Monday 1 February 2010

lexical sets

Amy Stoller writes
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 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.


  1. I agree with your choice of PALM instead of FATHER, given the whole Irish English thing. An L1 Spanish lecturer was once asked in by an Irish student, "How is the Spanish a different to the English a?" to which he responded, "like the a in father," a response no doubt lost on most of his listeners!

  2. My father referred to my grandfather as his feɪðə. Among some family friends this became a name rather than a pronunciation.

    Like Amy I use John's lexical sets and not always with acknowledgement, but in a totally amateur setting. The BBC Word of Mouth Message Board quite often raises questions of pronunciation in general and accents in particular. Many posters could use IPA notation, but the software won't accept it.

    The 'incoherence' of the PALM set was brought out when we tried (unsuccessfully) to have a rational discussion of the pronunciation of Pakistani. It's still indispensable, though, for us non-specialists when discussing non-loanword pronunciations. The value lies not so much in the words it contains as in the way it allows us to write about the pronunciation of words in the BATH set.

  3. DRESS raising, along with GOOSE fronting and GOAT centring and LOT-THOUGHT mergers etc., just add a certain very welcome feeling of abstract poetry to accent studies.

    But, honestly, these days I find it amazing that some people still refuse to use the sets. And they e.g. end up with their "ashes" way up above their /ɛ/'s.

    Also, I use the sets with my NNS students. Otherwise, they tend to talk of [lɔŋɡ i]'s and [ʃɔrt i]'s and similar &^*!, which drives me mad.

  4. Raymond Hickey has an augmented group of lexical sets for Irish English. Though his approach can seem rather cavalier to me.

    In my own (Irish) speech, I can't classify the vowel of "father". It's shorter than the LOT of "bother", fronter than the THOUGHT of "daughter" (not that they rhyme for me) and higher than the PALM of "lather". I suppose it could be assigned to one of the phonemes based on theoretical considerations, but that would seem to me to be explaining away rather than explaining.

  5. oops
    shorter-->LONGER than the LOT of "bother"

  6. "DRESS raising"
    I never realized how funny that sounded until you mentioned it.

    I love the lexical sets. I use them all the time. I agree with Amy's choice of using FATHER instead of PALM for American English, because Americans pronounce the /l/ in "palm" (even if it's vocalized). I also prefer to call what you call "LOT-unrounding" "the FATHER-BOTHER merger". I think it's better not to be so specific regarding the phonetic quality of the vowel, because some North Americans actually use a rounded vowel.

    1. I'm American, and neither I nor any of the members of my family or usual circle of friends from my school days pronounce the /l/ in "palm." I was surprised sometime back when I heard a couple of Americans from the West (Idaho, I think) pronounce "almond" as if it were "all-mund." I think this must be a recent spelling pronunciation.

  7. @JW:

    I wanted words that could never be mistaken for other words, no matter what accent you pronounced them in.

    Given the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, would you today choose different keywords for KIT and TRAP? I imagine that it might now be possible to confuse them with CAT and TRIP. Suppose a Detroit native were speaking to someone from the Deep South, or vice versa.

    I often hear PALM pronounced out here in the US with a realized "l" (although by no means always). I presume that this is a spelling pronunciation. The vowel itself may be that of FATHER/LOT or possibly even that of STRUT (unfortunately, despite living out here for over a decade, I am still unable to distinguish GenAm LOT from STRUT reliably in some environments).

    Would BRA be a good keyword in place of PALM?

  8. Well, I'll be ... I'm famous!

    Please forgive me, folks - this is going to be even longer than usual. I just don't know how to write short.

    Thank you, John, for a very useful correction. FATHER is more problematic than I had realized, because, while it works reasonably well for non-regional American, it is, as you point out, hopeless for a standard set taking as many Englishes as can be managed. I'll have to abandon it.

    @vp: BRA is going to have unfortunate consequences in many teaching situations (I work with children fairly often; I expect it would be worse with adolescents). But SPA might work. My difficulty with PALM is that, as John shows in LPD3, somewhat more than half the Americans surveyed pronounce the l, and this inevitably colors the vowel to the point where it is really not much like SPA any longer. Those who pronounce the l are incredibly resistant to the idea that l could possibly be a silent letter in "palm." The resistance is even greater in southerners with a strict Christian background, because they were raised on psalms with a non-silent l. In any case, PALM doesn't work in Ireland any better than FATHER does.

    But I'm astonished that you can't hear the difference between American merged PALM/LOT and STRUT. They are nothing like each other in any American accent I've ever heard. I wonder what's going on there ...

    @wjarek: "Otherwise, they tend to talk of [lɔŋɡ i]'s and [ʃɔrt i]'s and similar &^*!, which drives me mad." Well, yes. I have exactly the same problem. But of course they are thinking of Long I as in PRICE and Short I as in KIT, Long E as in Fleece and Short E as in DRESS. Once you've learned phonetics, you can never go back ...

