Talk:Phonological history of English low back vowels

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Father/bother[edit]

Would "balm"/"bomb" be potential homophones for those with this merger? Grover cleveland (talk) 02:29, 22 March 2009 (UTC)S

Yes. AJD (talk) 04:41, 22 March 2009 (UTC)
no at least not in Eastern Nebraska. Balm has the distint l (pronouced kind of like ball with an mmm at the end) thus it isn't like walk Nice or in evil (talk) 04:43, 10 June 2009 (UTC)
Potential homophones. If you don't pronounce the l in balm (which many people don't), and you have both the father/bother merger and the cot/caught merger, then balm and bomb are homophones. AJD (talk) 02:54, 14 June 2009 (UTC)
I think most people do pronounce the l in words like balm, palm and calm (at least in the U.S.), so most people would probably look at that and be confused. I've said this before, but I do pronounce the l in those words, so that makes at least two of us :) However, as AJD says, balm and bomb could be homophones for people who don't pronounce the l in balm. I think these people are in the minority, but whatever. Thegryseone (talk) 23:51, 14 June 2009 (UTC)
They are not in the minority yet, but they will be in the not-so-distant future. I'm [dʒæˑkɫɜmbɚ] and I approve this message. 03:34, 15 June 2009 (UTC)
Btw -- Interesting stressed vowel in your surname Jack. Do you mind if I ask where you're from? Grover cleveland (talk) 04:32, 15 June 2009 (UTC)
Well, my native accent (based on the places where I grew up) is a blend of Western New England and Mid-Atlantic; my transcription, however, reflects the (fake) Western-like accent I've been using for teaching purposes for quite a few years now. I'm [dʒæˑkɫɜmbɚ] and I approve this message. 19:47, 19 June 2009 (UTC)

Seems as though other possible homophones could be "baht"/"bot", "Dali"/"dolly", "lager"/"logger" (although apparently some GenAmmers have /ɔ/ in "lager"), "Mali"/"molly". I'll see if I can find any RS on these. Grover cleveland (talk) 22:02, 3 April 2009 (UTC)

Baht/bot, Dali/dolly, Mali/molly all rhyme for me (In fact, I knew a girl named Molly who would spell her name Mali as kind of a joke; that works where I'm from but not in some other places). However, lager and logger don't rhyme for me. I think logger has an upgliding Southern-ish diphthong in my speech. Thegryseone (talk) 22:19, 3 April 2009 (UTC)
Speakers of GenAm without the cot-caught merger (such as myself when I'm not thinking about it) usually have /ɑ/ in lager (a loanword) but /ɔ/ in log, logging, logger, and that's something I should know since I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 23:48, 3 April 2009 (UTC) Alright, that was a terrible joke. Anyway, the reason for that is the lot-cloth split; speakers with transitional forms of the cot-caught merger (such as Thegryseone) may have several inconsistencies along with noticeable allophonic variation.
Interesting, since I (screwed-up semi-rhotic RP from being the the US all these years) have /ɒ/ in "log": I'm pretty sure most RP speakers do too Grover cleveland (talk) 23:51, 3 April 2009 (UTC)
I'm in the same boat as Thegryseone as far as Dali, Mali, etc. I've never said Baht out loud. Bot is proncounce like bought and looking at Baht that's how I would pronouce it. Lager the one or two times I've said it I've said it with a short a sound almost as if it had a silent g in it. However, I think it is pronounced alike a logger by most in eastern nebraska (I don't drink)Nice or in evil (talk) 04:54, 10 June 2009 (UTC)
-- and, for the linguists among us, "Pali"/"Polly" :) Grover cleveland (talk) 23:49, 3 April 2009 (UTC)
Yes, RP used to be affected by the lot-cloth split, but that has since been reversed. Standard RP has had CLOTH = /ɒ/ for quite a few decades now. (Maybe the Queen herself still has CLOTH = /ɔ:/?) The original pronunciation of log was /lɒg/, as its spelling suggests. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 00:00, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
However, the lot-cloth split didn't affect the same environments in all dialects. Having /ɔ/ before velars (i.e. in words like "dog", "long", and "chocolate") is AFAIK purely American. Even the old-fashioned varieties of RP that said "crawss" and "clawth" didn't say "dawg" and "lawng". I'm not sure about the environment before /n/ in words like "on" (for more southerly Americans only) and "gone", but I don't think those were ever "awn" and "gawn" in Britain (and certainly aren't now). —Angr 08:10, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
Yes, absolutely. I had forgotten that. On and gone with /ɔ/ as well as /ɔŋ/ for /ɒŋ/ are Americanisms, "awn" being a Midland/Southern pronunciation; chocolate is somewhat idiosyncratic. Interestingly, some -og words did retain the LOT vowel in AmE, for example (egg)nog. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 22:50, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
I just checked in Wells, and he says that before velars GenAm may have either /ɑ/ or /ɔ/, with /ɑ/ more common in the north and /ɔ/ in the south. Grover cleveland (talk) 23:49, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
Come to think of it, it may also vary from word to word; the preceding consonant may also play a role. For example, in the North, /ɑ/ may be more common than /ɔ/ in, say, fog and frog. Dog usually has /ɔ/, however. Long story short, there's a lot of confusion; it comes as no surprise that /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ are increasingly being merged. Before the velar nasal /ŋ/, I guess it's mostly a phonetic thing--non-cc-merged-GenAm just doesn't allow /ŋ/ to be preceded by /ɑ/ (when not followed by heterosyllabic /k/ or /g/), so /ɔ/ is substituted. Some varieties of NAmEng don't allow /æ/ before /ŋ/, either, so /æŋ/ becomes /eɪŋ/. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 00:15, 5 April 2009 (UTC)
That's interesting because when I say (egg)nog, it rhymes with leg dog (which has a different vowel than lot). Now, I'm not exactly sure when I would say leg dog. Maybe if I were to say, "Get off my leg, Dog" (hopefully referring to an actual dog and not a close friend). Thegryseone (talk) 22:56, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
That's consistent with the cot-caught merger: You may have different allophones before /g/ and /t/. That doesn't explain why lager and logger are different, though. Question: Does the name of the President rhyme with "a rock o' comma" in your speech? I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 23:04, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
Yeah, it does, why? I mean I'm not Canadian or English. Thegryseone (talk) 23:08, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
Just to get back to the original point... Well, theoretically, those should rhyme in Canadian speech too. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 23:12, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
Not necessarily: a recent paper by Charles Boberg & Deena Fogle argues that some Canadians have for "foreign a" an imported phoneme that's distinct from both /æ/ and /ɒ/. AJD (talk) 14:47, 5 April 2009 (UTC)
I guess User:Joeldl of Montreal is among them. We talked about that some time ago, and he reported having a vowel similar to GenAm LOT (that is, a low central vowel) in pasta, Mazda and the like. Here's the abstract of that paper. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 19:01, 5 April 2009 (UTC)
I think I also have a “foreign a” (roughly [a:]) in my phonology, and I think I also place the vowel in father, palm [pha:m] (no [l]) in said lexical set. I am biased, however, because being naturally bilingual in English and Finnish, I am very conscious of other languages, and also I like phonological diversity. (I have lived in the U.S. since age 4.) I also have a couple other foreign vowels: [œ] as in roentgenium [rœntˈɡɛniəm] (see Talk:Roentgenium). And [ɛ:] as in Emil [ˈɛ:mɪl] as in Emil of Lönneberga, a character by Swedish children's author Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking; there is a song about Emil that I like very much available (in Swedish) on [1] “Hujedamej, sånt barn han var (med text)”.
Also, I think “father—bother merger” might be a slight misnomer, or at least a name that should be taken with a grain of salt. I suspect that in some American accents, the two words might be blocked from rhyming because of the “lot-cloth split”, which could extend far enough that bother would develop the vowel of law [lɔ:].--Solomonfromfinland (talk) 05:09, 25 July 2013 (UTC)

