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In America, it's pretty much universally pronounced "moll" but in the UK, I have heard a few different ways of pronouncing it:

  • Mall (rhymes with pal)
  • Maul (rhymes with ball and hence the American pronunciations match up)
  • Moll

It may depend on accents but which is the correct way?

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I'm pretty satisfied with nohat's answer for this but should I mark it as correct? Is there are correct answer for this question? –  billynomates Mar 11 '11 at 8:18
    
Yes. The tick basically does just mean "I'm pretty satisfied" :) –  psmears Mar 30 '11 at 18:52
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7 Answers 7

up vote 13 down vote accepted

There are a couple confusions at work here. First, there are different "lexical sets" the word could fall into: TRAP, LOT, BATH, CLOTH, PALM, THOUGHT, NORTH, FORCE.

For the most part, most speakers and dictionaries of English agree that mall is either pronounced with the vowel for THOUGHT or with the vowel for TRAP, the TRAP pronunciation usually only in the context of pall-mall.

No dialect pronounces all those lexical sets with distinct vowels, but each dialect may merge them in different ways. American English generally merges TRAP-BATH, LOT-PALM, CLOTH-THOUGHT, and NORTH-FORCE. This means that Americans use the same vowel for TRAP as for BATH, the same vowel for LOT as for PALM, and the same vowel for CLOTH as for THOUGHT. British English generally merges LOT-CLOTH, BATH-PALM, THOUGHT-NORTH-FORCE, and keeping TRAP in a distinct group. Furthermore, the cot-caught merger in some varieties of American English merge the LOT-PALM group with the CLOTH-THOUGHT group, making a single lexical set LOT-PALM-CLOTH-THOUGHT, all pronounced with the same vowel (/ɑ/)—for some speakers of American English (me included).

So, a British English-speaking person would think they might hear me say mall thinking it sounds like moll (that is, to be in the LOT set), and that I am pronouncing it "wrong", but not realize that I pronounce all LOT words with the same vowel as THOUGHT words—that is, for me the words LOT and THOUGHT rhyme.

In conclusion, the vowel of mall should be the same as the vowel for thought, however you pronounce it in your dialect.

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These "lexical sets" are really excellent, +1. My own lexical sets are {TRAP, BATH-PALM, LOT-CLOTH—THOUGHT-NORTH, FORCE} (with FORCE in the GOAT set), which is neither British nor American, just confusing to everyone. :p –  ShreevatsaR Mar 11 '11 at 5:43
    
@ShreevatsaR Are you Welsh? –  billynomates Mar 11 '11 at 8:14
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In British English mall is pronounced with the vowel of "trap", at least in the names of famous London streets Pall Mall and The Mall. When referring to a shopping mall, it may be either "trap" or "thought-north-force" (both are common). And if you pronounce mall with the US "cloth-thought" vowel, I'd be much more likely to misinterpret that as maul than as moll, because the US "cloth-thought" vowel sounds much closer to my ear to our "thought-north-force" than our "lot-cloth". –  psmears Mar 11 '11 at 9:40
    
I, Scottish, would group them almost identical to @ShreevatsaR, except I would group TRAP with BATH-PALM. –  neil Mar 12 '11 at 21:26
    
@billynomates: No, I'm from India. (But FWIW you shouldn't take my pronunciation as representative of Indian English pronunciation; it's far too varied.) –  ShreevatsaR Mar 13 '11 at 15:44
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If you want the original prononciation, it would be the one that rhymes with "pal", from the shopping street The Mall in London, which in turn got it's name from the game pall-mall once played there.

1737, "shaded walk serving as a promenade," from The Mall, broad, tree-lined promenade in St. James's Park, London (1674), formerly an open alley that was used to play pall-mall, a croquet-like game involving hitting a ball with a mallet through a ring, from Fr. pallemaille, from It. pallamaglio, from palla "ball" (see balloon) + maglio "mallet.".

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mall

The modern use of the word for a shopping centre has of course lost most of it's history, thus the Americans simply pronounce it as other similar words like fall, hall, ball and call.

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The pronounciation has varied over time. Samuel Pepys wrote of the game as Pelemele (Diary 2nd April 1661) and the road as Pell Mell (Diary 1st May 1669), so it seems unlikely he rhymed it with either hall or Hal. –  Henry Feb 16 '11 at 13:37
    
One question: if Samuel Pepys wrote of the game as Pelemele, why does the standard etymology of the expression pell mell (meaning in a confused and hurried way) not mention this game? –  Peter Shor May 17 '11 at 16:32
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There is not a correct pronunciation. As you said, American English and British English speakers give to the word a different pronunciation (/mɔl/ in American English; /mal/ /mɔːl/ /mɒl/ in British English); even inside the same English dialect, different regions can possibly have different pronunciations.

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This is also a word that's subject to strong regional variations in the U.S. In Brooklyn English, which is where I, a non-native speaker learned it, it's more like 'mawwl'.

In my native tongue, the word for "mall" is "קניון" (transliteration "canyon" and also means "canyon") which leads to puns like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Canyon_%28mall%29

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nohat gave a great answer. There is just one more point, to make about the word mall.

The pronunciation of it is usually different, in American and British English. In the UK, it's normally pronounced as "morl" (rhymes with the words or and more). Except, when pronouncing Pall Mall and The Mall. Those are normally pronounced "mal", like the letter a in the words trap and hat.

Therefore, the pronunciation depends on the context. It depends if you are pronouncing just the word mall or, you are pronouncing Pall Mall or The Mall.

On a related note, the word mall, is not normally used in the UK. In the US, it means a shopping centre. In the UK, it is normal just to say, shopping centre.

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The American cigarette brand, "Pall Mall," is pronounced "pawl mawl," and that's the name of that tune.

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In American English, it's /ˈmɑ:l/

http://www.learnersdictionary.com/search/mall

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Only in California and Canada. For those Americans who distinguish between the vowels in don and dawn (which amazingly, that dictionary does not, even though I believe the majority of Americans who live east of the Mississippi do), the vowel is the same as in dawn, meaning the pronunciation is /ˈmɔ:l/. –  Peter Shor May 17 '11 at 16:39
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protected by Will Hunting Apr 1 '12 at 14:49

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