    Here are some sets for comparison.

    Edith Skinner's Speak with Distinction, a book with which I take issue with on many points, but which is in very wide use in the US, uses: Lee, Will, Let, Pat, Pass, Stir, The Surprise (schwa), Cup, Who, You ("Liquid U"), Would, Obey (unstressed o as distinct from stressed oʊ of Go), All, Honest (ɒ - this is problematic for speakers of non-regional American, as FATHER-BOTHER merger is the norm, and ɒ in Honest and LOT is strictly regional), Fathers (ɑ), Pay, My, Boy, Go, Now, Here's (ɪɘ̆ - why not Here?), Their (why not There?), Poor (ʊɘ̆) Ore, Car, Hire, Flower, and two "Rising Diphthongs": Tedious (ɪ̆ɘ), Influence (ʊ̆ɘ).

    Skinner had a specific agenda in developing these sets, for which I refer you to Dudley Knight:

    I personally know people who felt deeply freed and empowered by their work with Skinner when she was teaching; but most of my clients who were taught using Speak with Distinction found it not as helpful as they had hoped, and I can see why. Mais chacun à son goût.

  9. Hughes and Trudgill's 52-word list has been extremely useful in my practice, as it allows me to show clients (especially beginners) how a variety of words are or are not homophones in various accents. I don't use it in place of the Lexical Sets, but as an adjunct.

    The first set I ever learned was from Andrew Jack (a dialect coach whose greatest claim to fame is probably devising a language for the Lord of the Rings films): Sure Who Would Here And Now Know Aught Of The New Art Must Fight Toil Care Learn Then Take His Ease. That's far too limited for the way I teach now, but it did open the door to my becoming a coach, as well as what I already was: an actor who worked so frequently in dialect that I was once asked if I could "act in American." (You can't make this stuff up.)

    At this point, I simply begin with John's Lexical Sets and adjust as needed.

    For many accents, I add to DRESS another set called PEN - this is for accents that lack a Pin-Pen distinction.

    To TRAP I may need to add CAN - even where TRAP is still reasonably consistent as a monophthong most of the time, when followed by a nasal - especially n - it almost invariably becomes some sort of diphthong in American speech. It does in my own, unless I am in Actor Mode (or Teacher Mode).

    And so forth.

    Incidentally, John, I don't think a NORTH/FORCE split can be considered non-regional in American English. It is, so far as I know, in use only in some parts of New England and some parts of the South. It's a useful distinction, and I don't think it should be abandoned; I'm just saying that the merger is in far greater use in the US than the split is.

  10. This is the list I'm using now (for strictly amateur purposes):



  11. @Amy: Well, yes. I have exactly the same problem. But of course they are thinking of Long I as in PRICE and Short I as in KIT, Long E as in Fleece and Short E as in DRESS.

    Yes, I should have pointed out that among our students it's "long [i]" for FLEECE and "short [i]" for KIT. Which is so completely silly, as Polish does in fact have a vowel very similar to KIT. It's some (faulty) knowledge of phonetics mixed with some influence from the spelling that produces the annoying jargon. (OK, there's also the influence from some diehard pronunciation teachers who simply won't accept the fact that the whole long/short business does more harm than good.)

    @Amy/vp: But I'm astonished that you can't hear the difference between American merged PALM/LOT and STRUT. They are nothing like each other in any American accent I've ever heard. I wonder what's going on there ...

    Well, again, for our students, the American LOT-STRUT contrast tends to be very difficult. They both map onto Polish /a/. I wouldn't say they're "nothing like each other", either. They're different but similar ;) And which specific American accent you're talking about also does make a difference, doesn't it? With the NCS, the strongly fronted LOT is much more different from the backish STRUT than in other accents.

    For PALM, there's one additional complication: It can also have LOT or THOUGHT (with or without the /l/). Right now, I'm going through a corpus of L2 English from Poles which includes the keywords as part of a wordlist, and I'm astonished at how many of them give it a LOT/THOUGHT reading.

  12. @ Mollymooly,
    I've heard Irish people like you who have a vowel in father distinct from both PALM and THOUGHHT. In their case, it seems to simply be a lengthened version of LOT, namely [A:]. I couldn't quite make out from your description if this is the case in your accent too. When you were referring to Hickey's approach being rather cavalier, what specifically were you referring to? Thanks for the link.

    @ Amy Stoller
    "In any case, PALM doesn't work in Ireland any better than FATHER does." I think you meant, "In any case, PALM doesn't work for the whole English-speaking world any better than FATHER does," because clearly it does work better for Ireland. I think your suggestion of "SPA" seems to be the best possibility, or at least the least worst one that can be thought of.