Followed by /r/[edit]

Grover recently added the following:

The change does not affect a vowel followed by /r/, so barn and born remain distinct, and starring and warring do not rhyme.

My guess is that, in contemporary North American English, the vowel sound in born cannot be analyzed as being "/ɔ/ followed by /r/"--not anymore. An entirely new phoneme, which may be regarded as a diphthong of the type /oɚ/, has replaced the historical /ɔ/ + /r/ sequence. The same goes for the vowels in barn, car, Mary, merry, etc. Note that this was not the case when the FATHER-BOTHER merger took place. By the time of the f-b merger, /ɑː/ and /ɒ/ merged before /r/ as before any other consonant (sorry, borrow, Florida, orange used to have /ɒ/ and ended up with [what then was] /ɔ/ or /ɑː/, depending on the dialect). Now, however, my understanding is that the vowels /ɑ/, /ɔ/, /ɛ/, what have you, no longer can be followed by an /r/ that begins the following syllable; and new, diphthongal phonemes substitute for the historical /V/ + /r/ sequences. I believe this can be supported by both phonological and phonetic arguments. Note: this only applies to NAmEng dialects with the Mary-merry-marry merger, the furry-hurry merger and the like; other dialects such as NYC English were r-less until recently and have retained the /V/ + /r/ sequences. What do you think? I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 00:27, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

Yes, I think you're basically right. AJD (talk) 15:27, 10 April 2009 (UTC)
I want to disagree, but I'm curious about what these phonological and phonetic arguments are. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 18:04, 10 April 2009 (UTC)
This is tangential, but did words such as "orange" ever have /ɑr/? I thought that, in the ancestors of GenAm, all /ɒr/ had already changed to /ɔr/ by the time of the f-b merger. I would have to check to be sure though. Grover cleveland (talk) 19:01, 10 April 2009 (UTC)
Hi Jack. I would be very interested to hear your arguments. In a post-C-C merged accent, it seems to make sense to recognize a new phoneme /oɚ/ in a word such as "stork": otherwise we would have a phonemene /ɔ/ that could only appear before /r/. But in a pre-C-C merged accent, it would seem less attractive, since then we would have /ɔ/ everywhere except before /r/. Here's a tabular view
STOCK STALK STORK
Before C-C merger stɑk stɔk stɔrk
After C-C merger stɑk stɑk stoɚk
So it seems to make sense to change the phoemicization of a word like 'stork' at the time of the C-C merger, even though its phonemic realization may not have changed. :Grover cleveland (talk) 19:47, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

Re: oranges: I myself pronounce orange with /ɑr/. I believe that historical /ɒr/ changed to /ɑr/ or /ɔr/ precisely when the f-b took place, and the fact that many (if not most) of those words ended up with /ɔr/ is probably due to phonetic reasons.

