Say the word COT.
Now say the word CAUGHT.
Do you hear the same vowel sound in these words, or is it slightly different?
What about the following sets of words:
When you say them, do they have the same vowel sound—like this:
…or are you hearing two totally different sounds?
Both of the above options highlight a fun feature of the General American accent called the “Cot-Caught Merger.” This basically means that in some parts of the country these two sounds will be pronounced differently, while in other parts, they sound exactly the same (the two sounds have merged together).
So what parts of the country merge the two sounds (and what parts keep them separate)? Take a look at this “Cot-Caught Merger” map! The green dots indicate a merger, and the dark blue dots indicate a separation.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether your area is represented by a green dot, or a dark blue dot—both pronunciations are correct! What DOES matter is that you understand and know this feature of your own speech. When YOU say COT and CAUGHT, do they sound similar, or different? Knowing how you naturally speak will only help more as you start to explore features of other accents!
1) Ask your students to find a clip of someone who speaks with the “Cot-Caught Merger.”
2) Ask your students to find a clip of someone who does NOT speak with the “Cot-Caught Merger.”
3) Encourage your students to make a list of words that sound like (or rhyme with) COT, and a list of words that sound like (or rhyme with) CAUGHT