I use your lexical sets in preparing my materials […] and I do give you credit for them (albeit obliquely in some cases). I don't publish my materials, but I do distribute them to clients, and there may be publication in the not-too-distant future. Am I going to run into copyright difficulties? […] I don't want to infringe on your rights, and I don't want to get into trouble with Cambridge University Press!
Don’t worry, Amy: I claim no copyright in lexical sets. Everyone is free to make whatever use of them they wish. I am delighted that they have been taken up by many other authors.
Of course it’s nice to be acknowledged from time to time as their originator, but even that’s not necessary.
I sometimes think that a century from now my lexical sets will be the one thing I shall be remembered for. Yet I dreamt them up over a weekend, frustrated with the incoherent mess of symbols used in such contemporary publications as Weinreich’s ‘Is a structural dialectology possible?’. I did not try them out anywhere before publishing them in Accents of English, vol. 1.
For the uninitiated, in my 1982 book I proposed a system of “standard lexical sets”,
a set of keywords, each of which […] stands for a large number of words which behave in the same way in respect of the incidence of vowels in different accents.Thus KIT is the lexical set associated with the (strong) vowel ɪ of RP and GenAm, DRESS the set containing e (or, if you prefer, ɛ), TRAP the set containing æ, etc.
I called them “standard” lexical sets because they were based on my two ‘reference’ accents of English, RP and GenAm. The sets were defined by the intersection of vowel incidence in these two varieties (conservatively defined).
So NURSE is treated as a single set, because the reference accents have merged the formerly distinct vowels of verse, serve etc as against nurse, curve etc. If the sets had been defined by a wider range of accents, it would have been necessary to split the NURSE set to take account of the speakers of Scottish and Irish English who make the distinction. People dealing with varieties that make such further distinctions in other sets have quite rightly proposed and defined further lexical sets or subsets.
On the other hand FORCE and NORTH are distinct sets in my system, because of the fact that GenAm (at least as set out in then current reference books) allows for the contrast of vowels in sport vs short, hoarse vs horse etc. It is then a bonus that we can use these keywords to discuss the corresponding contrast in Scottish English, West Indian English etc.
I took great care in the choice of suitable keywords. I wanted words that could never be mistaken for other words, no matter what accent you pronounced them in.
Although FLEECE is not the commonest of words, it cannot be mistaken for a word with some other vowel; whereas beat, say, if we had chosen it instead, would have been subject to the drawback that one man’s pronunciation of beat may sound like another’s pronunciation of bait or bit. As far as possible the keywords have been chosen so as to end in a voiceless alveolar or dental consonant…though that was not always possible.
The least satisfactory keyword is PALM, and its set is also fairly incoherent. Amy says she prefers to replace it with FATHER, which is fine up to a point: but not if we are discussing Hiberno-English, where father often has not the expected aː of Armagh, Karachi, Java etc but the ɔː of THOUGHT.
The choice of the keyword DRESS has proved awkward for people dealing with New Zealand English, where the upward shifting of the vowel in question has led them to have to refer to DRESS Raising.