Accent Variation: OLIVE, AUBURN, and ORANGE

September 13, 2012 by admin

Do the names “Don” and “Dawn” sound different to you, or the same?

How about the words “cot” and “caught”?
If your answer to both questions is “they’re the same,” chances are that you are a speaker of a Western U.S. variety of English, in which the vowels /a/ (OLIVE) and /?/ (AUBURN) merge into a single vowel category, /a/.  In other words, speakers of Western U.S. English perceive only one vowel sound in the words like cot and caught.  For these speakers, of Western U.S. English (and other varieties that observe the same merging of /a/ and /?/), the colors OLIVE and AUBURN in The Color Vowel Chart present a redundancy. 

The “ORANGE” version of the Color Vowel™ Chart reflects the vowel sounds of English spoken in the Western U.S.

The “ORANGE” version of the Chart reflects varieties of English spoken in the Western U.S.
Our “Western U.S. Variety” of The Color Vowel Chart therefore omits “AUBURN DOG and, in its place, features “ORANGE DOOR,” which is handy for teaching the r-colored vowel in words like horse, pour, and war.

Now, if you you answered something along the lines of “Different! Completely different!” for cot vs. caught, it may come as a surprise that not all English speakers make a distinction between these vowel sounds. For you, there’s no question when you’re hearing the male name Don as opposed to the female name Dawn. For you, the “AUBURN” version of The Color Vowel Chart probably suits you best.

The “AUBURN” Color Vowel™ Chart is used widely among Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern speakers of American English.

So, whether Don and Dawn sound the same or different to you, there is a Color Vowel Chart that reflects the way you speak (and, therefore, the way you teach).

Karen Taylor is co-author of The Color Vowel Chart and is a native speaker of the Western U.S. variety of English. She makes no distinction between Don/Dawn, cot/caught, stocker/stalker, and a number of other words, and she gets along just fine in this world even so.

Copyright 2012.  This article may not be reproduced without the written permission of Karen Taylor or Shirley Thompson.  Please contact us if you’d like to distribute this article in printed form.

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