on the cot–caught, or low back, vowel merger in North America

background from Wikipedia:

The cot–caught merger (also known as the low back merger or the LOT–THOUGHT merger) is a phonemic merger, occurring in some dialects of the English language, between the phonemes that are conventionally represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet as /ɔː/ (which is usually spelled with au, aw, al or ough as in caught and hawk) and /ɒ/ (which is usually spelled with as in cot and hock). In varieties in which the merger has taken place, including a few in the British Isles and many in North America, what were historically two separate phonemes have fallen together into a single sound, so that caught and cot, as well as several other pairs of words, are pronounced identically.

(The full range of facts is quite complex; some details in Wikipedia.)

some postings on this blog:

1/26/11: Fun with cot/caught:

4/5/11: Go pho it:

a friend offered the ethnically slurring “Vietnamese eat dogs — a pho paw” (which for him was a perfect pun, since he has the cot/caught merger, in favor of [a]; for me, it’s an imperfect pun, and possibly more entertaining for that)

9/23/14: Puns and their allies:
a Discover Card tv commercial for fraud protection (or frog protection)

the joke being the near-identity in the pronunciation of fraud and frog (at least for speakers with /ɔ/, rather than /a/, in frog as well as fraud)

2/25/15: fraug:
Rhymes With Orange: “I feel like a fraug”

Presumably Hilary Price’s intention was that the spelling FRAUG, pronounced [frɔ:ɡ], should represent a combination of FROG — pronounced [frɑ:ɡ] or [frɔ:ɡ], depending on your variety of American English — and FRAUD, pronounced [frɔ:d] for many American speakers, but [frɑ:d] for American speakers who level [ɔ:] and [ɑ:] in favor of the latter (the “COT-CAUGHT merger”: both these words are pronounced [kɑ:t], DAWN and DON are both [dɑ:n], and SHAW and SHAH are both [ʃɑ:]).

5/23/18: The art class:

the phenomenon of phonemic hearing: speakers who have a phonemic distinction between /a/ in cot and /ɔ/ in caught are (keenly) attuned to, attentive to, the acoustic details that distinguish the two for them, but the many American speakers for whom the phonemes have merged don’t get it at all, so from the pov of cot-caught speakers like me, they seem to be hearing-impaired (the effect is very striking). Different people are hearing with different ears, as it were — except that it’s different brains, well, really, different cognitive organizations, that are on display here

12/3/18: Wok it to the golden Lab for analysis, har de har har:

walk vs. wok, in the punning sleep-wokking ‘stir-frying in one’s sleep’ (in pronunciation, a perfect or imperfect pun, depending on whether or not you merge two low back vowel phonemes)

… The merger is the source of jokes, including those incorporated in cartoons

… The merger is also the source of some cross-dialect misfit

3/4/19: Hard tundra:
on [a] and [ɔ], differentiated or merged

3/10/19: Boynton: hippos and an occasional pig:
the merger in words spelled with OG

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