Thursday 16 August 2012


Watching the Olympic commentaries on TV, I was struck by the fact that one or two presenters spoke of ˈpʌtɪŋ the shot where I would have called it ˈpʊtɪŋ the shot. We spell the ing-forms of both put and putt identically, as putting; discounting the English northerners who make no cut—put distinction, we distinguish the verbs as pʊt, base form spelt put, and pʌt, base form spelt putt, respectively, despite the fact that the two are etymological doublets, the second being originally Scottish (Scots?), associated exclusively with the Scottish game of golf.

So standard usage (as I understand it) has putt pʌt only in the golfing sense “To strike the ball gently and carefully with a putter, with the object of making it roll along the surface of the green and into the hole” (OED), and put pʊt in all other senses.

But some speakers have evidently reinterpreted the distinction so as to give pʌt other (all?) sporting senses, and particularly that of putting the shot. I wonder if they would want to spell it correspondingly, to putt the shot?


  1. I never knew that put and putt were etymological doublets until I read this post, but it makes sense. As you know, today there are still words which are in the FOOT class almost everywhere, but in Scotland (and Northern Ireland) they can be in the STRUT class. I believe look lʌk and push pʌʃ are two examples of such words. Otherwise they are in the GOOSE class (lʉk, pʉʃ).

  2. I cannot remember any Scottish guy pronounce and with the vowel - they're always /ɫʉk/, /pʰʉʃ/. As for Ireland, well, I've always believed that most of Ireland are in agreement with northern England over the put-putt distinction, pronouncing both words something like /pʰɔt/, but I guess I was wrong (I really haven't heard too many Irish anyway, so I probably am wrong; never too late to learn though).

    1. "I cannot remember any Scottish guy pronounce and with the vowel - they're always /ɫʉk/, /pʰʉʃ/."

      WOOPS mist out on 3 words: should be

      "I cannot remember any Scottish guy pronounce 'look' and 'push' with the 'strut' vowel...."

    2. The South of Ireland agrees with the North of England in having a FOOT-GOOSE distinction but not a STRUT-FOOT distinction. They also agree in having some FOOT words (for example book, cook) that are basilectally pronounced with GOOSE.

      The North of Ireland (Northern Ireland, Donegal and parts of Cavan and Monaghan) agrees with Scotland in having the exact opposite situation: a STRUT-FOOT distinction but not a FOOT-GOOSE distinction. They also agree in having some FOOT words (for example look, put, full) that are basilectally pronounced with STRUT.

      It's interesting to me that these situations are perfect mirror images (or perhaps rotational inversions) of each other. It's almost as if there are four underlying lexical sets - STRUT; PUT; BOOK; GOOSE - but no dialect makes all the distinctions.

      Does it make sense to split FOOT into PUT and BOOK like this, according to which distinction is made in the basilect? I can't think of any FOOT words that don't fall into one or the other.

    3. @ Samopriya Basu:
      I can't find an audio example right now (there probably are some on the BBC language-related websites though), but if you can get the newest edition of English Accents and Dialects by Hughes, Trudgill and Watt (or simply look inside of it for free on Amazon), you will see that the Shetland Islands speaker in that book pronounces pull pʌl (" elsewhere in Scotland and Northern Ireland.") and put pət.

      You could also consult the blogmaster's three-volume 1982 work on accents, Accents of English. In it he gives bull (which is elsewhere in the FOOT class) as bʌl in Tayside Scots.

      @ Pete:
      I wouldn't say the South of Ireland has no STRUT-FOOT distinction, except for Dublin and areas close to it, but that's neither here nor there.

    4. Are there any accents that retain fully back FOOT and GOOSE?

    5. Yes. After Sir John Gielgud, which was once also ˈgɪlgʊd, but no contemporary pronunciation dictionary has it as a possibility, and not counting the EFL learners in Poland, who are, apparently, taught to speaks like naval officers of a hundred years ago.

    6. @ Duchesse de Guermantes:
      I have fully-back GOOSE. FOOT is not as far back, but I hazard a guess that you mean the use of [ʊ] rather than [ɵ]. This is common in Yorkshire and also in much of the far north, especially amongst male speakers.

      I think that some Scottish and Northern Irish accents have both FOOT and GOOSE as [u], but I wouldn't be able to tell you specifically which ones.

