Differentiating Vowels in Cot and Caught

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New cuers frequently have difficulty distinguishing the vowels /ɑäah/ (as in cot) and /ɔôaw/ as in (caught). For many dialects in English, these two vowels are contrastive and can be used to make different words.

/ɑäah/ /ɔôaw/
cot caught
rot wrought
not/knot naught
knotty naughty
stock stalk
wok walk
hottie haughty
la law
Pa paw
Pa’s pause
Don dawn
clod clawed

Vowel /ɑäah/ as in Cot

The vowel /ɑäah/ as in cot is cued as a side-forward movement. In spoken English, the vowel is open and the tongue is low and back. The position of the tongue for this vowel is why doctors ask patients to say “Ah!” when examining the throat. Producing the vowel makes the tongue move down and out of the way and provides a reletively unobstructed view.

Examples

hot, rot, not, got, stop, solid, collar, pot, oxygen, pox, sock, lock, sob, rob, cob, Todd, honcho, poncho, romp, stomp, crop

Vowel /ɔôaw/ as in Caught

The vowel /ɔôaw/ as in caught is cued at the chin placement. In spoken English, the jaw drops bringing the sides of the mouth slightly in. The tongue is generally positioned low (but likely higher than /ɑäah/) and the back in the mouth.

Examples

doll, fall, sought, walk, talk, Autumn, slaw, cough, cost, lost, pause, solve, salt, assault, soft, ball, call, log, dog, lawn

Dialect

These vowels are highly interchangeable in many dialects. Many words may be pronounced one way or the other (hot/hotBoston/Boston). Further, a cuer is likely to alternate pronunciation of a given word depending on where the word occurs in the sentence or whether it is stressed (e.g., off/off, on/on, honk/honk).

Cot-Caught Vowel Merger

In some regions of the United States, the vowels /ɑäah/ and /ɔôaw/ have merged. For example, in parts of the west (like Utah and Idaho), these vowels have lost their distinction. Words like cot/caught are both pronounced with the vowel /ɑäah/ (side-forward). 

In other regions, like the Northeast and in Canada, the vowels have merged and are likely pronounced as /ɔôaw/ (chin placement). For them, the words cot/caught will both be cued with /ɔôaw/.

The Hotdog Test

Instructors will sometimes encourage beginners to examine the word hotdog to decide if the vowels are the same in each syllable or different. For many, the vowels in this word are hot (side-forward) and dog (chin placement). But for others, the both syllables may be cued with a side-forward movement or at the chin placement

Prioritizing Vowel Distinction for New Cuers

In general, /ɑäah///ɔôaw/substitution errors by new cuers have relatively little impact as an error would reflect a possible pronunciation in Engish even if that pronunciation is incorrect for the cuer. Sometimes, these vowels are also confused with /æăa/ like hat (throat placement). Confusion with this vowel is a more serious priority since confusing cat is not likely to be pronounced like caught in any dialect.

 

 

cot

  • /kɑˈt/
  • /kahˈt/
  • /käˈt/
  • 2sf5s

caught

  • /kɔˈt/
  • /kawˈt/
  • /kôˈt/
  • 2c5s

cot

  • /kɑˈt/
  • /kahˈt/
  • /käˈt/
  • 2sf5s

caught

  • /kɔˈt/
  • /kawˈt/
  • /kôˈt/
  • 2c5s

hot

  • /hɑˈt/
  • /hahˈt/
  • /häˈt/
  • 3sf5s

hot

  • /hɔˈt/
  • /hawˈt/
  • /hôˈt/
  • 3c5s

Boston

  • /bɑˈstən/
  • /bahˈstən/
  • /bäˈstən/
  • 4sf3s5sd4s

Boston

  • /bɔˈstən/
  • /bawˈstən/
  • /bôˈstən/
  • 4c3s5sd4s

off

  • /ɑˈf/
  • /ahˈf/
  • /äˈf/
  • 5sf5s

off

  • /ɔˈf/
  • /awˈf/
  • /ôˈf/
  • 5c5s

on

  • /ɑˈn/
  • /ahˈn/
  • /äˈn/
  • 5sf4s

on

  • /ɔˈn/
  • /awˈn/
  • /ôˈn/
  • 5c4s

honk

  • /hɑˈŋk/
  • /hahˈngk/
  • /häˈngk/
  • 3sf8s2s

honk

  • /hɔˈŋk/
  • /hawˈngk/
  • /hôˈngk/
  • 3c8s2s

cot

  • /kɑˈt/
  • /kahˈt/
  • /käˈt/
  • 2sf5s

caught

  • /kɑˈt/
  • /kahˈt/
  • /käˈt/
  • 2sf5s

hotdog

  • /hɑˈtdɔˌg/
  • /hahˈtdawˌg/
  • /häˈtdôˌg/
  • 3sf5s1c7s

hotdog

  • /hɑˈtdɑˌg/
  • /hahˈtdahˌg/
  • /häˈtdäˌg/
  • 3sf5s1sf7s

hotdog

  • /hɔˈtdɔˌg/
  • /hawˈtdawˌg/
  • /hôˈtdôˌg/
  • 3c5s1c7s

hat

  • /hæˈt/
  • /haˈt/
  • /hăˈt/
  • 3t5s

cat

  • /kæˈt/
  • /kaˈt/
  • /kăˈt/
  • 2t5s