    I think for at least some Americans STRUT lowers towards some kind of centralized cardinal 5 at times. The result is that the difference between LOT and STRUT can be more of quantity than quality, given that STRUT tends to be shortish and LOT-PALM longish. Given that in Polish only quality (and nasalization) is used to differentiate vowels, this could easily lead to difficulties hearing such a distinction in English.

  13. I'm astonished that you can't hear the difference between American merged PALM/LOT and STRUT. They are nothing like each other in any American accent I've ever heard.

    Perhaps you could help me out: what's the phonetic difference between GenAm "bomb" and "bum"? I think I can distinguish pairs such as "cot" and "cut" on the basis of length and possibly pharyngealization, but that doesn't work before a nasal.

    In my defen{s/c}e, my native near-RP requires distinguishing only one tongue position in the open back area. For me, PALM/STRUT/LOT/THOUGHT are all distinguishable by length and rounding, not by tongue position. (I'm not saying that tongue position is identical, just that it's not phonemically distinctive).

  14. @John Wells: Your sets are used in this article It's interesting to see which ones have been split.


    (I think whoever wrote this misunderstood your COMMA set, since RP and GenAmer have both been split)

    In FLEECE, I think it is only a minority of Irish people who say "sea" and "see" differently anymore.

  15. BRA would be difficult in America, even if spelt BR*, and SPA would be difficult because there is the alternative pronunciation with the THOUGHT vowel.

    SHAH, ALLAH (difficult in America), HAH-HAH (but there's Haw-haw), AHA...

    Are there other "regular" words except for father, newer loans, abbreviations and those with a former r or l?

  16. Forgot onomatopoeias and interjections.

  17. Hello All,
    This is a quick post, as I'm running off to class. I completely understand Amy's use of "father" because of the pronunciation of the /l/ in PALM and having been trained with Edith Skinner's book. However, I also end up with another issue because of the region in which my university resides. I teach in Michigan, which is often called a Midwest accent--though I truly despise that classification because what we consider the Midwest is so large that there are many accents that occur here (I've taken to calling it the Mideast). This accent has taken the PALM-CLOTH merger and moved it to the forward vowel [a]. This actually occurs much through the Rust Belt of America. When dealing with this, I simply do not use any lexical word and rely on teaching them via kinesthetic sensation to understand tongue placement.

  18. @Lipman:

    I usually hear "Allah" with the TRAP and commA vowels.

    I hope you're joking with all the "difficult in America" :)

  19. Michael: the name of the accent spoken in Michigan is the "Northern Cities Shift".

    VP: the "General American" difference between LOT/PALM and STRUT is that LOT/PALM is low (as open as TRAP or more so, usually the openest monophthong in the system) and STRUT is mid (about the height of DRESS). There is dialect variation on this point, of course; in those dialects where STRUT is substantially lower than mid, LOT is usually back (and somewhat rounded?).

  20. As there's no voiceless obstruent to clip the vowel, could we not have BRA unclipping to join DRESS raising...?

  21. Lexical set has a mathematical counterpart in discrete mathemactis. It is called "equivalence class"

  22. You forget GOAL, for those (I'm one) who pronounce "wholly" differently from "holy" (a GOAT word) and "holly" (a LOT word).

    I have a problem with FORCE and NORTH because I merge the two phonemes; those key words don't tell me which one names the lexical set which contains -oar-, -our- and -oor- words. Unfortunately, many such words are homophones for speakers who merge FORCE, NORTH and possibly also THOUGHT. How about DOOR? Or is DOOR a CURE word for some?

  23. I hope you're joking with all the "difficult in America" :)

    I was, sorry for that.

    But really, are there any words except for newer loans, onomatopoeias, interjections, abbreviations, those with a former r or l and father?

    BTW, I suppose that the CLOTH and the FORCE sets were included for GenAm, not Conservative RP, otherwise one might add a GAUNT set.

  24. Richard Sabey: there are extensive lists for each keyword in my book.

  25. lipman

    Is ANY RP so conservative that it still has ɡɑːnt?

    OED, chaotic as ever, has for BrE:

    SECOND EDITION 1989 (ɡɔːnt, ɡɑːnt), like (hɔːntʃ, hɑːntʃ), with no comment or explanation, but it does have (lɔːnʃ formerly lɑːnʃ). It of course has (ɑːnt), and even that always sounds to me as though it is spelling-pronounced by posh Americans! (Wiktionary, wonderful as ever, gives only ænt for US etc., but has sound files for US pronunciations æːnt and indeed ɒːnt.)

    For comparison with (hɔːntʃ, hɑːntʃ) and (lɔːnʃ formerly lɑːnʃ), SECOND EDITION 1989 has (stɑːntʃ, -æ-, stɔːntʃ), for the verb and (stɔːntʃ, stɑːntʃ, -æ-) for the adjective, but it does roughly reflect my own experience of all these: ɑːn(t)ʃ I think I only ever heard from ancient RP speakers in my childhood, and I was mildly surprised to see that OED lists first my own preferences for the verb and the adjective 'staunch' respectively. I definitely still distinguish between them.

