The last post inspired a brief debate in the comments section about the LOT vowel (i.e. the ‘o’ in ‘not,’ ‘Todd,’ and ‘rot’) in contemporary British English. The question, it seems, is whether this sound has shifted closer to the vowel space more traditional to the vowel in THOUGHT.
Like most questions of this type, it really depends on the dialect. So I’ll turn to a study I occasionally use when comparing individual vowels in different regions: Ferragne and Pellegrino’s Formant Frequencies of Vowels in 13 Accents of the British Isles, which compares acoustic analyses of various accents of the contemporary UK.
I won’t regale you with a lecture about acoustic analysis, other than to say that phoneticians often use what are called ‘formant frequencies’ to make deductions about the relative position of vowels. Long story short, if a vowel has a higher ‘F1‘ (first formant frequency), it roughly suggests a more open vowel, while a lower F1 suggests a more close vowel.
With this rather crude explanation in mind, let’s take a look at the F1 numbers for the LOT vowel in different British accents according to Ferragne and Pellegrino’s study:
Scottish Highlands 439
East Anglia 580
This list is not terribly surprising. The closest pronunciations of LOT are found in Scotland, which makes sense: many have noted that some Scottish accents feature a LOT vowel fairly close to the pure [o] of Spanish todo. Also unsurprising is that the three most open pronunciations of LOT are in the North of England, where I’ve noticed that this vowel doesn’t seem to have shifted upward much.
The ‘London’ accent (which the researchers label ‘Standard Southern English‘), definitely has a LOT vowel that appears closer to [ɔ] (the vowel more traditionally associated with RP THOUGHT) than [ɒ]. That being said, it’s a little unclear to me who represents the Londoners in this study. ‘Standard Southern English’ seems to be equated with contemporary Received Pronunciation but there are some vagaries in terms of what accents fall under that category.
I’m hesitant to make any conclusions, but roughly speaking, these numbers suggests that the LOT vowel is most open in Northern England, most close in Scotland, and somewhere in between in the South. Although I’m sure there is tremendous variation in the pronunciation of individual speakers.
*Source: Ferragne, E., & Pellegrino, F. (2010). Formant frequencies of 13 accents of the British Isles. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 40, 1-34.