The Wikipedia article on Boston states that the first vowel in the name of the city is that of "caught," not "cot," citing Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. This seems consistent with my own experiences with chatting with Bostonians, who do not merge the two vowels. Many people around me do merge the two vowels, to whom this question is moot. How about other Americans who do distinguish "caught" and "cot," in, e.g., the Midwest and the South? Is the first vowel of "Boston" really the same as "caught" to them as well?

  • 3
    I'm a native Chicagoan who lived in Boston for many years, and everyone I ever heard pronounce the name used the caught pronunciation. The only ones who ever used cot were those who pretended to mock an imaginary (and false) Boston accent. – Robusto Dec 2 at 23:44
  • We could cite multiple online dictionaries with the 'caught' = CLOTH vowel. Is there other justification that you'd like? – Mitch Dec 3 at 0:56
  • @Mitch: you could also cite dictionaries that give both pronunciations. And some that don't even give the pronunciation with the caught vowel. – Peter Shor Dec 3 at 1:00
  • @Mitch Technically, caught has the THOUGHT vowel, and Boston has the CLOTH vowel. But no American ever distinguishes those two as phonemes. – tchrist Dec 3 at 23:36
  • @tchrist Hmm... and it seems many dialects distinguish CLOTH and THOUGHT – Mitch Dec 4 at 1:05

Your premise is wrong. In the traditional Boston accent, the vowels in cot and caught are merged, and are both pronounced with the caught vowel (although cart is pronounced the way the rest of the country pronounces cot).

Thus, Bostonians themselves generally pronounce the name of their city /bɔstən/, with the caught vowel, even those without the cot-caught merger.

If you are to believe the American Heritage dictionary, the rest of the country is confused as to how to pronounce it, and can use either pronunciation. I believe this is correct. But note that the rest of the country can't pronounce Worcester, Woburn, Haverhill, Quincy, Bowdoin, Cochituate and many other place names near Boston, either.

  • Let's see: Wooster (closer to Wusster, I guess), Wooburn, Hayverel, Quinzy, Bohdin, Kohchichuit ... – Robusto Dec 3 at 1:40
  • @Robusto The Upper Midwest, which doesn't have the merger, also says /bɔstən/, so it sounds bizarre to me every single time I hear somebody say it with the unrounded vowel from khan. I also don't notice it when Pittsburghers say it, because their merge is like Boston's and so they round everything. Adding rounding isn't a big deal but losing it always throws me off; I don't know why this perceptual asymmetry should be. – tchrist Dec 3 at 3:02
  • @tchrist: Pittsburghers really lay into the /ɔ/ even more than the rest of us. I had a friend from there who always called me Rawb. – Robusto Dec 3 at 3:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.