      If you look right back to the SED, there were some areas of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire that had [ʌ] in many FOOT words. For all I know about these areas, this could've died out decades ago or it could still be the case now. Does anyone know better?

    7. Forgot to say:
      @ Pete: from my reading of the chapter by McCafferty in "Urban Voices", some speakers in Derry (in Northern Ireland, for those not familiar) have no contrast between FOOT and STRUT, and use [ɔ̈] in both, whereas other speakers have a split and use [ʉ] in FOOT. I have been told that McCafferty just didn't make the distinction between the two clear. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    8. @ Ed:
      I'm not Pete, nor am I from Ulster, but
      here's a traditional Tyrone sample from the website Sound Comparisons we can analyze. As you can see and hear, the words foot, full and wool (all with initial labials) have the same vowel as blood, but the word good has the same vowel as goose, which is clearly different from the vowel in blood, etc. Based on what I've read, ɔ in foot, etc. is the more broad, working-class and/or "basilectal" (to steal Pete's term) variant. I would guess that it comes from Scots, but I don't know for sure. And I get the impression that there is intra-speaker variation in addition to inter-speaker variation when it comes to the use of this variant.

      The Belfast man from the same website, by contrast, has the more standard (by Northern Irish standards anyway) ʉ in foot, fool and wool. But he may variably use ɔ in some or all of those words when he's chatting with his mates. Unfortunately there's no conversational speech sample there to confirm that.

      Of course, neither one of those men is from (London)Derry, but I can't imagine the situation there would be much different. But, as always, it would be nice to hear a (London)Derry(wo)man's or at least an Ulster(wo)man's view on this :)

    9. @ Ed (earlier comment):
      The phonetic realization of FOOT/GOOSE in Aberdeen, Scotland can be quite back according to the book I linked to in my second comment.

    10. Thanks for the comments, Jason. That's interesting. I think that your suggestions of Derry speech for STRUT and FOOT would be consistent with McCafferty's chapter. It's interesting to hear about Aberdeen as well. I'd like to see a modern study of the speech of that area, as it doesn't get a huge amount of attention.

      It occurred to me after I posted that Jamaican accents tend to have fully-back vowels for FOOT and GOOSE.

      In addition, I recall that Graham Pointon said that the FOOT-STRUT vowel in his home area (North Staffordshire) is around [ɔ].

      I like how accents that are separated by thousands of miles have the odd thing in common.

    11. Unlike in North Staffordshire though, it seems that all people from Ulster have a contrast between pairs like stood stʉd vs. stud stɔd and could (strong form) kʉd vs. cud kɔd, so we have to recognize two distinct phonemes. Also, as you can see in the transcriptions on Sound Comparisons, the ɔ in Ulster is usually somewhat centralized and/or raised.

    12. Thank you, Jason and Pete, for your replies! I much appreciate it.

  3. Could it be start with "shot put" being pronounced with a schwa in the "put" syllable? I can see some speakers reanalyzing that as pʌt (or as a reduction of that) despite the spelling (or not knowing the spelling, or not thinking about the spelling). And thus, when they say "putting the shot", they get ˈpʌtɪŋ instead of ˈpʊtɪŋ.

  4. It seems to me that to find out the "correct" pronunciation, you could ask the shot-putters themselves, rather than relying on second-hand sources like sports announcers.

    1. It will be funny if either the Cambridge or the Longman dictionary will manage to have both put in the sports jargon and keirin, but neither will have ew or Mariah.

    2. > you could ask the shot-putters themselves

      Valerie Adams says pʊt, per standard usage. See video here, half way down page. It's in about the last second of the video.

    3. How would she say putting the shot though? Would that be different?

  5. Surely it is pʊtɪŋ (shot put - put the shot) , the commentator just said it with about as much accuracy as he pronounces the names of the athletes.

  6. Could this be related to the pronunciation of cushion and butcher with a short uh sound? I wondered if it was a hypercorrection but I have a feeling that in Stoke, for example, this is the usual pronunciation. Is that so?

    1. Stoke is firmly in the area where ʌ and ʊ are not phonemically distinct. If you use vague expressions like "a short uh sound", rather than more precise phonetic symbols, we can't have a serious discussion about "what is usual". An RP-style ʌ in cushion and butcher is of course readily classified as a hypercorrection; but if there is no distinct ʊ available in the local accent, then it could be just an undifferentiated FOOT-STRUT vowel.

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