26. The tot/taught merger II: It's not just California
(with dialect maps)

Make sure that you have the Lucida Sans Unicode font installed in your computer so that the IPA symbols will display correctly.

     To continue from the previous page:

     Labov believes the tot/taught merger has three independent sources: Eastern New England, Western Pennsylvania, and the West. He also believes that the merger will likely not spread to the entire country. Many of those who maintain the distinction will probably continue to pass their speech patterns onto their children.

      You could draw lines separating each concentration of the two pronunciation types. This type of imaginary line is called an isogloss.

     While we're at it, we will also look at the distribution of other regional variations in U.S. English which Prof. Labov has surveyed. Follow the links:

the pin/pen merger (Map 3)

the fill/feel merger (Map 4)

the full/fool merger (Map 5); more data on these last two is found on Map 6;

the fell/fail merger (Map 7)

     Most Taiwan students are taught in their English classes to distinguish /w/ and /hw/ (also written as /ʍ/ in IPA), e.g. witch and which
, only to discover that many native speakers of English do not make this distinction. (Even as a native speaker from Minnesota, where most of us do not distinguish these two sounds in speech, I was taught by my third grade teacher to make this distinction! I believe most of us ignored this bit of phonetic prescriptivism; more on prescriptivism here.) The two sounds have largely merged into /w/ in most North American and British varieties of English, but some regions maintain the distinction. Map 8 shows the distribution of the /w/-/hw/ distinction in the United States.

     Here are other dialect maps, from a different site, on variation in the vowel in talk and bought.

     You can find more maps and information at the Linguistic Atlas Project site.

     If you are a native of the United States, here is a test that is able to place your area of birth and/or origin according to your accent:

     This site will explain how your answers reveal where you are from (or where your teacher is from!):


     The survey correctly identified me as a speaker of "Inland North" US English:

     "You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."."

     Here is a very similar quiz:


     My results were slightly different on this one:

     "Northern. Whether you have the world famous Inland North accent of the Great Lakes area, or the radio-friendly sound of upstate NY and western New England, your accent is what used to set the standard for American English pronunciation (not much anymore now that the Inland North sounds like it does).
 If you are not from the North, you are probably one of the following: (a) A Southerner who hates Southern accents and tries really hard to "talk right"; or (b) A New Yorker or New Jerseyan who doesn't have the full accent."

     My home town is St. Paul, Minnesota, where we do distinguish dawn and don, don't distinguish Mary, merry and marry, use the same sound for the "o" in both horse and horrible, on rhymes with don and not dawn (though I'm flexible on this one), and I use different vowels for pen/pin and for feel/fill. Pass this on to an American friend for fun!

      There is a whole organization dedicated to studying dialect variation in the United States, the American Dialect Society.

      Here is another, perhaps more accessible, page on North American dialects, The American Dialect Homepage, subtitled "Regional Varieties of English in the United States of America and Canada".

     Here is a rich resource from the University of Arizona called "Varieties of English":


     Here is a very entertaining recently completed Dialect Survey of words and pronunciations currently used in the United States.

     The About.com site has a small collection of regional US accents, called the Accent Listening Gallery, here:


     More US regional accents:


     Here is another site, The Audio Archive, with recordings of different regional accents of English:


     This site, Evaluating English Accents WorldWide, offers audio samples of British, Australian and New Zealand English:

     The British Library has an online collection of samples of "English accents and dialects", as part of its "Collect Britain: Putting history in place" series here:


     There are some samples of New Zealand English here:


     Here is a good sample of Cockney, a variety of working class British English traditionally associated with the East End of London. The speaker in this NPR interview, singer James Hunter, is from Essex, northeast of London. The interview starts at the 7:33 minute point. Note the glottal stops that replace intervocalic /t/s:


     For an excellent series of features on English dialects, check out the BBC's The Routes of English.

    There are dialect societies for other countries and languages, including for Chinese (e.g. The Yuen Ren Society, founded by Prof. David Branner of Columbia University). Do a Google search for more information on dialect study, if you are interested!

     We've talked about dialects of English in North America and other English-speaking countries. But English is also widely used in many other countries. You've certainly heard of Indian English or 'Hinglish', and Singaporean English, and the even more strongly local speech variety called 'Singlish', for example. English is one of the major languages spoken in both India and Singapore, though the kind of English spoken in both countries has a strong local flavor, and is considered a dialect in its own right. But what about a place like Taiwan, where English is not really a major language of everyday interaction, but an auxiliary language used in education, business, and international communications? Can Taiwan be considered to have its own 'dialect' of English? Read on!

Next: The sounds and allophones of Taiwan English I

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