Q: I’m an actress who notices new things about accents. Lately, I hear people turning “ing” endings into “een.” So, “running,” “jumping,” and “playing” are pronounced RUN-een, JUMP-een, and PLAY-een. Two famous people who do this are Katie Couric and George Clooney. Have you noticed it?
A: Allan A. Metcalf’s book How We Talk: American Regional English Today has some interesting things to say about this “een” versus “ing” pronunciation. It seems to be a common phenomenon in California, where the pronunciation of second syllables is often different from that in the rest of the country.
For example, Metcalf writes, many Californians pronounce the word “garden” as GAR-den, with the vowel in the second syllable pronounced fully, as if it were the separate word “den.”
Normally, Metcalf says, the vowel in an unstressed syllable is reduced, so that “in most other varieties of English, the pronunciation is GAR-dun or even a vowel-less GARD-‘n.”
The same thing happens with “shouldn’t” and “didn’t,” which some Californians articulate as if the second syllable ended with the fully pronounced word “dent.”
“Another pronunciation even more widely heard among older teens and adults in California and throughout the West is ‘een’ for -ing, as in ‘I’m think-een of go-een camp-een,’ ” Metcalf writes.
This pronunciation, he says, “contrasts with the two usual pronunciations of -ing back East: the formal one that rhymes with sing and the informal one that rhymes with sin and is often spelled as ‘in, as in ‘I’m thinkin’ of goin’ campin’.’ ”
“Like the California pronunciation of garden,” Metcalf adds, “the ‘een’ for -ing gives more prominence to the vowel of an unstressed syllable at the end of a word.”
This doesn’t explain the pronunciation of Katie Couric (born in Arlington, Virginia) or George Clooney (Lexington, Kentucky), but then I have a friend from the Midwest who pronounces “mitten” as MITT-ten, fully pronouncing the “ten” instead of saying MITT-‘n.
Maybe these people are simply California dreamin’.