Saturday, May 13, 2006

New Names For The Cot/Caught Merger

So Argotnaut gave over Frinkenstein's suggestion "hottie/haughty." This got me thinking about other minimal pairs collapsed by the low-back merger. Soon I had a large and unwieldy list, so I decided to offer some of the pairs I like the most, since I think we all agree that the name "cot/caught" must go. In my opinion none are as good as hottie/haughty, but they are still worth listing, if only to give me something amusing to post about. Here they are:

Otto/auto
Gotti/gaudy
bobble/bauble
cod/cawed
lager/logger
pod/pawed
yon/yawn
cock/caulk

I hesitated before adding the last one, just because I fear that as a result people will get to this blog by searching for... well, something they won't find here. Speaking of strange things people reach this blog searching for, I've had three (I think) visitors who googled 'should I grow a beard' - a weird thing to google, and a weirder thing for me to be on the first page of results for, IMHO. AFAIK. ROFL? pWn3d? I'll stop now.

Speaking of caulk, I spent a summer working for the physical plant of my college in Portland, Oregon, during which time I was struck by how funny my co-workers found the word "caulk," which seemed juvenile to me, but now I realize that if I had the low-back merger like they did I would have found it funny too. Not that it isn't juvenile.

So my northwesterner wife has the lager/logger merger - that seems like an appropriate way to describe it in the Pacific Northwest - but I've found that it's only partial. I realized, for instance that she says "awesome" the way I do, not /ah/some, as I expected, even though she insists she 'can't say' "haughty" the way I do. So I asked her about this, and she says that she's 'saying the w,' which makes sense. I tried out cod/cawed on her, but it was merged, though, interestingly enough, 'caw' came out //. Is it possible that there is a historical explanation for this? I don't know enough to guess, though usually that doesn't stop me.

12 comments:

Queenie said...

Canadians (who merge caulk=cock) call it "caulking". Maybe so people don't think they're pervs? That's my guess.

Ben said...

Interesting - you mean they say "caulking," which they pronounce "cocking," right? For a second I was hoping you meant they pronounce the l. My grandmother's maiden name is Calkins, and in her family they pronounce the l not just in their name, but also in the words walk, talk, etc.

Word verification: "tmjevo," Old Sorbian for "there he is."

AJD said...

Lager/logger isn't a good name for the low back merger. Two reasons.

1) Many (most?) people who don't have the low-back merger have logger in the cot class. So you can have lager and logger the same without having the merger.

2) Most (many?) people from northeastern New England have the low back merger but not the (f)ather/(b)other merger, so lager is not in the cot class. So you can have lager and logger distinct and still have the merger.

I'm in group (2), myself.

Queenie said...

Actually Ben, they say "caulking" like "caulking" and not "cocking".

Once, in Pittsburgh, I had to sing a song that rhymed "caulk" with "sock". Very long story-- do not ask. It caused great discomfort due to the vowel issue, and also because I prefer rapping.

Logger is "caught" class for me. (And if you haven't guessed, blogger is "cot" class.)

Ben said...

ajd -
Thanks for reminding me about the father/bother merger. I always forget about it, since I have it. You're absolutely right -- lager/logger won't do. Like Queenie, though, logger is in the "caught" class for me too.

Queenie-
I could never bring myself to rhyme caulk and sock, not even in Pittsburgh, though I might try rhyming "steel" and "will," just for fun. Funny you should mention rhyme and rapping - I've been thinking recently about the formal constraints of rhyme in rapping, which are complex and unique. Not only is there a greater tolerance for certain kinds of half-rhymes, but there ways in which half-rhymes can be used more artistically than pure rhymes. Consider, to cite a well-known exanple, the chorus of 50 Cent's "In da Club," which rhymes club/bub/drugs/love/hug/rubbed. Notice the small selection of final consonants, most of which are labial. Notice too that in final clusters it is the initial consonant that matters. Finally, the consonant that sticks out most, /g/, is used to make a syncopated pairing: drugs/hug. Interesting, no?