    What I do think one might add is a SALT set. It's in rude health for me and many like me.

    But those OED entries have set me off on another hobbyhorse – the vanishingly unlikely sustainability of the claim that the t in [ntʃ] [nts] etc. or the d in similar clusters is phonemic. I think most of the relevant argument about it is re Prince on the Haiti thread of 18 January 2010. If the OED's treatment of these phenomena is as inconsistent as the above, does it not speak volumes?

    The 1989 ed goes on: (bʌnʃ), (krʌnʃ), (lʌnʃ), (hʌn(t)ʃ), etc.

    The DRAFT REVISION Sept. 2009 seems to be trying harder: /mʌn(t)ʃ/, U.S. /mən(t)ʃ/, /pʌn(t)ʃ/, U.S. /pən(t)ʃ/, /pɔːn(t)ʃ/, US /pɔn(t)ʃ /, /pɑn(t)ʃ/. Brackets and all.

  26. Looking through Accents of English, vol. 1, p. 144 for some other PALM words, I think there are very few monosyllables that don't present some problems, but maybe animal names like LLAMA or IGUANA could be used. I think they're familiar, enough even to children, and neither is too close some other word.

  27. @Anonymous:
    "I've heard Irish people like you who have a vowel in father distinct from both PALM and THOUGHT. In their case, it seems to simply be a lengthened version of LOT, namely [A:]. I couldn't quite make out from your description if this is the case in your accent too."
    Yes, that's it. Hickey's SOFT lexical set is a split of the LOT vowel before fricatives. I have the same vowel in "father" as "soft", but I wouldn't say "father has the SOFT vowel" because my "bother" retains the shorter vowel of "lot", and "soft" with the shorter LOT vowel sounds acceptable to me but "father" doesn't.

    "When you were referring to Hickey's approach being rather cavalier, what specifically were you referring to?"
    Not his phonology but his sociolinguistics. His book "Dublin English" has lots of good data, but sometimes explanations seem to be presented as fact rather than as plausible hypotheses requiring further research.

  28. @Richard Sabey:
    I don't think anybody has "door" with CURE vowel, but the set names use closed syllables as keywords, do DOOR won't do. Candidate keywords would be the monosyllables in section b of table 75 of our host's book. I can't see any that both avoids homonyms and is spelt with oor/our/oar.

    Maybe a replacement keyword for NORTH. Since or/ore/orCe are all ambiguous, how about WART or QUART?

  29. AJD:
    I've noticed that you often hear the more open STRUT in Canada, Western Pennsylvania and Northeastern New England, which are all places where LOT is far back and maybe rounded (and also where it's merged with THOUGHT of course). I guess the very back position of LOT allows STRUT to move towards the open central position in those accents.

  30. mallamb,

    I should have picked GAUNTLET, then I could answer that those who actually throw it down will easily say gahntlit.

    Just assuming that t is phonemic, I'd have thought it's [lɑːnʃ] but [lɔːntʃ].

  31. @wjarek (and anyone else either working with EFL learners, or who are themselves EFL speakers): My apologies for not having made myself more clear: I did not mean to imply any sort of disparagement of someone who has difficulty differentiating American STRUT [ʌ] from SPA/LOT [ɑ ~ a] (or SPA/LOT/THOUGHT [ɑ ~ a]) where there is three-way merger). I was, more or less, outing myself as a person of limited imagination. The cause for my astonishment is that for me, STRUT and SPA/LOT are both phonemically and phonetically completely different, and have been since I acquired American English speech - at age 0, if we accept (for the sake of argument) that acquisition begins with hearing and babbling before actual production of words.

    I do, as it happens, work with some EFL clients, and often notice them having some difficulty with STRUT, but the sounds they come up with instead of ʌ vary widely. I hear everything from ɔ or ɜ to a or ɑ in my EFL clients, and I understand completely your example of Polish speakers heading toward what is for them, the "next nearest" sound. Such learners may need to do their way into hearing the distinction, rather than hear their way into producing the distinction.

    In American NS, however, I must say that while STRUT has a variety of realizations other than pure ʌ, neither ɑ nor a is one that I have heard. Doesn't mean it doesn't exist, of course, just that my experience may be too limited! So my imagination boggles, and I'd need to hear some audio evidence before I could wrap my mind around that one. A diphthong gliding from somewhere around ɜ to something in the neighborhood between ʌ and an unrounded ʊ is not uncommon in some southerners. But I don't think that can be what you're talking about.

    RP is another matter. In RP, the sound I hear in STRUT words is ɐ, and that can readily be considered near enough to a or even ɑ to render distinction difficult indeed - and perhaps unnecessary?

    @Mollymooley, l meant what I said about Ireland, as far as it goes, but I certainly agree with you about the non-utility of either PALM or FATHER as exemplars of a unified, or near-enough unified, lexical set in world English, or even just AmE and BrE + Hib-E (I think I made that up as an abbreviation for Hiberno-English).