If we are to retain the traditional /V/+/r/ analysis, we have to explain why all of the shifts and mergers currently in progress in NAmEng are not affecting any of the vowels before /r/. For example: (1) Low back merger: caught merges with cot, but car doesn't merge with core. (2) Northern Cities Shift: cot sounds something like [kat], but cart doesn't sound like [kart]. In fact, in Chicago /ɑ/ before /r/ is reportedly moving backward. (3) Northern Cities Shift: /ɛ/ is moving backward and downward, while /æ/ is moving upward. Before /r/, however, /ɛ/ = /æ/ and there's no movement at all. We might chalk that up to /ɛ/ and /æ/ actually merging to /ei/ before /r/, but that may not be universally true--for some speakers, the merged vowel is phonetically more similar to (and possibly is perceived as) their /ɛ/.

Old dictionaries used to tell you that war, all and dawn have the same vowel; phonetically, this makes little sense, since the vowel in war is much more similar to the vowel in woe. The quality of the /ɔ/ vowel before /r/ started to change after (or possibly during) the hoarse-horse merger; if we are to accept the traditional account that /ɔ/ and /o/ merged to /ɔ/, then we have to admit that, before /r/, the vowel /ɔ/ has since shifted to /o/.

Which is the first vowel in mirror and nearer--/i:/ or /ɪ/? Well, phonetically, it may be [i], [ɪ], or somewhere between the two. Likewise, the first vowel of merry and Mary may be [e], [ɛ], or an intermediate vowel. (And the phonetic values of the vowels in mirror and merry of course depend on each other.) If we are to retain the traditional analysis, it may be problematic to decide what those vowels actually are from a phonological standpoint.

The word, say, cart used to be analyzed as /k/ + /ɑ/ + /r/ + /t/. That is, if you take out the /r/, you'll get cot. (Yes, that's of course my taste for terrible puns.) However, the "/ɑ/" in cart may be phonetically very different from the /ɑ/ in cot, and--depending on the dialect--may be more similar to (and possibly perceived as) /ʌ/ (e.g. in parts of the North and Canada.)

All of these issues disappear completely if we accept that, in North American English, the r-coloring has screwed up all of the stressed vowels that used to appear before heterosyllabic /r/, and the sequences /V.r/ have been replaced by diphthongs.

The point about minimal pairs is now moot. For example, /oɚ/, /eɚ/, /ɑɚ/ etc. are all different and separate phonemes--they are diphthongs just like /aɪ/ and /aʊ/; if you put the phoneme /p/ in front of each of them, you get the words pour/pore, pair/pare, par, pie, and pow. The first element of each diphthong does *not* have phonemic status.

Of course, the second element of the r-colored diphthongs, which is [ɚ], also appears as a phoneme by itself--/ɚ/. For example, in the two pronunciations of the word seer--monosyllabic /sɪɚ/ = /s/ + /ɪɚ/ and disyllabic /si.ɚ/ = /s/ + /i/ + /ɚ/.

(Edit conflict: Grover--I have to go now, I'm going to read your post later!)

I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 21:14, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

The only thing I'll have the nerve to disagree with is that in the Inland North, cart often does sound like [kart]. This is either because of: a.) Settlement patterns, i.e., the Inland North was largely settled by New Englanders. This kind of pronunciation can be found in WNE, and when people from ENE put the r back in, it would result in something like [kart] as well. b.) The fronting of /ɑ/ in the NCVS also affects /ɑr/ or at least has some kind of influence on it. Although linguist Corrine McCarthy said it seemed like the [kart] pronunciation might be going away in Chicago, she said she wanted to pursue it a bit more. She didn't seem 100% certain about it. Also this is just Chicago, not the entire Inland North. However, if this is true then it shows us that /ɑr/ and /ɑ/ really aren't that related to each other. After all, why would one be shifting back while the other remains fronted? Thegryseone (talk) 21:28, 10 April 2009 (UTC)
(edit conflict) Exactly. I actually should have said, cot sounds like [kat], but it's not like cart *is moving toward* [kart]. I believe the front /ɑ/ in cart to be a well established feature of Northern speech, which predates the NCS and is most likely unrelated to it--unless we think that the NCS was triggered by a wholesale fronting of /ɑ/ to make it phonetically more similar to what it was before /r/, but this seems highly unlikely. In Canada, for example, many speakers have a fronted /ɑr/--with /ɑ/ moving backward, not forward. I think that the fronted /ɑr/ is just a "historical" feature of the North and Canada, like the long back GOOSE vowel or the narrow diphthongs for FACE and GOAT. The point is, the behavior of /ɑr/ and that of /ɑ/ are not necessarily related. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 22:54, 10 April 2009 (UTC)


Jack -- thanks for your comments. Accepting all your factual claims about the current shifts going on in North American English, I'm still not sure why we have to recognize a whole new set of phonemes that exist only in one environment -- before R. Why can't the changes just be defined as affecting only cases where the phoneme is not followed by R? Grover cleveland (talk) 22:21, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

edit conflict (again!) Therein lies the problem! It's no longer "before R": When you recognize the new set of phonemes, the R is gone. There's no R anymore (except of course in syllable-initial position). There's just a whole host of diphthongs; when we think of the "uy" sound in guy, it's not like we regard it as being composed of PALM + KIT; we think of it as a whole 'nother vowel. There's no PALM, there's no KIT. Likewise, when you think of the "ore" sound in core, you have to accept that there's no "AW" and there's no "R." There's just the "or" sound.

