Pardon my English but Susanne Taylor raised an interesting issue in her e-mail to me today, one that catches the attention of most US English speakers at some point in their lives. She asked that veteran and veterinarian be added to our Most Often Mispronounced Words list.
The problem with taking this step is that it isn’t clear that these words are mispronounced, just syncopated differently in different parts of the English-speaking world. All English speakers drop unaccented syllables in fast speech but most do so in regular patterns. Throughout most of the US, when either of the sequences [ere] or [era] occurs, and neither vowel is accented, speakers syncopate (drop) the first [e], so that veteran sounds like vetren, different like diffrent, several like sevral.
In Texas and the Southwest, however, the second [e] is regularly dropped in these words so that they sound like vetern, differnt, and severl.
The point is, wherever you grew up, the fast-speech pronunciation is regular, so it is difficult to call it mispronunciation; rather, we are dealing here with just a variation in the rules for fast speech. It is often difficult to draw a line between correct and incorrect grammar. The sure sign of a grammatical rule at play, however, is consistency like this.