    In Ireland, PALM is frequently æ and FATHER can be anything from æ to a to ɒ, (maybe even ɔ?). So exit FATHER as a lexical set key word. In America, PALM is for roughly half the population a very tiny set of words spelled with "al" in which l is not a silent letter: PALM, PSALM, CALM, BALM, ALMS - are there any others? (ALMOND is a law unto itself!) The pronunciation of l (always as ɫ) colors the vowel until it is ɑ, made back about as far as it can possibly go; it is so far back, and so "l-colored," it can even sound a bit lip-rounded - though I'm not sure actual lip rounding takes place. So bye-bye PALM.

    So far it seems like there isn't much objection to SPA representing a unified phonemic set, whose phonetic realization will be an open vowel, made anywhere along the continuum from front to back (a to ɑ). Yes?

    @vp: I hope what I've written above makes things clearer, but in case it hasn't: In AmE, bomb is a ~ ɑ, and bum is ʌ. There are some Americans who say bomb with ɒ, but I would consider them a minority. Of course, in the US, a minority can be an awful lot of people ...

    And I think DRESS raising is pretty funny.

    Written in haste, with new eyeglass prescription. All errors my own damn fault, of course.

  32. @mollymooly: Some Scottish people say dʊər. Listen here Some people in the north of England say "door" as dʊə(r), but this is old-fashioned. However, nobody uses a yod in "door".

  33. It's okay sweety, we love you.

  34. That was @amy by the way.

  35. @Richard Sabey:

    I remember the late Larry Grayson saying his catchphrase "Shut that door" with the CURE vowel.

  36. @Amy and @AJD:

    Thanks very much for the explanation of the difference between LOT and STRUT in most AmE.

    My problem is that I never learned to distinguish an open back vowel from a mid-open back vowel, purely on the basis of tongue position. Because I never had to in near-RP.

    I can even realize STRUT as a short [ɑ] when I'm in the mood.

  37. @Amy: I did not mean to imply any sort of disparagement...

    I was just pointing out that there were some people ;) who shared vp's problem. No hard feelings whatsoever ;)

  38. @Amy Stoller:
    "In Ireland, PALM is frequently æ"

    Do you mean "palm" has the TRAP vowel? If so, I suggest that this is only true for those who merge PALM and TRAP. The vowel is longer in open syllables like spa, bra, ah; but I would argue that's an allophone of a merged phoneme which is not checked.

  39. @mollymooly:

    Is "ore" ambiguous between NORTH and FORCE? I thought it was unambiguously FORCE -- but then I remember you saying once that your distribution between NORTH and FORCE differs from that of "Accents of English".

  40. @mallamb

    What is wrong with [ɑːnt] ? I presume you are using it for the word AUNT?

    In my accent [ɑː] it is just as appropriate in AUNT as it is in DANCE or, for that matter, pretty much any mainstream member of the BATH set.

    I've never heard any Americans, no matter how "posh", use [ɑː] in AUNT. Maybe I'm just not moving in the right circles... :)

  41. @mollymooley: "Do you mean "palm" has the TRAP vowel? If so, I suggest that this is only true for those who merge PALM and TRAP. The vowel is longer in open syllables like spa, bra, ah; but I would argue that's an allophone of a merged phoneme which is not checked."

    Well, there you have me. I have come across merger of TRAP/BATH/SPA as a, and TRAP as æ with BATH/SPA as a. But I have not come across TRAP/BATH/SPA as æ. And yet I have heard the short list of PALM words with æ. Can you suggest Irish regions in which I might hear TRAP/BATH/SPA as æ? That would be a very useful expansion of my knowledge, and I would be grateful.

    @vp:"I've never heard any Americans, no matter how "posh", use [ɑː] in AUNT. Maybe I'm just not moving in the right circles... :)"

    I'm afraid you're not. Aunt with ɑː is not as prevalent as Aunt with æ (or, these days, a wide selection of diphthongs that at their most extreme call to mind Lina Lamont), but it does exist.

    Wasn't there a study of this that discovered that some people had ɑː in describing the concept of aunt (I'm not putting this right, so I hope you understand) but æ in the name of a relative? Theoretically, at least, one could hear such a person say "ænt Louise is my ɑːnt." I'm tempted to say this was part of William Labov's study of New York accents, but that may well be an attribution on the order of all the things that Mark Twain didn't say, but should have.

    @AJD "in those dialects where STRUT is substantially lower than mid, LOT is usually back (and somewhat rounded?" That's interesting. Hadn't thought of that, thanks. And thanks to Anonymous for elaborating on where that might be. I might have come up (eventually) with New England as a possible locale for this, but I doubt I would have thought of Western PA. Oh, goody, more accents to study ...