The phoneme /r/ itself comes to play a new role: Unlike before, /r/ *cannot* appear in the syllable coda now. (/r/ has become like /h/, if you will.) The fact that the second element of the new diphthongs sounds somewhat like /r/ is irrelevant--it's not /r/, and it doesn't sound quite like /r/ anyway. The difference between /r/ and the glide of the r-colored diphthongs is the same as between /j/ and the glide of the PRICE diphthong, or between /w/ and the glide of the MOUTH diphthong. Indeed, /j/ and /w/ cannot appear in the syllable coda either. And by the way, /r/, /j/, and /w/ are very similar in character--three consonants with something vowelesque about them.

As for your last question: Too many mergers, and too much phonetic difference and variation. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 23:13, 10 April 2009 (UTC)


While I agree that looking for minimal pairs is moot (After all, we don't argue that the vowel of fly isn't a diphthong just because there are no [aɪ] [aj] minimal pairs), another meaningful measure of phonemic status is whether one sound replaces another upon suffixation. We have a wonderful opportunity with the very productive /r/ in words (liver /lɪv/ + /r/[ˈlɪ.vɚ] and liar /laɪ/ + /r/[ˈlaɪ.ɚ]) and even across words (miss her /mɪs/ + /r/[ˈmɪs.ɚ]).
If it were indeed the case that there's simply been a rephonemization of the vowel of pore to that of Poe so that, phonemically, stoke is /stok/ and stork is /stok/ (with perhaps a subsequent phonological process that lowers the vowel allophonically that also applies to a pre-rhotic front mid-vowel (/meri/[ˈmɛɹɪ]), then adding /r/ suffixes to such words should sound identical to speakers. In my speech, at least, these aren't the same, so that toe-er (one who toes) is different from tore. One could argue that English makes a phonemic distinction between syllabic and non-syllabic /r/, but this would contradict what I've read about the source of syllabic /r/.
Then again, this could be one of those cases where the idea of the phoneme is more constraining than helpful. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 23:01, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

Using my quote-unquote new phonological system, toe+er is /toʊ.ɚ/ = /t/ + /oʊ/ + /ɚ/ while tore is /toɚ/ = /t/ + /oɚ/, it's like seer vs. sear above. There's no phonemic distinction between syllabic and non-syllabic /ɚ/, it's just that (1) /ɚ/ can be attached to everything (including an r-colored diphthong, btw) and that (2) there's no phonological relation whatsoever between the first element of the /oɚ/ diphthong and the vowel in toe. However, I think that the biggest flaw of my dirty little system is that it literally forces words like higher/hire and flour/flower to be homophones. It's not that big of a deal, actually, but anyway: If /r/ cannot appear in the syllable coda, then either (1) we allow a phonemic distinction between syllabic and non-syllabic /ɚ/, which is a no-no per above, or (2) we postulate that higher and hire are homophones as /haɪ.ɚ/. Indeed, if we allow for tripthongs of the type /aɪɚ/, then it really might be argued that higher /haɪ.ɚ/ and hire /haɪɚ/ would only be distinguished by means of the syllabic status of /ɚ/. But this is not the case with toe-er vs. tore--the first element in the "tore" vowel is not and has never been the same as the vowel of toe. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 23:33, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

I concur with Jack that /ɚ/ can be attached to everything (including r-colored diphthongs). The word scorer is an example of this, although it is both uncommon and very difficult to pronounce. The only exception I can think of to the last thing Jack said is possibly speakers in the North Central residual region and right across the border in Canada, who might pronounce toe as [to] and tore as [toɚ]. However, even these speakers probably wouldn't think of toe and tore as anything alike. No one in North America does. Thegryseone (talk) 00:21, 11 April 2009 (UTC)
There's another thing I wanted to mention. This is a subtlety, and I could be wrong on this, but I think rhotic speakers in the Tri-State Region use [ɹ] as the second element (or maybe third element) in diphthongs (triphthongs) in words like square, near, more, cure, etc. This leads to [skwɛəɹ], [nɪəɹ], etc. Now that I think about it though, this may not be true, because many NYC speakers now have the stressed version of /ɚ/ in NURSE words, so why wouldn't they use it as a glide in the second or third element of square, near, etc.? Thegryseone (talk) 00:45, 11 April 2009 (UTC)
I'm a little confused, Jack. higher and hire have always been homophones for me. You wouldn't be "forcing" this, you'd be describing it. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 00:39, 11 April 2009 (UTC)
Yeah, higher and hire are homophones for me as well. They're both /haɪ.ɚ/. I find it very difficult to make a triphthong out of hire. Thegryseone (talk) 00:47, 11 April 2009 (UTC)
Well, historically, they were different. (They still are in Scotland, for example, where /r/ truly is a consonant!) I don't make the distinction myself, but the Guide to Pronunciation of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate seems to imply that someone does: "...many varieties of English do not allow /aɪ/ to be followed by /r/ in the same syllable. Speakers of such varieties will transform the following /r/ into /ɚ/, thus creating a new syllable. For such speakers, fire will rhyme with higher." (IPA mine.)
As for those North Central speakers, the [o] in toe will be about twice as long as the [o] in tore, so they probably don't think of the two as being the same; their /o/ is probably as long as the whole of the /oɚ/ diphthong.
There are quite a few words with back-to-back [ɚ]'s, and the first [ɚ] may or may not be part of an r-colored diphthong (e.g. terrorist; answerer). It's not clear how these should be transcribed. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 01:02, 11 April 2009 (UTC)
/tɛɚrɪst/? /ænsrɚ/? — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 01:26, 11 April 2009 (UTC)
That's why it annoys me when Americans make fun of some other Americans for not being able to say terror or terrorist. These words are difficult to pronounce for most Americans, unless you pretend like you're from Boston or New York and pronounce them with [ɛɹ]. I digress. Thegryseone (talk) 01:27, 11 April 2009 (UTC)

