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Are the words "Aural" and "Oral" usually pronounced the same? Does it vary by dialect? Are there strategies that people use to differentiate them when listening to spoken English?

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    What does your dictionary say? Does it give the same IPA transcription for both? – Chris H Dec 5 '18 at 12:35
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    I pronounce them with an A and O respectively, but it would be hard for a third party to clearly distinguish one from the other in a word stream. Webster's and Oxford give the same pronunciation for both, which I find a bit odd. – Hot Licks Dec 5 '18 at 13:10
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    In American English, as given in Kenyon and Knott, both are pronounced /'ɔrəl/, and in addition, oral may also be pronounced /'orəl/ -- if, of course, tense and lax vowels are not neutralized before /r/, the way they are in most rhotic American lects. – John Lawler Dec 5 '18 at 23:30
  • I have the cot-caught merger, and use the cot vowel for aural and the force vowel with oral. That may be because I learned them from reading rather than hearing, however. – choster Dec 6 '18 at 3:09
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Since this question asks about whether people can tell the difference I am going to answer for myself and my dialect rather than referring to a dictionary.

I speak Standard Southern English English and I pronounce them the same as far as I know. I cannot tell the difference when I hear them whatever accent the speaker has.

There is one exception and that is that I sometimes hear aural with the same vowel as now. Sometimes it is clear they are deliberately pronouncing it that way to distinguish it but sometimes I am not sure if they know how to pronounce it.

I never hear them pronounced slightly differently.

  • @andyt My mistake. I thought it was a recognized term. Research shows it isn't. I mean the standardized version of the language of southern England that is close to what is sometimes called BBC English. Standard Southern English English would be clearer so I have edited my answer, but this term is unwieldy and often avoided. The term Standard British English is sometimes used but many find that objectionable as it appears to prioritize southern England over the rest of the country and and the other nations of Britain. – David Robinson Dec 5 '18 at 14:35
  • @DavidRobinson Whether it's clearer or more politically accurate, it is more common in language circles to say 'British English'. 'English English' sounds even more 'little England' than 'British English'. – Mitch Dec 5 '18 at 14:52
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    Yes, @mitch, I agree I speak a dialect of BE, but the problems are with the adjectives Standard and Southern put in front of the term. People here in Scotland get offended (quite reasonably) when they hear the term British used as the adjective for England which is why I am not going to use it when describing what part of England my accent is from. – David Robinson Dec 5 '18 at 15:06
  • @DavidRobinson You may have a very good case, I'm just pointing out that it is out of the mainstream and that others outside of Scotland might get confused at your usage. – Mitch Dec 5 '18 at 15:56
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    From my side of the pond, "Southern English" is the dialect whose speakers address people as "y'all" and in which "bless your heart" is a dig. – shoover Dec 5 '18 at 22:34
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They are “supposed” to be pronounced the same in almost all accents of English (the exception would be accents without the “north-force merger”). It’s not unheard of for people to pronounce them differently, but none of the possible ways of differentiating them has become recognized as standard: they all involve pronunciations that many would consider “mispronunciations”. And I don’t know of any dictionaries that mention distinct pronunciations for these two words.

As mentioned in David Robinson’s answer, aural is sometimes pronounced with the sour diphthong. The phonetician John Wells made a blog post mentioning the "ˈaʊrəl" pronunciation of aural, and the comments below it have some more discussion: "trauma", John Wells's Phonetic Blog.

From an American English speaker with the cot-caught merger, “aural” might be heard with the unrounded back vowel of “caught” (vs. a rounded vowel in “oral”). For anecdotal evidence, see the posts here: http://www.verduria.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=73&start=200 as well the comments left below your question by Hot Licks and choster.

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