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I’m a younger speaker from Chicago with a relatively standard General American accent. I have noticed that the vowels in the words “start” and “palm” sound like they have some lip rounding in my speech. I think the most accurate IPA symbol would be [ɒ̜]. Those vowels seems to be somewhere in between the LOT vowel (somewhere around [ɑ̟]) and the THOUGHT/CLOTH vowel (something like [ɒ̝]), but I think I would transcribe them like the latter, with ⟨ɒ⟩.

However, ⟨ɒ⟩ is not a commonly used symbol for these lexical sets in American transcriptions. In fact, I don’t think Wells uses that glyph for GenAm at all. Thus, I wonder the extent to which it is common to have rounding in these vowels. In what parts of the United States is it more or less common? Does this rounding also occur in other countries? Is it correct for me to use ⟨ɒ⟩ in the START and PALM words?

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  • Chicago speech is distinctive and not close to a neutral General American accent of California or the Midwest. Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 23:38
  • @YosefBaskin Even though I’m from Chicago, I don’t have a distinctively Chicago accent. Few young people do. You probably couldn’t easily pick me out as the Chicagoan among a group of other Midwestern teenagers.
    – Graham H.
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 0:06
  • No lip rounding at all for either of those, in my California English. Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 0:55
  • @YosefBaskin The Californian accent is not “neutral” in any way! It’s so full of regionalisms that as soon as you notice them saying I’m aahlso aahften gaahn a laahng time waahking my daahg you can never unhear it. So now it always jumps at you like banging a sore thumb does, just like with the folks who say Joisey goils. :) The area surrounding San Francisco is free of this issue; it’s because of where the people who settled there came from versus where those who settled elsewhere in the state came from, especially those who settled in the southern part.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 4:05

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Here and there you can find transcriptions that use what you might write as [ɒ] or [ɔ] for these words. For example, Merriam-Webster does so as you can see and hear in their palm and calm. There are two possible vowels there, one rounded and the other not so, and the coda’s "dark" ‹ɫ› may or may not be present.

But at M-W they use a weird and nonstandard transcription system, for example giving palm as [ˈpäm], [ˈpälm], [ˈpȯm], [ˈpȯlm]. That means that they write ‹ä› for unrounded IPA /ɑ/ as in their father, and they write ‹ȯ› for rounded IPA /ɔ/ as in both their cloth and their thought.

(Do remember though that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between [ɒ] and [ɔ] in American English; they’re just random allophones of phonemic /ɔ/.)

I think you and I share mostly the same accent, but I’ve never heard rounding on start /stɑɹt/, [sdɑ˞t] that I can recall. Not the way there often is in Chicago [ʃ(ə)ˈkʰɔgo(w)] when it has the same stressed ɔ vowel as Milwaukee [ˈmwɔkɪj] has. There are some older dialects that round Ma and Pa and Grandpa, hence the Maw and Paw and Grampaw eye-dialect spellings of those you sometimes see. But I don't remember that happening in the Chicago area.

"Dark L" in the coda is well-known to cause rounding, as in fall, mall, all, call, tall, Paul. The rime for all of those should be the same [ɔɫ] for us. So our palm vowel is rounded like in our Paul, just as our calm vowel is rounded like in our call.

Both just add the /m/ at the end of the other version. So call is [kʰɔɫ] and calm just adds [m] to make [kʰɔɫm], but the [ɫ] may or may not always be there. The very same thing happens with Paul and palm.

All this is completely normal for the Chicago area in particular and perhaps running north of it for the Upper Midwest in general. That’s what I think that Merriam-Webster is saying there is normal for American English.

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  • In American English, the r-influenced vowels have come loose from their non-r-influenced counterparts and have started wandering around freely. So [kɒr] and [kor] instead of [kɑr] and [kɔr] (a) isn't too surprising and (b) shouldn't cause too much confusion. Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 12:56

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