American dialect re. caught/ cot pronounciation

Ok, so now I’ve seen a couple of discussions of vowel shifts and vowel mergers in, especially, southern American English; the example usually trotted out are ‘pin’ and ‘pen’ (I do know several people who pronounce these identically, to my frequent confusion) and ‘cot’ and ‘caught.’
This second example confuses me, I suppose, because to me they sound exactly the same. The only difference I hear is a longer vowel sound in ‘caught’-- a longer vowel might be a meaningful phoneme in Dutch but no so much in American English, as far as I know. Are there places and dialects in the US where these two words sound perceptibly and meaningfully different? To me, ‘lot’ and ‘fought’ and ‘fraught’ rhyme, too.
FYI-- I’m the spawn of deep south parents raised in Alaska and Hawaii so my understanding of mainland dialects and pronounciations probably lacks something.

Not a linguist, but I would hazard a guess that they’re pronounced differently by most Americans, at least outside of New England and parts of New Yawk City.

Do you pronounce AH differently than AW? That’s the difference in the words you’ve given. I pronounce cot as “kaht” and caught as “kawt.”

In voicing AH, the mouth is open wider; for AW, the mouth is more closed, similar to the shape it takes when you say OH.

So are you giving cot an AW sound, or caught an AH? New Yorkers and Bostonians tend to do the former. I think that some midwesterners do the latter.

Yes, there are. In my accent, “cot” rhymes with “pot.” “Caught” rhymes with “bought” and has the same sound as “for.” There is a definite difference between the words, though in certain regions they are pronounced the same.

To this lifelong Chicago dweller, cot rhymes with not (like ‘caht’) while caught has a sort of soft w sound to it. Think ‘caut’. The same with lot and fought/fraught, too.

Not, cot, robot, snot, got, hot, spot.
Caught, fraught, fought, thought, ought.

Also, there’s a fairly major street on Chicago’s North Side called Devon but it’s commonly heard, including from these lips, as Devawn or Devaughn.

Do you pronounce haughty the same as hottie?

I’m not being snarky; I’m trying to find a distinction you’ll recognize.

haughty – hottie
caught – cot
fog – father
bog – bot
fawn – fond

I’m from the Northern U.S. dialect region (where, interestingly, pin and pen are sometiems spoken the same–depends on your ethnic background–and milk often rhymes with whelk).

Tonndeb-- those all rhyme to me. Which part of northern are you from? Washington and Minnesota probably sound different.
Jnglmassiv-- those all rhyme to me, too. If someone pronounced the ‘gh’ words with the added ‘w’ I would think they were from somewhere else-- I suppose I know what that sounds like, though.

Commasense–"kaht’ and ‘kawt’ sound the same as well. . . but phonetics vary in rendering. I understand no difference between ‘aw’ and ‘ah.’
“Spawn” does have a bit of a ‘w’ sound there rather than the short ‘o’. Very subtle, though.

Ok, Realitychuck-- ‘bought’ sounds like ‘for’ where you are? Like. . . like ‘boat’? ‘Cone’? That’s the first difference that is really different in my world. Interesting. Where are you from?

Nice to know Clevelanders and Chicagoans speak the same language.

But what I’ve been hearing lately, from local newspeople, is “steel, wheel, real” pronounced “still, will, rill,” e.g. the closing of a local “still mill.” I have no idea where that pronunciation came from.

I was just having this conversation with someone. I cannot for the life of me pronounce “-ill” words so that they sound different from “-eel” or “-eal” words. “Meal” sounds like “mill”, “keel” sounds like “kill”, and “heel” sounds like “hill”. When others say it, I can hear the difference. But I cannot do it.

I don’t know if it’s a southern thing or what.

Are pill and peal the same for you as well? How about till and teal? Sill and seal?

Then there’s “sure” and “pure” being pronounced to rhyme with either “fur” or “shore”. I would venture to say that Northeasterners usually do the latter while the rest of America typically takes the former.

To my ears, “for” rhymes with “four” and “door”, as does “sure”.

All of those have the same vowel sound for me (Southern Ontario), with the exception of ‘for’. The O in ‘for’, to me, is pronounced closer to the O in ‘code’.

I’ve been sitting here making an ass of myself trying for all I’m worth to make out a difference in “cot” and “caught”, and I can’t in the least. Then again, I definately say “pin” and “pen” together, not to mention you’d also confuse those two with “peeing” if I were to say that, too. And I can’t differentiate between “whore” and “horror” either, so I guess you’ll just have to pick it up from context. I know that people elsewhere do, though, I just don’t (and literally can’t). I’ve lived here almost all my life.


And I’m another person who doesn’t know the diff between “pin” and “pen”. Actually, I feel kinda stupid because I never knew they were different.

I was just playing with the Microsoft Windows text-to-speech feature (Control panel>speech) and I can’t tell the difference between ‘Microsoft Sam’s’ pin and pen. Cot and Caught are subtly different.

I copied in these:
Not, cot, robot, snot, got, hot, spot.
Caught, fraught, fought, thought, ought.

The difference between the two lists is about the same as cot and caught.

The way I pronounce “sure” doesn’t rhyme with either of those. “Sure” and “pure” rhyme with “your” and the first syllable of “fury”, while “fur” rhymes with “purr”, “her”, and the vowel sound of “turn”, and “shore” rhymes with “wore”, “more”, and the vowel of “horse” (which, incidentally, sounds exactly the same as “hoarse”).

The vowel of “sure” is closer to the vowel in “book”, whie “fur” is closer to a schwa, and “shore” is closer to “show-er”, and almost (but not quite) has two syllables.

Don’t bother – that’s your native regional inflection, keep it and be proud!

That said, “caught” rhymes with “naught” (which rhymes with “ought”). Unless you rhyme that with “cot” too (which rhymes with “knot” and “hot”), which seems impossible…

Would you have to turn on the lights to distinguish between a “naughty nightie” and a “knotty nightie”?

Or get snubbed by a girl to find out she’s a “haughtie” and not a “hottie”?


I can do “pill” and “peal” but can’t hear the “pin” and “pen” difference at all. If someone exaggerates it, I can hear it but I can not reproduce it. Closest I can get is to say “peen” for “pin” and do something weird with my neck to try to reproduce the “pen” sound. It’s weird, my parents can tell the difference and have made fun of me for it before…

I can say “pin” and “pen” distinctly if I concentrate, and hear the difference, and I can hear it if some else says them one after the other slowly, but in my normal speech, and listening to others, they sound the same.

I was 10 years old before I learned that some people pronounce them differently.

And “pill” and “peal” are utterly distinct to me and I did not know some people pronounced them the same until this thread.

Caught, naught, ought, knot, hot, cot. They all rhyme.

And yeah, a naughty nightie and knotty nightie would need visual confirmation, although I can see a knotty nightie being naughty as well.

And I have a very hard time distinguishing my pronunciations of jury and jewelry. I have to really concentrate and put an “l” in there. Not to mention the hilarious confusion that ensued when bathroom renovations were ongoing and it became necessary to speak of towels and tiles.

Same here. The vowels are absolutely identical to me. And I was raised in west-central Pennsylvania, so I don’t know from Southern…