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I was under the impression that all Americans pronounced aunt like the insect, ant (/ænt/), or relatively similar sounding variants such as the southern aint (/eɪnt/). According to both Webster and ODO, some Americans pronounce it as ah-nt (/änt/, /ɑnt/, or /ɔnt/) which is pretty close to the British ah-nt (/ɑ(:)nt/). Webster offers a similar alternative for the contraction, can't.

Who are these Americans who favour the British pronunciation?

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The IPA transcriptions are US /ænt/ and UK /ant/. One can use a macro /ā/ or colon /a:/ for the UK one, depending on transcription habits, but vowel length isn't phonemic in any dialect of English, so a simple /a/ will do. I do think that questions and answers about pronunciation in a written medium should try to use standard English phonemic symbols. Otherwise, how do we avoid confusion? –  John Lawler Jan 2 '13 at 19:16
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I can't tell what pronunciation you're asking about: the one that sounds identical to the insect, or the one that doesn't? –  Marthaª Jan 2 '13 at 20:36
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I must second @JohnLawler’s plea: please please please use standard notation. IPA is not that hard, at least for English phonemic purposes. I believe the five American pronunciations of the word aunt are /eɪnt/, /ænt/, /ant/, /ɒnt/, and /ɔnt/. See, those aren’t that hard, are they? And now we all know what everyone is talking about. –  tchrist Jan 2 '13 at 23:14
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@tchrist, actually, I still don't know what everyone is talking about. Which of those bits of gibberish represents the pronunciation that is identical to the insect, and which represents the pronunciation that rhymes with "gaunt"? –  Marthaª Jan 3 '13 at 0:43
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@tchrist I'm not questioning the standard-ness of the IPA. I'm questioning why you consider the use of /ä/ and/or /ɑ:/ to be non-standard when both referenced dictionaries and Wikipedia consider otherwise. –  coleopterist Jan 3 '13 at 5:14

8 Answers 8

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The Northeast.

This US dialect splatter chart shows that just over 75% of Americans pronounce aunt and ant (the bug) the same. It’s broken down further, but the ~ohnt pronunciation is primarily from the Northeast.

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More specifically, New England (including Boston). If you look at the breakdown by state in the survey you cite, around 82% of the people pronounce "ant" and "aunt" the same in New York and New Jersey, while only 14% do in Massachusetts. –  Peter Shor Jan 2 '13 at 19:54
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I'm from Massachusetts. I say Ahnt. It's your parent's sister, not an insect. :) –  user45567 Jun 6 '13 at 14:30
    
Some people I've known with particularly thick Vermont accents pronounce it similarly to "aren't," with a distinct "r" sound. It must be fairly rare since it isn't an option on the splatter chart and there are no instances of "other" in VT. –  Joel Anair Nov 10 at 17:55

I've found two groups of people who pronounce aunt that way. First, many New Englanders (people from the Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) do so. Also, many African-Americans from the East Coast also pronounce aunt that way, whether or not they are from New England.

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Um... which way? one rhymes with 'grant' the other with 'lawn' (with an extra 't'). –  Mitch Jan 2 '13 at 20:14
    
@Mitch There are at least five, although you can think of them as four if you would like. See above. –  tchrist Jan 2 '13 at 23:20
    
@Mitch: grant and font, please. Dawn and Don do not have the same vowel for many of us. –  Peter Shor Jun 6 '13 at 17:35

This may not be the answer; however, I just wanted to add this.

I have always thought why the digraph <au> in aunt has a TRAP vowel variant, whereas the same digraph receives LOT/THOUGHT vowels in other set of words. After reading Christopher Upward's The History of English Spelling, I have found an answer.

Spelling change and pronunciation change

<aun> > <an>

aunswar > answer
haunde > hand
daunce > dance
braunche > branch
avauntage > advantage

<an> > <aun>

hanch > haunch
vant > vaunt

No spelling change, but variant pronunciations

aunt 

Variant spellings

gauntlet vs gantlet
staunch vs stanch
gauntry vs gantry
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Going by etymonline, aunt comes "from Anglo-French aunte, Old French ante (Modern French tante, from a 13c. variant)". Weren't/aren't all these French words pronounced like /ɑ(:)n/ ...? –  coleopterist Jan 3 '13 at 4:37
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Most of them are of Fr Origin. From Christpher Upward's book: "AU before N was common in both Norman Fr and Central Fr, hence widely used in words of Fr origin (so much so that words of OE origin like answer, hand were ocassionaly written aunswar, haunde, etc., in ME)." I dont have the exact page number since I have a kindle ebook. –  RainDoctor Jan 3 '13 at 6:41
    
Thank you. That is slightly at contretemps with etymonline's line of reasoning. Any idea what the OED says? –  coleopterist Jan 3 '13 at 14:32
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Forms of aunt: ME–15 aunte, ME awnt, ME– aunt; ME–16 ( mi, thi) naunt(e, 18 dial. noant. OED lists aunsware, ME–15 aunswer(e, for answer, and haunde for hand as well. Well, pure etymology does not settle the issue; we need to look at the spelling history of various words to come with a hypothesis that unifies many disparate facts; that's what Upward's 'explanation' does. Sure, one can present a better explanation that Upward's. –  RainDoctor Jan 3 '13 at 17:47

It's a matter how you treat diphthongs in your vernacular. I'm from Virginia and on average we say the AU not the AN for pronouncing our uncles wife. The same can be said for daughter, which is Dawter, not Dwater or Dotter.