Four edit conflicts in a day! For the record, the Merriam-Webster folks kind of had the same idea, and their Advanced Learner's Dictionary (released September 2008) features an innovative (and somewhat cumbersome) IPA scheme:

The FLEECE vowel is /iː/ or /iːj/

The GOOSE vowel is /uː / or /uːw/

The NURSE vowel is /ɚ/ or /ɚr/

The FACE vowel is /eɪ/ or /ej/

The PRICE vowel is /aɪ/ or /aj/

The MOUTH vowel is /aʊ/ or /aw/

The START vowel is /ɑɚ/ or /ɑr/

The SQUARE vowel is /eɚ/ or /er/

The NEAR vowel is /iɚ/ or /ir/

Now, "the second symbol is used when the sound occurs immediately before another vowel and the first symbol is used elsewhere."

So, for example, cow is /ˈkaʊ/, but coward is /ˈkawɚd/;

score is /ˈskoɚ/, scorn is /ˈskoɚn/, but scorer is /ˈskorɚ/;

terror is /ˈterɚ/, terrorist is /ˈterɚrɪst/ [ = /t/ + /eɚ/ + /ɚ/ + /ɪst/], terrorize is /ˈterɚˌaɪz/;

high is /ˈhaɪ/, higher and hire are /ˈhajɚ/.

toe-er would be /ˈtowɚ/.

I am under the impression that the idea is damn good, but its implementation leaves something to be desired. (Especially since this dictionary is intended for *learners* of American English.) In case you're wondering, cot and caught are merged in this dictionary. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 01:31, 11 April 2009 (UTC)

Yeah, I don't know if that would be good for learners. I don't see how they would understand that. Thegryseone (talk) 01:36, 11 April 2009 (UTC)

Um, what about hiring? Either we give it three syllables, or it's homophonous with high ring. Likewise, desirous either has four syllables, or it rhymes with Cyrus. I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 01:33, 13 April 2009 (UTC)

I give hiring three syllables and desirous four syllables. Doing it the other way sounds English (or simply non-rhotic for that matter). You didn't ask, but I thought I'd give you some feedback. Thegryseone (talk) 04:41, 13 April 2009 (UTC)


So "terrorize" lacks a /r/ in /ˈterɚˌaɪz/, but "terrorist" has a /r/ in /ˈterɚrɪst/. Is this because of the distinction between open/close vowels following? Or is it a typo? Grover cleveland (talk) 15:10, 14 April 2009 (UTC)

It's not a typo, but it's so damn confusing (and phonetically inaccurate). Terrorist would be /t/ + /eɚ/ + /ɚ/ + /ɪst/; however, /eɚ/ occurs before /ɚ/ (which is regarded as a vowel), so it's transcribed /er/; likewise, /ɚ/ is followed by /ɪ/ (a vowel), and so it turns into /ɚr/ as per the key. Terrorize is /ˈterɚˌaɪz/ and not /ˈterɚrˌaɪz/ because /ɚ/ is not "immediately" followed by a vowel--essentially because the following syllable is stressed.

In non-rhotic accents, hiring is homophonous with higher ring /haɪə.rɪŋ/ and not with high ring /haɪ.rɪŋ/; non-rhotic accents have the triphthongs /aɪə/ and /aʊə/ in words like hire and hour, as well as a linking R that is phonetically and functionally the same as syllable-initial R. (So that, for example, Dear Andy should theoretically be homophonous with Dear Randy.)

As for the hiring dilemma, a similar phenomenon happens with syllable-final /l/. Does dial rhyme with file? Does dialing rhyme with filing? How many syllables do they have?

To get back to the original point, this phonetic confusion reminds me of words like drawer, drawing, and lawyer, and the influence of /ər/ (/ɚ/) and /j/ on the /ɔ/ vowel... I'm Jack(Lumber) and I approve this message. 23:59, 14 April 2009 (UTC)