    Oh, and by the way, Anonymous: If you're going to shower me with terms of endearment, hadn't you ought to drop your cloak of anonymity?

  42. @Ed: "Some people in the north of England say "door" as dʊə(r), but this is old-fashioned."

    I think that might just be their FORCE vowel, though: you can find ʊə or similar in other FORCE words. E.g. in Don Alexander's Orreight mi o' (about Sheffield dialect) he uses "ooa" or similar for a lot of FORCE words: forge, afore, door, floor, more, roaring.

    (I don't think people who speak like this would distinguish FORCE and CURE.)

  43. Cowan, where are TRAIL and FREIGHT distinct? (I guess you don't mean pre-dark-L allophony, do you?) Wikipedia claims the "vein-vain merger" was complete in the fourteenth century...

  44. @army1987: in much of northern England. Words with "eigh" in the spelling have a diphthong [ɛɪ], while other FACE words have a narrower diphthong or monophthong. I presume it's something to do with the long lost [ç]; in this area (South Yorkshire) "fight" and "right" can also be heard with [ɛɪ].

  45. @JHJ That is correct. What's even stranger is how, in West and South Yorkshire, "fight" and "right" have a different vowel from "light" and "night".

    Also, a large number of young people in England say "trail" (and other FACE words ending in l) in two syllables now as trɛɪəl. See here

  46. vp said...
    "What is wrong with [ɑːnt] ? I presume you are using it for the word AUNT?"

    I sometimes wonder if these misunderstandings are always my fault! Didn’t I make it clear that it is not me but the OED that is using it for AUNT?

    I then said "that always sounds to me as though it is spelling-pronounced by posh Americans!" Because we were talking about the spelling-pronunciations which have replaced the ɡɑːnt, hɑːntʃ, lɑːnʃ of the preceding words, and the corresponding spelling-pronunciation of AUNT would be ɔːnt, which does not appear to be making any inroads in BrE, but whose analogue ɒːnt does exist in AmE, and even features alongside æːnt in the Wiktionary sound files for US pronunciations which I went on to refer to.

    So I was in fact saying that ɑː was "just as appropriate in AUNT as it is in DANCE" not just for you and me, but also for posh Americans (some of whom are so posh as to think ɒː is appropriate!) and Amy has since confirmed this, throwing in for good measure a whole range of pronunciations between the two Wiktionary extremes.

  47. I think the misunderstanding was between [ɑːnt] and [ɒːnt].

  48. @vp 'Is "ore" ambiguous between NORTH and FORCE?'
    Hmm, my mistake. I don't think it is, if we discount forehead, foreign, [disyllabic] furore, and confusion of prefix fore- with for-. So a possible FORCE keyword would be SNORED?!

    "I remember you saying once that your distribution between NORTH and FORCE differs from that of 'Accents of English'" I've just run through the lists: I have FORCE in shorn, forfeit, Mormon, fortress; and NORTH in Borneo. Any of these might be idiolectal rather than dialectal, based on spelling pronunciations, eggcorns, etc. "Fortress" could be by analogy with "fort"; I have NORTH in [disyllabic] "forte" and "fortify".

    @Amy Stoller: I think the answer to my original question "Do you mean "palm" has the TRAP vowel?" is No, that's not what you meant. I had thought your previous comment meant you though the word palm was in the TRAP set rather than the PALM set (which would obviously be a bad name for the set).

    "I have come across merger of TRAP/BATH/SPA as a, and TRAP as æ with BATH/SPA as a." My accent approximates Hickey's "Supra-regional southern" Irish, for which he gives TRAP&BATH/SPA as [æ]&[aː]. In my case, the difference in quality is much less significant than in length; I don't know whether [æ]&[æː] or [a]&[aː] would be more accurate.

    I don't know whether anyone has TRAP/BATH/SPA as [æ]. Maybe some Irish Travellers?

  49. @Amy:
    I didn't mean it like that. There just seemed to be some self-deprecation in one of your posts to the point where it was almost difficult for me to read it and I was just trying to reassure you. Sorry I dropped the "l bomb" (sorry for that attempt at humor too).

    Also note that I'm not an expert in this subject. So you might want to take my comments with a very large grain of salt. I'm just a very interested amateur. Although with my comment regarding the openness of STRUT in North America, I looked at the map in the Atlas of North American English (Labov et al.) that showed the F1 values of STRUT (not that they use lexical sets) throughout North America and I recall there being the highest F1 values (and therefore lowest or most open realizations of STRUT) in precisely those places I mentioned. It seems like Western Pennsylvania has gotten the most attention for this by linguists, because there is this thing they're calling the "Pittsburgh Chain Shift" which involves basically what I mentioned in my last post I believe. But that doesn't mean other places don't have pretty much the same shift (like northeastern New England and Canada). It wouldn't be terribly surprising if they did, because of what I mentioned.

  50. @VP:
    I've heard that open back unrounded pronunciation of STRUT from English people, so it's interesting that mentioned it.

