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I've noticed a few people (mostly encountered in Northern Virginia in the United States) who have an otherwise common accent for that area, but pronounce the word "color" more like "collar" (with the first vowel more open and back). Is there a name for that accent feature, or is it linked with any particular regional accent?

An example of the pronunciation would be the word "color" at around 3:10 in this video: https://youtu.be/Q9QHWDVqsQ4?t=188

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    Might this be related to the colt–cult merger? Granted that tends to favour /o/ (what would in non-US terms usually be transcribed /oʊ/ or /əʊ/, the diphthongal vowel found in go), but the conditioning is not dissimilar. Do you know if they would also pronounce hull and hole the same? Jan 31, 2023 at 1:12
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I spoke with a friend who has the feature I asked about, and had him read some sample sentences to test several mergers. He does seem to have the cult-colt / hull-hole merger(s), or at least pronounces those pairs much closer to each other than I do. If you can post your comment as an answer, I'll accept it as the answer to my question, as I think it probably gets the closest to an explanation of what's going on. Thanks.
    – cwloney
    Jan 31, 2023 at 4:34

3 Answers 3

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Wikipedia mentions very briefly:

Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006:73) mention four mergers before /l/ that may be under way in some accents of North American English, and which require more study: [...]

  • /ʌl/ and /ɔːl/ (hull vs hall)

It sounds like this is a case of the posited hull-hall merger.

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    There’s also a /ˈkɑlɚ/ pronunciation possible for collar in some regions. That might contrast with caller /ˈkɔlɚ/ in some and probably most regions, but it might also in a few places even merge with it, sometimes in one direction so both are /ˈkɑlɚ/ and sometimes in the other so both are /ˈkɔlɚ/. It’s all pretty complicated.
    – tchrist
    Jan 31, 2023 at 3:58
  • @alphabet as mentioned in another comment, I had a friend of mine who has the feature read some sample sentences to test the suggested mergers. While, at least as I hear it, he had the hull-hole merger, I didn't hear the hull-hall merger. Those sounds stayed distinct. Thanks for the suggestion, though.
    – cwloney
    Jan 31, 2023 at 4:39
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    Hmm. Surely "hall" only overlaps "collar" if you also have the cot-caught merger, and that merger isn't common near D.C. (closest spot with that merger occurring is Pittsburgh). I'm sensitive to that specific merger because I lack it, and my wife has it (she was raised in Seattle, and U.S. West is almost completely merged), so I notice when people lack it, and natives of the D.C. area almost never have it. If the people the OP is talking to are NoVA natives, they'd usually lack the cot-caught merger, and it would be weird to somehow merge hull and hall without it. Jan 31, 2023 at 12:24
  • @ShadowRanger I can confirm that the people I've encountered with this feature are NoVa (or DC area) natives and do not have the cot-caught merger.
    – cwloney
    Jan 31, 2023 at 17:53
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The guy with the negative "usefulness" rating is the only one who actually answered the question, and is correct. "Collar" for "Color" is a common pronunciation in Northern Appalachia, particularly in West Virginia, Western PA, Southeast Ohio, Eastern KY, and parts of Western Virginia.

My only source is living in these regions (as well as many family members from there who pronounce Color that way) and hearing it pronounced thus for decades. I have also lived in Northern VA near DC and did not notice it being as common. It is important to note that the "DMV" area is very cosmopolitan when it comes to accents so it's pretty difficult to pin down any particular accents there. much less origins for them.

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im thinking appalachian english might have a similar pronunciation but im having trouble finding proof of this. just an inclination though

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  • Thanks. That sounds like a possibility. A couple of the people I know who have this feature are from families with ties to areas further west around the Blue Ridge mountains. I'm hoping to see if this particular vowel switch has a name or is documented anywhere.
    – cwloney
    Jan 31, 2023 at 1:11
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    I think this is more suited to a comment than an answer. If you can add some references to support, then please do so, but is it stands, it's not complete. Jan 31, 2023 at 10:24
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    Pittsburghese does "keller", dunno what that tells you about the rest of Appalachia.
    – Brendan
    Jan 31, 2023 at 13:32

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