I just found this in the Atlas of North American English: "For most dialects of North America, the nucleus of the /ahr/ class [i.e. START] is identified with the /o/ class [i.e. LOT] and it is reasonable to assign /o/, the nucleus of /ahr/ and /ah/ to a single phoneme /ah/ for the great majority of speakers and dialects. Northeastern New England is exceptional in this respect....". So it seems as if Labov et al. would be comfortable at least analysing "barn" as /bɑrn/. Grover cleveland (talk) 03:45, 23 April 2009 (UTC)
Totally late to the game, but for what it's worth, one thing to consider is whether ɚ can become r before a word with a vowel in rapid speech. For me, "hire an employee" ([haɪɚæn. . .]) easily reduces and can even drop the /æ/, but never becomes [haɪræn. . .] no matter how fast I say it. "Hire Anthony" can get to [haɪ.ə.ræn.θə.ni] (sounds like "high Aranthony"), but never loses the schwa after [haɪ] unless I'm speaking so fast that I feel like I am simply deleting sounds (I feel like I'd much sooner turn "Sixth Sense" into [siksɛns] than get rid of the schwa or r-colored schwa in the "hire" examples).
"Higher" and "hire" are homophones for me, too, but I can make the former distinct to emphasize the comparativity, as in "yes, profits are high, but we want to make them high-er". For this, [haɪ.ɚ] captures the speech, while [hajɚ] is simply wrong.
Also perhaps useful is seeing what happens when sitting on a syllable for some effect, like declaring "boring" at a something like a TV show. I find the r-color is already a little bit in the first vowel for "boooooring"; in any case, it sounds nothing like a similar chant of "o-ring". --Atemperman (talk) 21:24, 24 February 2010 (UTC)
There's also variation between [ɹ] and [ɚ]. From the verb to wait, we have waiter and waitress', arguably both consisting of |wet|+|r|; with the latter's additional suffix |ɛs|, the syllabification of |r| doesn't occur since the syllabification occurs for phonotactic reasons that the suffix neutralizes. You get the same thing with actor/actress. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɹ̠ˤʷɛ̃ɾ̃ˡi] 04:46, 25 February 2010 (UTC)

Rhotic Dialects verse Non-Rhotic Dialects[edit]

I was reading the talk between Grover and Jack and I was left slightly confused. They agrued that r's shouldn't effect the cot-caught merger and that words containing r's have the same potential. My first reaction was you've got to be kidding me no way are stock and stork similar. However, relooking at it there is potential here for the cot-caught merger to branch into two areas. Non-rhotic dialocts (which tend to not pronounce r's) like Boston which use the merger have the potential since words like father and farther are already homophones. North Mideast is strict rhotic where r's almost always affect the pronounciation. People from these areas actually consider non-rheotic English to be mangled/mispronounced English (yes, I know what American dialect isn't mangled English; I'm just telling you the mindset of the area I live in). Thus to merge stork and stock is unspeakable even with cot and caught merged Nice or in evil (talk) 06:15, 10 June 2009 (UTC)

Audio[edit]

I'm reading this as cot-cot merger. Maybe someone would be kind enough to upload audio so that I can hear the difference? 63.95.64.254 (talk) 00:53, 17 March 2010 (UTC)

Cot-Caught Section: Plagiarism[edit]

This section (quoted below) is taken directly from the PBS "Do You Speak American" website (here: http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/americanvarieties/midwest/ )

"The latter seems to be the source of its introduction into the Midwest as it appears to be spreading eastward. A recent survey directed by William Labov of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that the merger can be found today among younger generations (roughly people under 40) in Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. It is also heard across much of Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri. Similarly, the merger affects central portions of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, though its appearance in these areas may represent a westward expansion of the change from Pennsylvania."

Jefs (talk) 15:26, 29 August 2010 (UTC)

Good catch. The addition made a couple years ago by an anonymous contributor. I've changed the wording and added proper citation. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɹ̠ˤʷɛ̃ɾ̃ˡi] 16:05, 29 August 2010 (UTC)

Are "kahn / con" categorized correctly?[edit]

In the section Father-bother merger, the following is asserted:

The father-bother merger is a merger of the Early Modern English vowels /ɑː/ and /ɒ/ that occurs in almost all varieties of North American English . . . . In those accents with the merger father and bother rhyme, and Kahn and con are homophonous as [kɑn]. . . .

It seems to me that the Kahn/con example should belong in the section on the Cot-caught merger, not the Father-bother merger. Isn't the kahn/con pair treated exactly like dawn/don and pawned/pond? These latter pairs are (correctly) categorized under the Cot-caught merger, not the Father-bother merger.

I checked the revision history, and this assertion was added way back on 22 December 2005. So it seems odd that it could have lasted so long if it is false. Can anyone verify this? — Lawrence King (talk) 04:30, 18 September 2010 (UTC)

The current wording is correct. In accents like RP that distinguish the PALM, LOT and THOUGHT lexical sets, Kahn belongs in the PALM lexical set with words like "father". "con" belongs in the LOT lexical set. In such accents, "Kahn" doesn't rhyme with "dawn" or "pawn". Grover cleveland (talk) 06:24, 19 September 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for the clarification. As a west-coast American, I have the cot/caught merger, but am familiar with people who don't. But I guess I have never met someone who doesn't have the bother/father merger, so it's hard for me to understand it.
It would be great if there were sound files showing merged and un-merged vowels.
It would also be great to have a chart that shows whether the mergers are independent of each other. According to this page, there are three variables affecting the vowels /ɑː/, /ɒ/, /ɔː/, and /ɔ/: the Father-bother merger, the Lot-cloth split, and the Cot-caught merger. With three variables there are eight possible combinations: for example, there might be an accent that has all three of these; another accent that has the cot-caught merger but not the father-bother merger or the lot-cloth split; etc. But do all eight combinations really exist in English accents today?
Also, it would be helpful for the lexical groups to be explained. The table at the end of the page seems to suggest that "lot", "cot", and "bother" are always part of the same lexical group in every accent. If that's true, then it seems to make things more confusing to refer to "the Father-bother merger, the Lot-cloth split, and the Cot-caught merger". It would be much clearer to refer to "the Cot-father merger, the Cot-cloth split, and the Cot-caught merger", indicating that only four lexical groups are being affected, not six. — Lawrence King (talk) 18:59, 19 September 2010 (UTC)

