New online American English dialect survey

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From Bert Vaux:

I hope that if you're American you'll consider taking my new American English dialect survey, which is now available at You can answer as few as 30 and as many as 60 questions, and immediately see heat maps for where your answers are most popular. Please pass this along to your American students, friends, and family– especially if they've never taken any of my surveys before–as I'm trying to get as many respondents as possible in order to increase the accuracy of the localization algorithm our team is working on. It's free, and no registration is required.


  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 4:14 pm

    I guess it makes the data too difficult to handle but it does seem a shortcoming in a place like the US to ask only about formative-years location if you haven't stayed put. I haven't lived in the dialect region where I grew up for over 30 years and have lived in my current somewhat different dialect region for 25 years now, and I expect that affected some, but not all, of my answers, probably more so with word-choice questions than pronunciation questions. For the minority of items where the "heat map" indicated I had a minority usage for both my childhood region and adulthood region, I was trying to see if there was any non-random explanation, such as e.g. my usage being the majority in the regions where either/both of my parents grew up, which might have accounted for at least a few of them.

    One of the more interesting things about the heat maps was seeing the extreme variation in what other regions my childhood region did and didn't align with — sometimes east/west divides (always on the east); sometimes north/south divides (with the "Middle Atlantic" Philly/Balt area aligning north on some but south on others) sometimes deep-South-v.-whole-rest-of-country; sometimes upper-Midwest-v.-whole-rest-of-country. Etc.

  2. Yann said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 4:34 pm


    I'm not American but I'd like to do the test the other way around and see what dialect influenced me the most. Would it be possible to see your heat maps without taking the test and distorting the results of the survey ?

  3. Michael Watts said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 6:04 pm

    Some of these options draw distinctions that make no sense to me, like distinguishing between the vowel in "sit" and the vowel in "sir" (where this vowel belongs to the first syllable in "syrup", and must therefore be followed by an R).

    Similarly, there was a question of whether I use the vowel of "put" or the vowel of "her" in the word "sure". Is there an American dialect out there where "sure" is non-rhotic? (Or "syrup"??)

    And a little less similarly, whether I use an [ɪ] or a [ə] for the unstressed first syllable of "pecan". Fine vowel distinctions aren't so easy in unstressed syllables.

  4. Uly said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 6:07 pm

    But, Michael, I don't think everybody does have an unstressed first syllable in the word pecan.

  5. Uly said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 6:20 pm

    Ah, got to that question. Well, that was odd.

    Also: Is it just me, or did they not even ask about cinnamon roll vs. bun?

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 6:29 pm

    For me and I would have thought most AmEng speakers, rhotic or not, "sit" and "sir" have different vowels (KIT and NURSE respectively), although the vowel I have in the first syllable of "syrup" isn't either of those two. Wiktionary offers /ˈsɪɹəp/, /ˈsiː.ɹəp/, /ˈsɝ.əp/ as AmEng possibilities, and I have the second of them.

    The monosyllable that approximates the first syllable of "syrup" for me is "sear." Oddly enough, wiktionary gives the AmEng pronunciation of "sear" with a different vowel (FLEECE, which is mine) than it gives for the AmEng pronunciation of "near" even though you'd think that sear would be in the NEAR lexical set? And now my own introspection about whether I really rhyme sear with near is hopelessly fuddled by self-consciousness.

  7. V said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 7:31 pm

    Not a native English speaker here, and I stress pecan on the first syllable.

  8. Ralph Hickok said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 8:14 pm

    I find it impossible and perhaps pointless to say in what zip code I spent my formative years. I lived in Wisconsin for the first 16 years of my life, but I lived in at least 7 different ZIP codes (although there were no ZIP codes when I was growing up). It seems to me that ZIP code areas are probably too small for many, perhaps most, Americans. I've lived in the New Bedford, Massachusetts, area for the last 54+ plus years, but I've lived in five different ZIP codes here.

  9. Michael Watts said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 8:50 pm

    Uly: yes, I'm aware that not everybody has an unstressed first syllable in "pecan". What I'm questioning is the idea that, among people who do, [ɪ] and [ə] can contrast in that position. I'm not sure they can.

    I was also questioning the idea that the vowel of "sit" (when followed by an R) can contrast with the vowel of "sir". My personal view is that the NURSE vowel is the rhotic version of both the KIT and FOOT vowels — KIT and FOOT contrast with each other, but neither can feature rhoticity without turning into NURSE.

