Pronunciation survey - "o" in American

Tom   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 10:51 GMT
A question to Americans:

1. Do you distinguish between the vowels in "bot" and "bought"?
2. If so, which vowel do you use in the following words:


I need as many replies as possible (to get a valid sample). Thanks a lot!
Jacob   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 13:42 GMT
I get three distinct sounds from your list:


{bought, law, off, office, on, cost}


The first one is as close to a pure "ah" sound as I ever get, with my jaw dropped all the way.

The middle grouping all have "ah" strongly colored by a "w" sound.

For the last one, no "w" sound unless I'm being sloppy, and my jaw is a bit more closed than for "bot."

(But what do you actually mean by "bot" anyway? I only know that word as slang for robot; is that what you mean?)
Lana   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 14:04 GMT
Is bot a word? I guess I would pronounce it the same as in cot, dot, got, hot, etc. I have a midwestern accent and we tend to not make a pure 'ah' sound, but more like ah with just a touch of the a in cat. The same sound applies to bought (and fought, caught, taught, etc.).

I pronounce all the words in your list that way except law because the aw sound is different-the a is modified by the w coming after it.

People in other areas (such as the East coast, NY, NJ) do make a distinction between bot and bought, with bot having the short o and bought having a long o gliding into ah (bo-aht, or bawt). Some others will even extend this sound to dog (do-ahg, or dawg), off, etc. I pronounce law, crawl, etc. with this sound also, but I pronounce it a little more subtly than they do.
Julian   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 16:00 GMT
I've been pronouncing each word on your list repeatedly, and I have to say that I pronounce all of them with the same "ah" vowel sound. Is that unusual? I'm a little iffy on "law"; I might pronounce this word a tad differently but even I have a hard time telling.
Ryan   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 16:44 GMT
I pronounce words like "cot" with an "ah" sound and "caught" with an "aw" sound.

All the words above are pronounced by me with the "aw" vowel, except for "on," which is pronounced with the "ah" vowel.

This is another question asked on the Harvard dialect survey. If you are interested in American accents and dialectology, Tom, I suggest you check this site out.

There is some bias to the results of this question because I think many people are answering the question based on where they currently live and not where they were raised. California also has many immigrants who speak with different accents. But if you look at the overall distribution (the first map), you see that people start pronouncing the vowels the same just west of Kansas City, with the notable exception of the Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania accent.

mjd   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 17:46 GMT
I definitely distinguish between "bot" and "bought." (ah vs. aw)

law, cost, office, dog, off (aw sound)

on (ah sound like in "bot")
Julian   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 18:35 GMT
I checked my dictionary to see what the "official" word is on the pronunciation of these words, and they're all listed with the \ô\ sound. When I look down in the annotations for an example of how \ô\ is pronounced, it lists "law"(!). we're back to square one!

"On", "office", and "dog" are also listed with an alternative pronunciation of the \ä\ vowel sound. The notes give "mop" and "mar" as examples of this sound. So now the question becomes -- do you pronounce mop and mar with the same vowel sound?

I can definitely see how all this can be confusing to the English learner.
Tom   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 18:47 GMT
Thank you all for your replies. I hope to get some more replies, but for now:

Yes, I mean "bot" as in "robot".
Do you round your lips when pronouncing "dog"?

So if "taught" was spelled "tawt", you'd pronounce it differently? What about "taut"?
I don't get the midwestern accent thing, Ryan is from the Midwest and he clearly distinguishes between "bot" and "bought", as evidenced by his post in this thread and his recording.

Try to say the words again, but this time pay attention to whether you round your lips.

I couldn't confirm your conclusion by examining the maps. To me, the geographical distribution of both choices is the same. My conclusion is that 60% said they pronounce the words differently and 40% the same, regardless of where they live.
BTW, thanks for a great link. You're a real gold mine of information.
Jacob   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 19:16 GMT
No, no lip-rounding for "dog". If I even try it, I get something that sounds really weird.

When I think about it, it seems to me that vowels with the lips rounded only occur in conjunction with 'r' and 'l' sounds. For instance, I find it in "wolf" and "curl". Do you think that's accurate? I've never spent much time in "analytic mode" when it comes to sounds in my own language.
Tom   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 19:19 GMT
You round your lips for "bought", "law", "off", etc., don't you?
Also "own", "flow", etc.
Jacob   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 19:22 GMT
Well, they are in what I'd call a neutral position. Certainly not spread, like "mat" or "meet", but when you say rounded I think of, say, the ö or ü (umlauted) vowels in German... and I'm not doing that, either.
Tom   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 19:31 GMT
But your lips are more rounded for "bought" than for "bot"?
Jacob   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 19:37 GMT
>But your lips are more rounded for "bought" than for "bot"?

The lips start out in the same position -- I can switch between the two sounds without moving my lips. But the "w" sound that I put into "bought" does require moving into a more rounded position.
Clark   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 20:05 GMT
Clark here, from sunny Southern California answering Tom's original inquiry(sp).


The above words all have the same vowel sound; "ah" is how I would pronounce it.

"Cost" has a long "o" sound, like someone saying, " 'oh' dear,..."
Clark   Wednesday, August 27, 2003, 20:13 GMT
Oh yeah, like Lana, I have never heard of the word "bot," but I would pronounce it like "cot" (kaht).