  51. that "you" mentioned it

  52. @ Moolymooly
    I was interested to hear your view on Hickey, as I have also found his approach cavalier. In my case, it was mainly due to quite a few transcriptions that were either plain wrong or at least dubious, though now that I think about the way he states his hypotheses in "Dublin English" they do seem to have simply been stated as fact.

    @Amy Stoller
    I agree with you that centralized [Ä] is not usual in the US for STRUT. As I said, STRUT may sometimes go towards that vowel, my way of saying "lower than the open-mid line without being at the open line" perceptually.
    Interestingly, Labov has reported that STRUT in the Pittsburgh accent has indeed lowered to some kind of open central vowel. In this case the LOT vowel has indeed moved out of the way.
    However, MOUTH has become a monophthong, meaning pairs such as done-down are distinguished by duration alone.
    In Canadian English STRUT also lowers, filling the gap left by LOT-THOUGHT backing. However TRAP also tends toward this gap, meaning bad-bud etc. close in on each other. Again courtesy of Labov.

  53. @ Amy Stoller

    When you say you've come across Irish people with merged TRAP-BATH-SPA, I can only suggest you heard a northern Irish speaker. If so, then what you said makes sense. You could transcribe the merged vowel as /ae/, but normally it's written as /a/ in the literature, to refelct the typical phonetic quality of this merged vowel.

  54. The previous anonymous post was not me. I believe it was AJD posting as "anonymous" (maybe on accident). My posts were the last 3 before his or whoever's. Sorry for the confusion. Maybe I should get an account.

  55. I guess it's the previous 2 now.

  56. @Anonymous: "Also note that I'm not an expert in this subject. So you might want to take my comments with a very large grain of salt."

    I'd say we're even then. I am a professional dialect coach, but I am neither a phonetician nor a linguist. And the more I know, the more I know I don't know. (Which doesn't stop me posting as though I were the compleat maven, and then wondering later where I got the nerve.)

    I wish I could get more use out of ANAE online. I get terribly confused trying to figure out what sound is meant by which letter or letters. I've become dreadfully IPA-dependent, even though my knowledge of the IPA is actually pretty limited when compared with that of some around here - to say nothing of John, of course.

    @mollymooley: "I think the answer to my original question "Do you mean "palm" has the TRAP vowel?" is No, that's not what you meant. I had thought your previous comment meant you though the word palm was in the TRAP set rather than the PALM set (which would obviously be a bad name for the set)."

    Yep, you were right the first time. I meant that I have heard Irish speakers of English use the TRAP vowel [æ] in the words palm and calm, and possibly in other words, spelled with "al," that are normally associated with the set-formerly-known-as-PALM. And that I heard those same speakers pronounce other words, with no l in the spelling, in the set-formerly-known-as-PALM, with the more open [a] sound. And that's why I thought PALM was not a good name for the PALM set in Ireland, just as it isn't a good name for the PALM set in the US (albeit for a different reason).

    And that's why I started calling that set FATHER. But that turned out to have other problems, even worse ones!

    And so now I call that set SPA. Nobody else has to adopt SPA as their key word, but it is going to work better for me in my practice.

    (What this conversation needs is a coupla good aspirin ... )

    Anyway, now I've started to doubt that that's what I heard, and to feel more than slightly in over my head! Certainly I am where Hickey is concerned - who's he? And should I be checking out his work, or do you feel I'd be more misled than helped?

  57. This comment has been removed by the author.

  58. Just to clear something up: What I meant originally by "merged TRAP-BATH-SPA" is merged and all using the sound [a]. Not all using the sound [æ]. I may very well have written something else, but that's what I meant! Then I thought someone told me they'd all have to be merged as [æ]. Or something like that. I'm making things worse, aren't I ...

    @mallamb: "Amy has since confirmed this, throwing in for good measure a whole range of pronunciations between the two Wiktionary extremes."

    I think American TRAP is now realized not only as a number of diphthongs, varying according to US region, but triphthongs and even quadraphthongs, or tetraphthongs, or whatever they would be called.

    As an example, and in case anyone was puzzled by my reference to the immortal Lina Lamont, here she is, played by the incandescent Jean Hagen:

  59. @ the other Anonymous!
    I can confirm that the person who posted the above two comments @Mollymooly and Amy Stoller is not AJD.

    @ Amy Stoller
    it's always interesting to learn North Americans' perception of the lexical sets in Irish English. I once told a Canadian I had a cat called "Tarry" i.e. covered in tar. She repeated the name "Tarry," as in the verb!
    It was quite an understandable mistake on her part: there must be many Irish people like me whose TRAP and PALM vowels differ by duration alone.

  60. Even Audrey Hepburn's Liza did not eclipse Lina, did she Amy? And I don't think it was just because Lina attained immortality earlier on. But it's almost a sin not to see the films through, just because we can now cherry-pick sequences.