    The wiktionary pronunciations match perfectly to the options given for that question ("sit" / "seat" / "sir"); I notice that merriam-webster offers only two options ([ɪ] and [ə], there being no concept in their pronunciation system of a vowel that itself includes rhoticity), and offers only one ([ɪ]). I find this odd too, because to me the first syllable of "syrup" uses the SQUARE vowel.

  10. Peter S. said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 8:53 pm

    J.W. Brewer: Wiktionary has user-supplied content, and I don't think it's very standardized. I suspect all Americans have the same vowel for sear and near, but for some it's the KIT vowel and for some it's the FLEECE vowel.

  11. Michael Watts said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 8:54 pm

    While I'm talking about idiosyncratic food pronunciations, I'll note that several people have commented on my odd pronunciation of "milk", which for me uses the DRESS vowel.

  12. Alexander said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 9:47 pm

    I also say "melk". I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota.

  13. Aaron Toivo said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 10:30 pm

    Michael Watts: are you from the Pacific Northwest? We used to be a sound change in progress that I've heard called the bill-bell merger, in which "bill" gets the same vowel as DRESS. I don't know of anywhere that this is the majority pronunciation. But I know several people who still have it in at least some words, and all of them say "melk" for "milk". I'm unsure whether that's because it's the most common example or because it's the most conspicuous.

  14. Jason M said,

    March 25, 2018 @ 11:31 pm

    I also wanted to say that I like the project and was happy to contribute 60 responses, but I felt I was skewing by the forcing of a zip code where I grew up. Might be better to let people give some other responses there. I learned American English first from Iowan parents but while abroad, then mid-Atlantic US, then South, Midwest, SoCal, mid-PA, then midwest for college, back to eastern PA, then Midwest thenceforth. My heatmaps for each response were pretty variable, and I selected multiple options many times. I have grown up with people around me saying crawdads, crayfish, crawfish, mudpuppies, potato bugs, pill bugs, roly polys, lightning bugs, and fireflies. Interestingly, though, I ever learned a word for sunshine rain or the day before Halloween….

  15. Michael Watts said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 12:27 am

    Am I from the Pacific Northwest?

    My earliest memories are from Davis, California, so maybe. When I was five we moved to Albuquerque, NM for four years, then to Santa Cruz, CA. "Milk" is a common enough word, including for young children, that my pronunciation probably fixed in Davis.

    I distinguish "bill" and "bell". I use a KIT vowel in "bilk". I use a DRESS vowel in "milk" because that is the pronunciation I learned; I am not aware of any larger phonological phenomenon related to it, though there could be one.

  16. Andreas Johansson said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 5:46 am

    I echo Yann that it would be interesting to be able to do the test as a non-American to see what American 'lects I most resemble.

    (I nominally learnt RP in school, but that's overlain with all sorts of influences from people I've met or heard on TV.)

  17. Anthony said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 6:06 am

    There's a television commercial for a pharmaceutical product called Humira. That the second (and stressed) syllable gets pronounced with the vowel of "pet" seems odd to me. The word, of course, is a new coinage and has no history, so the company that created it can use whatever pronunciation it likes. I do not say "melk" but I do remember my parents (New Yorkers both) proonouncing "Illinois" with the first two syllables sounding exactly like the name "Ellen."

  18. John Swindle said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 9:34 am

    It asks first where I grew up and then what expressions I use. I find myself torn between reporting my present usage and reporting what I'm guessing the people around where I grew up would have said.

  19. Doug said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 9:44 am

    Michael Watts said:
    "I was also questioning the idea that the vowel of "sit" (when followed by an R) can contrast with the vowel of "sir". "

    For me, the "sit" vowel can occur before /r/ and contrast with the "sir" vowel only if the /r/ is in the next syllable, and thus does not color the pronunciation of the "sit" vowel.

    That's the case for me for "syrup." It syllabifies as "sy-rup" so the orthographic "y" is a "sit" vowel in spite of the /r/ that comes just after it.

    "Stirrup" on the other hand has a "sir" vowel.

  20. Robert Coren said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 9:56 am

    I found myself making liberal use of the comments field to make distinctions that the multiple choices didn't capture.

