It started fairly simply, with a BBC radio news report from Iraq (heard from I don’t know which source; BBC news comes to me from several places, including BBC3 more or less directly): a bulletin from the Assyrian city of Nineveh, which the news reader pronounced as
instead of what I expected to be
(where @ in the middle syllable represents a neutral unaccented vowel, ɪ or ə — usually transcribed ɪ, as in Wikipedia, though I sometimes hear ə).
I was, in fact, so astounded by the /aj/ in the first syllable of (1) that I failed to take notes on its source; I’d never heard anything but /ɪ/ in this syllable, and /aj/ is not even remotely like the vowel in the Assyrian pronunciation of the place name. Where would it come from?