may naze, not may on naise. Drove me bananas. Seriously, the list is long.
posted by heyho at 6:01 PM on March 19, 2013


Oh god - this is such a bugbear to me. I've lived in NJ, CT, MA, and NH, and I've heard people pronounce it "real-i-tor" in all those places.

However, it's not everybody. It's not even everyone born and bred in any of those locations vs. newcomers. So it's not strictly regional. Something else is going on there, and I think it's either ethnically or class-related. There are plenty of people who, like my family did, say "realtor" as well, despite being from the same milieu.
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on March 19, 2013


Did someone already link the Harvard Dialect Survey map for Realtor/real-a-tor? Because that's important.

The map supports pretty much what I observed: that the different pronunciations don't easily break down regionally. The survey offered three pronunciations:

a. 2 syllables ("reel-ter") (44.21%)
b. 3 syllables (real[]tor, in other words "reel-uh-ter") (32.21%)
c. 3 syllables (ree-l-ter) (19.70%)

And they all, essentially, overlay upon each other, which means that there is another factor besides geography influencing their adoption.
posted by Miko at 8:12 PM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I grew up in southern CA and the "relator" pronunciation drives me up the wall. However, plenty of people I know grew up here say it that way. I don't think it's regional.
posted by town of cats at 8:40 PM on March 19, 2013


« Older Cost-effective strategies for moving from Hawaii...   |   Life Gone Wild Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.