Anonymous said...

>> Canadians (who merge caulk=cock) call it "caulking". Maybe so people don't think they're pervs? That's my guess. <<

No. Remeber a vowel merger means that you produce and perceive two vowel sounds to be identical. Both of the original vowels become allophones, that is are variations on the same vowel. Therefore, to people who merge cock and caulk, think they sounds *exactly* the same--just like "meet" and "meat" are now perceived to be exactly the same. What you're hearing is the Canadian vowel shift, which is gradually shifting both "cock" and "caulk" to "caulk". Originally, the most common allophone was that of in the orignal pronunciation of the vowel in "cock". The people who have this shift shift *all* /A/ sounds to /ɔ/ sounds, thus the most common allophone for people with the CVS would be that of "caught". Thus, "cot" will sound more like others say "caught". "Caulking" and "cocking" no matter which vowel you use sound equally perverted to a c-c merged person, and they wouldn't favour one vowel over another, because both vowels sound the same, although extreme versions of either ones sound rather off, particularily extremely rounded [ɔ].

>> So I asked her about this, and she says that she's 'saying the w,' which makes sense <<

Actually, it has nothing to do with the "w". English is not written how it's spoken now, or how it should be spoken, but rather the spelling represents the pronunciation of English over 400 years ago--the spelling hasn't changed a great deal since then. The reason that "awesome" has an "aw" sound has more to do with the sounds around it rather than how it's spelled. I have the c-c merger, and awesome usually say "awesome" with a vowel closer to [ɔ], but "haughty" is usually closer to [A]. Ask her to say the phrase "for her brother Bob", and see which vowel she uses for "Bob". In general, the "for her brother" part cause a c-c merged person's lips to round and "Bob" would be pronounced with something closer to [ɔ], but this is not always the case.

RogueLinguist said...

This is all so very interesting. I was born and raised in Seattle and always thought that all Americans said "cot" like "caught" unless they were old Jewish women from New York. I was surprised to find out that it's more common in Canada than in the US.

RogueLinguist said...

...or jewish men, for that matter. No gender difference, really. I was just reminded of the skit character Linda Richardson from "Saturday Night Live".

Anonymous said...

well whaddya know-- i hadn't thought about this blog for years. and look-- i google something to find this link, and see that someone shows up to tell me i'm wrong! i love it when linguists tell other linguists their jokes aren't funny.

:)

also, mr. or ms. anonymous, it doesn't make any sense to say that the two vowels, now made one, are allophones. they're one single phoneme, subject to whatever kind of allophonic variation that might apply-- across both former categories, now made one. i can't see any sense in which the vowel in cock is an allophone of the vowel in caulk (or vice-versa) if the two words are pronounced exactly the same.

and if cock is now merged with caulk, then caulk is exactly the same as cock. unless you put -ing on the end of it, in which case it doesn't sound like a dirty word. (unless you turn it into a verb or a gerund. as in, 'the nasty dog started cocking me'.) anyway, caulk+ing should remove the ambiguity (unless your mind is as twisted as mine!)

i have a phd and am a tenure-line professor now. glad to see the blog hasn't been deleted... and my comments are stirring up "controversy". anyways, take care ben...

--queenie

kimberly said...

I had some problem with my first pregnancy, i wanted to be pregnant and have my first baby, buy my husband had erectil dysfunction problem, so we decided to buy viagra and after that he turned very strong and could get powerful erection after this medical treatment. Thank to this i have two litle and beautiful girls.

Fred said...

Sounds like Kimberly's hubs found some meds that helped with his caulking...

Jackie said...

you know those caulk/cock jokes that are all the rage these days? I can scarcely get them. My mind is so resistant to the cot/caught merger... lager and logger i really thought were the same-- but after repeating to myself numerous times have realized i do detect a difference-- maybe because i learned to say lager from those sam adams commercials? logger is getting pretty close to a COT - just on the edge of remaining CAUGHT