  61. @mallamb: I agree about Singin' in the Rain, one of my all time faves, but the clip was useful here. As for Audrey Hepburn, I loved her in most of her films, but she was badly miscast in My Fair Lady, and is a blot on the whole film. Her Cockney was as bad as Dick Van Dyke's and Bette Davis's - two other terrific performers with no great aptitude for accent and dialect work (especially Cockney). Fortunately My Fair Lady preserved Rex Harrison's and Stanley Holloway's performances.

  62. I meant the characters rather than the cherries. As to accents no truer word than yours was ever spoken. Lina wins hands down even to my uncertain understanding of AmE accents. So does Holloway over Harrison to my less uncertain understanding of BrE ones.

  63. Thanks for the explanation. I had always wondered why you didn't choose a minimal set like HID/HEAD/HAD etc. with a few suppletives for vowels for which you couldn't do that, so that the distinction was clearest. I had never thought that one might want to use such words in speech rather than in writing... OTOH, I understand why coronal obstruents, but why voiceless ones? That way you get allophonic stuff such as pre-fortis clipping and Canadian raising you wouldn't get with voiced ones. Also, whereas there can be serious discussion about whether e.g. Canadian raising has become phonemic (I think not, but I agree that the grounds to claim otherwise are not completely bogus), there can be no disagreement about allophony caused by voiced alveolar sonorants, because of the tautosyllabic morphemes /z/ and /d/. I mean, a guy pronounces "day" with a diphtong and "daze" with a monophtong, and you want to know whether it's an open vs closed syllable thing or a phonemic contrast? Just ask him how he pronounces "days".

    (How did Hiberno-English come to be called that way? Wasn't Irish English good enough? I mean, no-one would call Welsh English "Cambro-English" and American English "Columbo-English" or something, would they?)

  64. Daco-Romanian and Istro-Romanian come to mind.

  65. This comment has been removed by the author.

  66. @mallamb: Not sure what you mean about Holloway v Harrison; Sexy Rexy's RP was authentic for its era, was it not? I assume he acquired his accent at his public school, if not in the bosom of his family. Do you find his accent less convincing than the Essex-born Holloway's? Or were you talking about something else?

    Jean Hagen was from Chicago originally, and I suspect she drew on accents she heard when she was growing up, which she then exaggerated with sublime effect, as part of her creation of the divine Lina. I have no proof whatsoever of this - but although I often see Lina's accent described as Brooklynese, to me that has never seemed right. It's an amazing creation, whatever its antecedents. And of course she was given brilliant writing to work with.

    @Anonymous: Good point about dealing with differentiation by duration alone. As for my own ability to interpret what I hear in Irish accents, or indeed in any accent not my own: By her I'm an expert, by him I'm an expert - but by an expert, I'm no expert!

    QED - if I didn't know it before, I know it now.

  67. No Amy I didn't mean to impugn Harrison's RP, though I do seem to have given that impression. I meant to say his delivery and dilettante approach to the whole thing, down to his patent recitative, were not a match for Holloway's full-blooded professionalism, exuberance and delight in the dialect.

    And anyway I have a lingering suspicion that Harrison said ˈæskɒt, which would have been a bit off.

  68. I'm a student with a lot of interest in linguistics / phonetics / phonology. Can someone explain the significance of the post-vocalic phonemes that separate the CLOTH and LOT lexical sets? I am an American (Midwesterner) so CLOTH and LOT are merged in my ideolect, and I've never truly known the difference. Thank you.

    - Austin R.

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  71. I came across this website after looking at another whilst looking for a list of words in British phonetics.

    It all started over Easter when I was arguing with my kids over whether we could do away with “c” (which is completely useless!!) But they wouldn’t believe me so I decided to write a program to do it automatically. Researching that I remembered several other redundant letters (e.g. Q).

    Finally I produced the following which I put on a spare website I have (kippers aren't selling well here in Scotland) which converts everything phonetically

    The website was put online in a hurry about half an hour ago, the kids want diner and the Haggis is ready. So Tjerio

  72. I think you have done great work here.
    However, I feel you haven't got it right with regards to schwa.
    The sound of schwa is something akin to 'eu' as in 'animEUl', 'takEUn', 'pencEUl', 'elEUquent', 'bEUll'. The way you have it listed, as in 'above' and 'comma', is more short u. This is the case at least in general US and Canadian pronunciation. Test it out by saying 'above' with the central N.A. accent. I believe you'll find that you'll find yourself saying 'UHbUHv' more so than 'EUbUHv'. Same with 'sEUpply' v.s. 'sUHpply'.
    Many sources have used your table, and so (as cut and paste is the way to go nowadays,) there is much confusion throughout websites. I think you should change/fix this as a further help to those learning and teaching how to pronounce.
    Would you please?
    Please reach me for any follow up.
    Thank you,

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