Pronunciation survey - "o" in American

Clark   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 02:07 GMT
Ryan, I am from Southern California. I guess our accent is somewhat distinct (???).

Most people from outside of California can tell Californians just as Europeans can tell Americans just by looking at them.

Anyways, Julian seems to agree with me.
Ryan   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 02:52 GMT
Tom, I think that national newscasters are taught to speak with general midwestern accents with all "regional peculiarities" removed. It doesn't matter where the newscaster is from. We have a "Network American" accent just like the UK has "BBC English," but most people do not purposely try to remove regional pronunciations out of their English like the 3% or so who speak BBC (RP) English do in the UK. Most people in my home state of Michigan think they talk exactly like the national newscasters, but I can tell you with utmost certainty that they don't. People in the Kansas City area also think they speak like national newspeople, and they don't either. But they both speak "midwestern" enough that they think their accents are the same. There is generally not a lot of consciousness of accent differences in the US, except when it comes to "East Coast" or "South" accents, which everyone knows are different than the standard, as well as the accents of African-Americans or Latinos.

Local broadcasters usually pronounce words based upon their local pronunciations, though.

Clark and others, if you go to the following site, there are maps of where a famous linguistics professor named William Labov mapped specific regional dialect differences. This should settle the debate about the /o/ /oh/ merger, as he calls it, once and for all. Look at the first map especially.

Julian   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 03:22 GMT
I was shopping at a leather goods store in Florence, Italy once, and when I asked the salesclerk for some assistance, he asked, "Are you from Los Angeles?" Dumbfounded, I responded, "Yeah, how did you know?" He goes, "I can tell by your accent -- I was going to say either San Francisco or Los Angeles, but your accent is more Los Angeles." I was blown away that this Italian guy could pinpoint the exact city I was from -- and he told me that he had never been to California! I can't even tell an SF accent from an LA one. So I guess we Southern Californians do talk distinctively.
Northern Californian   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 04:01 GMT
HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I am from San Francisco. The Southern CA accent sounds different to me from a Northern CA one. It's more... southern. I think it's faster too. Here in SF I can tell the difference between a person from right outside the Bay Area and a person from the Bay Area. Everyone sounds like a farmer, except those from the cities! LOL!
Clark   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 04:08 GMT
I hope you all do not think I am an idiot, but I did not get anything from those maps on the site that Ryan provided.

All I can say is that I pronounce the vowels in the following words the same:


I have never had anybody actually tell me they thought I was Californian. I think I just have one of those looks that I can pass for any European and Anglo-American person.
Julian to No-Cal   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 04:50 GMT
Interesting. I guess I haven't spent a whole lot of time in SF to notice any difference.
Ryan   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 06:51 GMT
Clark, here is a clearer map. Everything in blue is where people distinguish between "caught" and "cot." Everything in red is where they do not. The little squares are where the difference is "variable" or "transitional," most likely transitioning to a merger.

Note that the Bay Area is in the "variable" area. The younger generation there is starting to merge the vowels, the older people did not. There was a definite east coast influence on the settlement of San Francisco, while LA was settled by midwesterners.

In terms of overall population, I would say that distinguishing the vowels is more common than merging them.

Tom   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 12:38 GMT
Thanks for the link, Ryan, I'll check it out.

I am writing a review of the Cambridge Pronouncing Dictionary. According to the information in the preface, it's supposed to cover "Network American" pronunciation. However, the dictionary uses the following transcriptions:

law [la: lo:]
off [a:f]

Notice that according to the dictionary, the most popular pronunciation of "law" in Network American is [la:] (it is listed first). I find that very, very strange. To me, "law" is the word that epitomizes the [o:] sound.

Notice also that the pronunciation of "off" as [o:f] was apparently considered not important enough to be listed. What were they thinking?
Clark   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 16:39 GMT
Thanks Ryan, much clearer. I am east of the most sounthernley cluster of red dots in Southern California.
Tom   Saturday, September 13, 2003, 17:55 GMT
To everyone who has said they pronounce "cot" and "caught" with the same vowel sound:

Do you pronounce "law" and "talk" like this?
Ryan   Sunday, September 14, 2003, 06:46 GMT
Yeah, I posted before and it got erased. That's how it sounds around here, although it may not quite sound that way further west in California.

Clark   Sunday, September 14, 2003, 08:09 GMT
The message I posted after listening to the recording was that it sounded like we say it in California, but it sounded a bit too nasal.
Tom   Sunday, September 14, 2003, 08:55 GMT
Thanks, I didn't get to read your previous messages.

What you say is surprising to me. I didn't think "law" and "talk" could be pronounced with a vowel so open as in the sample. I would never pronounce it that way and I don't think I've heard anyone pronounce it that way -- though if you say people actually talk like that, I believe you.

Ryan -- I'm a bit confused. I thought you were from the Midwest?
mjd   Sunday, September 14, 2003, 17:23 GMT
The "aw" sound is much more accentuated here in the Northeast. Law, talk, and caught would all have the same sound, but cot is completely different (a more open sound).
Ryan   Sunday, September 14, 2003, 18:10 GMT
Yeah, sorry about the confusion. I was born and raised in Michigan but I live in Eastern Kansas now. Both are often termed "midwest" by Americans, yet the accents are different. The "northern states" like Michigan preserve the distinction between /A/ and /O/ by doing some weird vowel shifting that linguists love to talk about. Kansas, on the other hand, is far enough west that /A/ and /O/ become the same vowel sound like in the rest of the West.