Of the many words that distinguish American accents from British, ‘tune‘ serves as a particularly good test. Many British accents insert a small ‘y’ sound before the vowel–resulting in something like ‘tyoon‘–whereas for most Americans, this word is homophonous with ‘toon.’ The process of losing the ‘y’ is termed yod-dropping.
Yod-dropping seems to be an ongoing process in English. Earlier in the development of the language, words like ‘brew’ and ‘chew’ were also a part of of this category of ‘yoo’ words. In contemporary times, the distinction between ‘brewed’ and ‘brood’ is only made (in this respect) in a select number of dialects (Welsh English being the most commonly cited example).
American yod-dropping does not impact every word of the ‘yoo’ type. John C. Wells summarizes the variability here in his Accents of English (vol. 1, pg. 207):
In GenAm, and also in parts oft he south and midlands of England, /j/ is lost after alveolars, /t, d, n, l s, z/ but not after labials or velars …
So, logically, for most Americans ‘news’ becomes ‘nooz‘ and ‘due’ becomes ‘doo,’ but ‘fuse’ remains ‘fyooz‘ and ‘cute’ remains ‘kyoot.’ For the most part, the American ‘yod’ seems easily predictable.
And yet, examining my own accent, the ‘y’ before ‘oo’ in some words seems more weakened than entirely dropped. One notable example of this is the word ‘news.’ I doubt many Americans pronounce this ‘nyooz,’ but in my own accent the word doesn’t entirely rhyme with ‘booze,‘ either. For me, at least, the vowel has a very slight onglide, something a bit like IPA [nɪuz]. So in some words for which I drop the ‘yod,’ there are nevertheless slight remnants of it.
Of course, Americans are not the most robust yod-droppers. In older dialects of East Anglia, yod-dropping impacts all words of the ‘yoo’ type. Hence ‘music’ becomes ‘moozik,’ ‘cute’ becomes ‘coot,’ and ‘fuze’ becomes ‘fooz.’ Why we Americans haven’t gone down this road is quite puzzling. Only time will tell if we do.
I’m afraid I’m going to finish this post with a question that sounds a bit unseemly: do you drop your ‘yod?’
*’Yod’ is a word of Semitic origin that refers to ‘y’-type sounds.