Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alex, I'm disappointed

So, I was just watching "Jeopardy."  One of the categories for Double Jeopardy was "homophones."  And one of the expected responses was the pair of "homophones" Don and dawn.

Problem is, these are not homophones for me. Nor are they for a good many speakers of North American English. For those like me, these words are:

Don = [dɑn]
dawn = [dɔn]

The vowels are different.  The vowel in Don is low, back, and unrounded.  The vowel in dawn is mid, back, and rounded.  Two different vowels, two different words, not homophones.  I and those like me also distinguish the pairs cot - caught, knot - nought, bot - bought, rot - wrought, and others.

The [ɑ] - [ɔ] merger is a regional feature of American English, as shown in this map*:



So, Alex Trebeck, be careful about what you claim are "homophones."

*The map is from the University of Pennsylvania's Phonology Atlas.

1 comment:

  1. I've had many people over the years look at me strangely for speaking the way I do, as if my particular pronunciations were intended to insult others. I'm feeling a lot better about my enunciation almost every day.

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