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I feel that they are very similar in the USA by a number of people (some other ones pronounce it like "caught"), how the native people distinguish them, if no context is given?

In British English, how to pronounce "cult"? Still similar to "coat"?


After reading the answers, it seems that very few people actually pronounce it like /k ʌ l t/. They are more likely to pronounce it like /kəlt/ or /kolt/ or /ko:lt/. Is this comment right?

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    I distinguish them mainly from the l sound in "cult". – Hot Licks Mar 25 '16 at 22:50
  • It's also possible, especially if you are a non-native English speaker, that your ears are not used to telling the difference. IOW, how do you know they are pronouncing these words the same? – Drew Mar 25 '16 at 23:41
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    In my (Alabama) dialect cult and coat are not at all alike. cult is pronounced with /ʌ/, like cult and insult and hull are pronounced with /ʌ/, while coat is pronounced like boat and so with the diphthong /ou/ (the off-glide is tense). – StoneyB Mar 26 '16 at 0:09
  • For most people, there is not a relevant difference between /ˈkəlt/ and /ˈkʌlt/ because there is no distinction between /ə/ and /ʌ/ in stressed syllables. The pronunciation /kʌlt/ is certainly not rare. Vowel changes before syllable offset /l/, or the loss or vocalization of of this /l/, are somewhat common, but certainly not universal. – sumelic Mar 26 '16 at 7:08
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In my midwestern American English, the main difference between the two is that "coat" has lip rounding, while "cult" does not have any lip rounding. If I keep my lips spread while saying "coat", it comes out sounding almost exactly like "cult". This resemblance between the words results from various phonological processes that have affected both words.

In its place of articulation, [o] is uvular -- the back of the tongue approaches the uvula -- and in SPE features, its "tongue body" features are [-high,+back,-low], the features for uvular sounds. (If it were [+high,+back,-low] it would be velar.)

Syllable offset /l/ in English is darkened, and more specifically, it is uvularized. The dark /l/ in English is generally described as velarized, but I think this is inaccurate, at least for my midwestern speech. The tongue body is high for a velar, but it is not high for syllable offset /l/, which is therefore uvularized, rather than velarized.

Due to the uvularization of /l/, "coat" and "cult" have a similar articulation: "coat" has a uvular vowel, and "cult" has a uvular /l/.

Other phonological changes make the tense /o/ of "coat" break into a first, syllabic, more open sound and a second, non-syllabic, closer glide sound. The syllabic part of this diphthong now resembles the caret vowel of "cult", except that it is still rounded. The glide part of the diphthong is a rounded uvular sound.

For "cult", because it is before a consonant, the syllable offset /l/, already uvularized, "vocalizes", that is, it loses the tongue tip contact characteristic of an ordinary [l], and it becomes a uvular glide.

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Obviously Brits have different accents depending on where they come from within the UK, however being a Brit myself (Yorkshire) I can tell you that there is a distinct difference.

Cult, as pronounced by myself has a large emphasis on the 'U', and the 'lt' ending is clear. Coat, as pronounced by myself has an emphasis on the 'O', as in cO-t.

Please check the links to hear them for yourself.

I'd say they were easy to differentiate.

  • That description applies also to what I'm used to hearing in the US, FWIW. Short "u", long "o". Plus the "l" difference. – Drew Mar 25 '16 at 23:41
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Coat: c-owe-t
Cult: c-ohl-t or c-uhl-t

"Coat" rhymes with "boat", and often you'll find that "cult" rhymes with "fault".

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    Where in Britain do people pronounce cult in such a manner that it rhymes with fault? Genuinely curious what region pronounces it like this! – ThatKidConnor Mar 25 '16 at 23:59
  • @ThatKidConnor The semi-British land of Australia :) – Dog Lover Mar 26 '16 at 0:06
  • Ah fair enough, did not know that! Learn something new everyday! – ThatKidConnor Mar 26 '16 at 0:07
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I would pronounce the two very differently.

coat would be pronounced k-owe-t.

cult would be pronounced k-oll/ull-t.

I wouldn't be surprised at coat and cult being pronounced the same; I seem to recall in Fireman Sam the grocery-shop lady pronouncing similar words like k-oo-t.

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