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Welcome to ELY, Danny! You mention a diphthong, but I bet you don’t use one. There are five different pronunciations of the word aunt in North America, yet the only one with a diphthong is the rarest of the 5. It’s the one that sounds just like ain’t, like when Andy Griffith (from North Carolina) on his eponymous TV show would refer to his Aunt Bea as if it were spelled “Ain’t Bee”. Also, to talk about pronunciations here, you really need IPA notation. The 5 ways to say aunt in IPA are ① /eɪnt/, ② /ænt/, ③ /ant/, ④ /ɒnt/, and ⑤ /ɔnt/ — with a diphthong in #1 alone. –  tchrist Dec 21 '13 at 2:17

"Ant" is actually how Northerners say it. In the Southern USA - especially in Virginia and The Carolinas, it is pronounced the proper way : AW-NT

"AW-NT" is Southern, not Northern. "Ant" is Yankee.

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As a southerner, that's what I always thought. But check out the map for aunt. Most of the 'awnt' pronouncers are in the Yankee Northeast. These maps aren't perfect. –  Mitch Nov 10 at 17:25
    
From the South, everybody else in the U.S. may seem to fall in the same class of "Northerner". But we don't all talk alike. If you look at the heat map, there seem to be three areas which say AHNT: New England, Virginia/North Carolina, and Western Minnesota/the Dakotas. –  Peter Shor Nov 10 at 18:44

I am from Connecticut originally and moved to the Midwest. I grew up with it as "on"t. I always thought "ant" was a mispronunciation. After moving, all people I've encountered said, "ant". Upon research, I found out that Eastern VA and the North east (particularly New England) say "on"t whereas the rest of the country "ant" is standard. Both are considered correct.

I never knew about "can't" however. Even in "puritan" CT we pronounced it like ant. Of course aunt has another vowel and can't doesn't which is the cause, I believe. And while it's almost unheard of now, I enjoyed shan't. Again, pronounced like ant.

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This is no help: you don’t use standard IPA. /eɪnt/, /ænt/, /ant/, /ɒnt/, and /ɔnt/ are your choices. Pick two. –  tchrist Dec 16 at 1:18
    
Not everyone knows IPA, and not everyone who knows IPA knows how to type IPA. Ant is pronounced nearly the same everywhere (the distinction between a and æ being fairly trivial) and "'on't" ought to be clear enough for anyone to grok. –  phenry Dec 16 at 1:49

I was just discussing this with a friend of mine who is black. She was brought up in New York City, her mother and father were from Mississippi. Her mother's family lived east of New Orleans and have gone back in their family history about four generations to an ancestor who was a slave from Martinique. All of those family members spoke French. The family also has white blood and Indian blood. Her maternal grandmother spoke French and English and her mother refused to speak French. My friend was musing over some ladies who lived on either side of their home in NY City who were not related but were called aunts. On one side was the English pronunciation like taunt and on the other side was the ant pronunciation and she wasn't sure why there was that difference. She uses the taunt pronunciation and she feels most black people that she knows says aunt this way. The word tante when pronounced correctly is like taun. Maybe the t was lost but the au sound stayed.

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This would be a better answer if it had less of your personal story and more directly just told us who you think says each of the pronunciations. –  curiousdannii Jul 17 at 21:52

why is there not any reference to where it first originated. How do the British pronounce AUnt (ont) or the sound from taunt. Funny that we put a letter in front of aunt and we have no problem saying the longer pronunciation. Mind you I am from east coast Canada. Forgive me for not writing each word twice.... I spell colour, favour, and neighbour with the 'U'. But then I favour 'FOR' over fer and 'TO' over ta as well. Since I've moved to the west we have been ridiculed for our speech (not that much), mostly AUnt.

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Aunt and taunt don't rhyme in England or the U.S. Just in parts of Canada. –  Peter Shor Jun 16 at 1:28
    
Your post does not really answer the question about American pronunciation of aunt, but rather poses additional questions about origins and pronunciations and discusses Canadian pronunciation. Please try to stay on topic and avoid asking additional questions in an answer. Here are some guidelines on writing good answers, if you are confused about what an appropriate answer looks like. –  Theodore Broda Jun 16 at 1:44
    
@PeterShor the name of my home state (Vermont) rhymes with both aunt and taunt when I say them. I do live very close to Canada, though. –  Joel Anair Nov 10 at 17:50

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