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Go here https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/wuss and play the pronunciation. I hear the semiconsonant/semivowel /w/ clearly, but then to me follows a short /ə/ or a sound more to the Romanian /ɨ/ than the sound people emit when pronouncing put.

The same with 'wolf' https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/wolf. I don't think that /ʊ/ properly describes the sound (actually, it's a phonemic rendition for both words, but I don't know/find the phonetic one).

What do you think? Are the dictionary writers correct?

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  • The vowel in "wuss" will almost certainly be closer to [ʊ] than the vowel in "put" for most English speakers due to the /w/, although they are of course the same phoneme.
    – Graham H.
    Oct 28, 2023 at 18:46

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First, note that /wʊs/ is a generic underlying form of English not for a particular dialect, but the recording is of a specific speaker of Australian English. Underlying forms are abstractions based on phonological contrasts, not and are not statements about physical realization.

There is a difference between the Australian recording and this American recording, also this US and UK recording. All of them are within the penumbra of [ʊ], which is not an exact phonetic point, it is a range. If you want samples of IPA reference values for vowels, go here. In none of those wuss-recordings is the vowel very close at all to IPA [ɨ], and even less so with [ə]. I have no experience with Romanian, so I can't comment on the idea that Romanian has a vowel [ɨ]. The Romanian phonology wiki doesn't provide any recorded samples of [ɨ].

The only credible alternative vowel choice to describe that Australian recording would be /u/, but there are contextually-similar words like wound which sound very different. Therefore I would judge that transcription to be correct, as long as this speaker doesn't have a surprisingly different dialect. The same goes for the "wolf" example, though it does suggest that there may be a US vs UK difference in pronunciation, which replicates here, compare wound.

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