Here is a quick summary: the relevant lexical sets in the open area are TRAP, LOT, BATH, CLOTH, PALM, THOUGHT, START, NORTH, FORCE

  • Canadian/Western US usually has:
    • /æ/ TRAP=BATH
    • /ɑ/ LOT=CLOTH=PALM=THOUGHT
    • /ɑr/ START
    • /ɔr/ NORTH=FORCE
  • Eastern US (other than New England and the Pittsburgh area) usually has:
    • /æ/ TRAP=BATH
    • /ɑ/ LOT=PALM
    • /ɔ/ CLOTH=THOUGHT
    • /ɑr/ START
    • /ɔr/ NORTH=FORCE
  • RP (England) has:
    • /æ/ TRAP
    • /ɑː/ BATH=PALM=START
    • /ɒ/ LOT=CLOTH
    • /ɔː/ THOUGHT=NORTH=FORCE

The father-bother merger could also be called the PALM-LOT merger. The Cot-Caught merger could also be called the LOT-THOUGHT merger. Many people prefer minimal-pairs or near-minimal-pairs (as in cot-caught or father-bother) because they are simply more memorable.

As for sound files, you can get some idea from the samples at Open back unrounded vowel and Open back rounded vowel. There are some websites with sound files for different dialects of English, but unfortunately I can't find them right now. Perhaps another editor can help. Grover cleveland (talk) 05:00, 20 September 2010 (UTC)

Short O still exists in a few words in American English?[edit]

I've noticed that a lot of Americans seem to pronounce a few words with the short O. The list of words that use it is very small, so they don't use it often - and not all Americans use it. However, one of the words that is definitely on the list is "what". Some pronounce it with a short "ah", some with a very short "uh", but quite a lot of people pronounce it with the English short "o" as in "hot". Has this been noticed, and if so, is it mentioned on Wikipedia or anywhere else for that matter? The word "want" doesn't seem to be on the list, though - many more people pronounce that word with the "ah" sound. 90.209.112.76 (talk) 20:32, 17 March 2011 (UTC)

So you are saying that this specific group of poeple pronounce "what" with the exact same vowel as in "hot". I am guessing that these people pronounce "hot", "Don", and "cot" all with the same short-o vowel, correct? Do these people pronounce "Dawn" the same as "Don"? Do they pronounce "caught" the same as "cot"? — Lawrence King (talk) 00:15, 18 March 2011 (UTC)
No, you're misunderstanding me. They are not using the same vowel in "what" as they use in "hot". In "hot" they use the "ah" vowel, but in "what" they use the English short "o", which is the way English people say "hot" - it's a vowel very rarely used in American English, but in a few words, including "what", this vowel is used. I hope that makes it a bit clearer. As for the other comparisons, I'm not sure, but I don't think it makes much difference. 90.209.112.76 (talk) 02:40, 18 March 2011 (UTC)
Just to add: I said before that "want" isn't on the list, but I've noticed that the contraction "wanna" IS on the list, as the first vowel is said much more quickly. I think the list mainly consists of words that usually have the "ah" vowel in American English, but are said quickly most of the time. 90.209.112.76 (talk) 07:19, 18 March 2011 (UTC)

Sorry for the confusion. In American schools we use the term "short O" to refer specifically to the sound in "hot", "cot", "cloth"; I had not heard the term "short O" used for a sound that does not exist in most American dialects. Do you know the IPA term for this sound that appears only in England and in a few Americans' "what"? From what you say I am guessing you mean /ɒː/ but I'm not sure. — Lawrence King (talk) 17:23, 18 March 2011 (UTC)

I think it is /ɒ/. That's what most IPA guides say under Received Pronunciation, anyway. I'm from northern England, near Manchester myself, so my accent is a bit different, but close enough; that sound is virtually the same. Avengah (talk) 23:02, 20 March 2011 (UTC)


Just to clarify. No American would pronounce what as /wɒt/. It was probably a [wʌ̞t].--TheAmericanizator (talk) 17:49, 15 April 2011 (UTC)

Sorry for my ignorance, but what does that mean? I know what the upside-down v means (it's the "but" vowel, isn't it), but what does the little triangle thing underneath it mean? Also, I wanted to say that I've also noticed it on television; Americans saying "what" almost sound like they are saying it with an English accent sometimes, with the vowel sound they use. It doesn't sound like the "but" vowel at all in most cases. 2.216.230.60 (talk) 16:00, 4 July 2011 (UTC)

pronunciation of "calm"?[edit]

My dictionaries and everywhere else seem to claim that "calm" is supposed to rhyme with "bomb". As a basically GA speaker, this has always seemed strange to me, as "calm", "palm", etc. in my speech have the vowel of "caught", not the "cot" vowel; i.e. they sound as if written "caum", "paum", etc. I've been asking people recently how they pronounce these words, and what I actually hear most often is "callm" i.e. the /l/ gets sounded. (I'm not sure about the vowel quality before it. Many of my friends have the cot-caught merger so it wouldn't be relevant anyway.) Note that none of these speakers pronounces the l in "walk" or "talk". Is this an incipient (spelling-influenced) sound change? Anyone with evidence? Benwing (talk) 01:14, 3 May 2011 (UTC)

