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November 02, 2013


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We had a deacon from Pittsburgh or somewhere and he always had the task of proclaiming the Holy Thursday gospel about the warshing of the feet. We used to count how many times that word showed up in the reading.

We had a bishop who hailed from Boston and he said Lard Incahnate. We always giggled.

Caught/cot and thought/hot totally rhyme.

How does it sound when you say it?

I would like to point out that the official name for the phenomenon is the "caught/cot" merger, which implies that they are correctly distinguished and that only the deviant dialects are the ones that "merge" them. It is not called the "caught/cot schism."

I grew up in SW Ohio, where they never schedule trick-or-treat on Halloween, but at least they know the difference between "caught" and"cot." I also seem to have gone to the only elementary school that was still teaching reading via traditional phonics in the early eighties; I have distinct memories of being taught the difference between the sound /ɑ/ and the sound /ɔ/, although we didn't write them that way in first grade. I think they showed us cards with an o with a hammock above it for the first, and they used "aw" for the second.

I discovered the merger when my good friend who hails from Utah was designing her homeschooling phonics program. I was horrified that she was teaching that "log" contained the same vowel sound as "top" and she didn't know what the heck I was talking about.

Entropy, how do you pronounce the vowel in the word "caw," as in what the crow says? For me that is the beginning of the word "caught."

Whereas for me the vowel in the word "Ha!" is distinctly different. That for me is the beginning of the word "hot."

My college roommate from north of Boston insisted, in the middle of a board-game, that "draw(r)" that you do with a pencil, and "drawer" that you keep your clothes in were homophones. The rest of us, from far-flung regions of the country, were incredulous and laughing too hard to breathe.

I can't imagine the difference you and Bearing are trying to describe for caught/cot, though - guess I'd have to hear it in real life (or on youtube). It's not as clear as the Lard/Lord to me.

I'm with you, sister! I'm frequently distracted by dialectical differences. Unfortunately, one Sunday it was before communion when the pastor was speaking about the shid bluhd of Jesus Chrahst.

Thanks for the explanation, Bearing. I wrote a long comment but my internet failed before it submitted.

After saying "caw" and "ha" (which initially sounded exactly the same!) over and over until my kids thought I'd lost my mind, I realized you say "ha" a little more nasally.

Then I found this youtube clip
(http://youtu.be/NsvwYWoKCw0) in which I learned that I almost never use the short "o" sound and use "aw" instead: Gawd, Fawther, Tawdd. If you said "f-ah-ther" you'd get a lot of "you ain't from 'round are ya?" comments.

My roommate from college said "own" and "on" as homophones (both as "own"). I say "awn" but I'm guessing you, Bearing, say "ahn".

Ha! You all sound like crazy Americans to me! (Englishwoman that I am). Thought and hot? Not even slightly the same!
But how is the o in 'log' not the same as in 'top'? They sound the same to me. Almost. Maybe?

I've just been repeating log, top, log, top, og, op, og, op, o, o, o, o to myself and sounding like a crazy person.

Nope, for me the words "on" and "off" have the same vowel and it is the one in "caught," "law," "log."

"Father" is the other one ("cot," "hot," "ha").

I think whether I pronounce the letter "o" with one or the other is controlled by which consonant follows the o. These have the vowel sound of "cot:"

fob, bob, cob
pock, tock, clock
odd, Todd
lodge, dodge
jolly, holly, lolly, folly
Ron, Bonnie
bop, drop
tot, hot, cot, lot
nozzle, schnoz
crotch, notch

These have the vowel sound of "caught:"
doff, off
log, dog, toggle
toss, boss

There is a little confusion with the L. "jolly dolly" doesn't rhyme for me. "Holly jolly folly" does.

Map of the cot-caught merger

PWF, how would you describe your accent?

Bearing, it's interesting that St. Louis is shown on that map as distinguishing those vowels.

Hunh. This is fascinating. I can definitely hear the difference and produce the difference, but I am extremely inconsistent about which words I say which way. I grew up in DC with parents from out west, so I think my natural inclination is to merge the sounds (certainly I can rhyme thought and hot in a children's book without twitching), but I also understand the issue. (Strangely, I think caught/cot are homophones but strictly speaking thought/hot do not rhyme--the th changes the vowel somehow in a way that the c does not.)

I do love this stuff!!!

Fairly average South-East English. With the occasional Northern vowel (short a sounds in class, grass) that crept in from somewhere, probably friends at university, though I'm a bit inconsistent about them. It also shifts around a lot. After a term at Oxford I was incredibly RP (received pronunciation, BBC English, posh person' s accent), but that calmed down a bit, though I can still pull it out (consciously or not) in a situation where I need to sound posher. I'm from London, originally, but don't really sound it, because I was a snobby small girl who decided she wasn't going to drop her ts and aitches.
I think I probably sound most like BBC Radio 4.

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