Er, ok, I do see a discussion above under "father-bother merger" of the pronouncing of /l/ in "calm" etc. So I guess my real question is, what's the relative occurrence of [kɑm] vs. [kɔm] vs. [kɑlm] or whatever? BTW the difference in my speech between "cot" and "caught" AFAICT is something like {{IPA[kat]}} vs. [kɒt] where the former is a central (not front!) vowel and the latter is less rounded than the equivalent [ɒ] sound in RP. In fact if I concentrate I can switch between the words "cot" and "caught" without moving my lips at all, but for the latter word the back of the tongue moves up a lot, almost as if I'm velarizing the vowel; i.e. there's little tongue difference between my [ɒ] and my dark /l/. Don't know what symbol properly represents this in IPA. Benwing (talk) 02:55, 3 May 2011 (UTC)
I would probably say that since "CALM" is one of the lexical sets, its correct pronunciation would be the pronunciation of that set. Having checked, I can say that it uses the "ah" (fAther) vowel, and the L is silent. 90.217.136.135 (talk) 06:05, 3 June 2011 (UTC)

Contradicts Great Vowel Shift[edit]

This article seems to contradict the chart on Great Vowel Shift in describing how vowels changed and when they changed. At first I tried to change the article to be more consistent with the other article, but then I noticed there were references to a published book text, and I couldn't fundamentally change the details without deleting this reference, and I can't check the reference because it seems to be academic shelfware. So here I mark the article as contradictory. - Gilgamesh (talk) 23:46, 3 July 2011 (UTC)

Self-Contradiction in 16th Century Changes[edit]

In the section 16th century changes, it says "The diphthong /ɔʊ/ found in low and soul had become /oʊ/." and it also says "There were thus three low back monophthongs at this time: /ɔ/ as in dog, /ɔː/ as in low and (before /r/), in more and /ɒ/ in corn." In other words, it says that the word low was pronounced as /loʊ/ and it also says it was pronounced /lɔː/. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Rectipaedia (talkcontribs) 02:34, 22 August 2012 (UTC)

This was the result of Gilgamesh's well-meaning but misguided attempt to resolve contradictions that are due to sources themselves providing conflicting accounts already; I have undone his changes now. Glossing over real differences in the accounts given by different sources is generally a bad idea. Let's acknowledge that they differ and leave it at that. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 04:17, 18 July 2014 (UTC)

/* Lot–cloth split */ but they have the same vowel in American English[edit]

Lot and cloth have the same vowel in at least some dialects of American English. The section lists several identical vowels [such as lot and cloth] as if they are supposed to contrast, and several contrasting vowels [such as bother vs. bongo] as if they are supposed to be identical. Either the split hasn't affected all dialects of AmE, or it has been followed by a lot-cloth merger in at least some dialects of AmE. Either way the section should mention this. 96.231.17.131 (talk) 16:55, 5 November 2012 (UTC)

They split in all American dialects but then re-merged in many dialects with the cot-caught merger (See the cot-caught merger section for information on which dialects those are.) So basically, American dialects that do not have the cot-caught merger, still make the lot-cloth distinction (lot like cot and cloth like caught). --- Wikitiki89 (talk) - 18:28, 5 November 2012 (UTC)

Possible caught-cot map[edit]

I found something interesting, a statistical study from 2013 where one of the questions is if you pronounce "caught" and "cot" the same way. It has 3 maps which illustrate the results. I have no idea if its license allows it to be used, etc, but if someone is not as lazy as me, maybe they can research it and if possible incorporate it into the article. Here is the link. 77.70.30.216 (talk) 16:09, 10 June 2013 (UTC) P.S. It's question number 28 in the drop-down menu on the left. 77.70.30.216 (talk) 16:11, 10 June 2013 (UTC)

Cot-caught merger and syllabification[edit]

Does cot-caught merger affect the syllabification of words? For example, without the merger, the syllabification of daughter is /ˈdɔ.tɚ/ and that of potter is /ˈpɑt.ɚ/ in American English, as the accented “short” vowel /ɑ/ must be followed by a consonant. How does a person with the merger, who pronounce daughter as /ˈdɑ.tɚ/, syllabify potter? /ˈpɑt.ɚ/ (like paut-er) or /ˈpɑ.tɚ/ (like pau-ter)? — TAKASUGI Shinji (talk) 04:33, 31 July 2013 (UTC)

Cot-caught merger in Singaporean English[edit]

I won't unilaterally change this, but it has to be noted that the Deterding and Hvitfeldt paper cited for the merger of cot and caught in Singaporean English does not indicate what vowel the words have merged to. The way the article is written implies that both vowels are merged to /ɑ/, which is what it is in the American English merger. But the Deterding and Hvitfeldt paper also shows that the two vowels under consideration in Singapore English are /ɔ/ (caught) and /ɒ/ (cot). Whatever the merged vowel is, it is definitely not /ɑ/. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Pelicularities (talkcontribs) 16:48, 16 April 2014 (UTC) Pelicularities (talk) 17:01, 16 April 2014 (UTC)