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 10:21 am

    I think I agree w/ Doug re syllabification affecting how some people get the KIT vowel in there. I likewise have the NURSE vowel in "stirrup." But since I have the FLEECE vowel rather than either KIT or NURSE in "syrup" I'm not so sure it matters so much whether I'm treating (below the level of conscious attention) the /r/ as the coda of the first syllable or the onset of the second one.

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 10:35 am

    I agree that zipcode seems overprecise, but I assume it's easy enough to lump together zip codes into meaningful larger areas. State-of-origin is too high a level of generality since lots of isoglosses run through states; maybe county-of-origin would yield data too hard to process, esp if you didn't have a complicated set of drop-down menus and had to categorize what people typed in, abbreviations/typos and all? The summer I was twelve my family moved to a new house less than three miles from the old one, in the same school district but in a different zip code. I don't remember which of those two zip codes I put in the box yesterday afternoon, but I'm hoping/assuming that the ultimate data analysis will treat the 19803 dialect and the 19810 dialect as fungible (assuming they get enough hits from both for any idiosyncratic outliers to be swamped). I was interested to see, by the way, that several of the prescriptivistly-deprecated usages that were specific bees in the bonnet of my 8th grade English teacher were on the quiz, but the deprecated variant of those, although certainly extant in the speech of a material number of my classmates who were thus available to be hectored and shamed about how they spoke, was not per the heatmap the locally dominant form. Although I guess maybe in a region where it was sufficiently dominant it would either be in the usage of the schoolmarms themselves or they would at least realize it was impolitic to pick a fight about it? Or maybe the data is skewed because elite speakers are systematically more likely to respond to online quizzes like this, so forms that signal social class within a given geographical area are underreported in the data for that region if the class they signal is non-elite?

  23. Chris said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 10:41 am

    Points for Mr. Bert Vaux:

    (1) I think there may be a problem with the "scallion" question as "chives" are a similar but distinct plant. My mother bought scallions in the supermarket, but we had chives growing in the yard. However, the plants look similar enough (at the top) that people might mistakenly select the "wrong" choice for their own vocabulary due to visual memory issues.

    (2) You could collect a lot more interesting info if you had a few geographic/demographic/migratory questions. For example, there were a number of questions in which I selected more than one choice. By playing around with the selections and looking at the heat maps, I discovered that it was usually a case of my using both a term native to my childhood ZIP code and a term native to where my parents are from (they moved from the mid-west to northern New York).
    Also, my locale in northern NY/VT has some rare usages, and the failure to account for my idiosyncratic combination of peer/parent language is misrepresenting my ZIP code.

    (3) As I mentioned in the comments on the survey, the huge number of variations of "you all/you/y'all/etc…" don't really capture usage accurately despite their superfluity. For example, I use "you guys" to address a single person about a group to which he or she belongs. Example: in email to my friend: "Hey, Bob, what are you guys [he and wife] doing for New Years?" Also, addressing a few people, "where are you guys [3 friends] going?/You guys should go to a movie." However, addressing a larger group: "When do you all [class of students] want the test?/You all should pass the test." And, addressing a yet larger group: "Do all of you [audience] need refunds?/You should all get a refund on the way out." Also, as can be seen from the last pair, there are usage differences depending on question/statement, formality, etc

    (4) There are a bunch of places where I have contextual differences. Example: "maple syrup" is "sir". However, "I drizzled syrup on my pancakes" is "sear," like J.W. Brewer above.

  24. Chris said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 10:45 am

    Related to my comment number 2 above, if Mr. Vaux were collecting information on migrations, this could shed some interesting light on possible changes in regional and/or class usage brought about by the phenomenon of "Super-ZIPs" a la Bill Bishop's book "The Great Sort".

  25. Alexander said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 11:13 am

    @Chris: For (1), the same with leeks. They look like green onions (to use my own usual form), but are larger, tougher and have a different flavor. Maybe it's from responses people have given after seeing the photos, either from a lack of culinary knowledge or just a lack of scale in the photo?

  26. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 11:31 am

    It's Dr. Vaux. He didn't spend four (?) years in Evil Linguistics Grad School to be called "Mister." (Actually an old online interview suggests he started grad school in an interdisciplinary Armenian Studies program, but then fell in with questionable company, i.e. Chomskyans.)

  27. aka_darrell said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 1:37 pm

    I am fascinated by such surveys because of how they are arranged and by what is not there. For example, shouldn't some questions be repeated occasionally to see if my answers are consistent?

  28. Max said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 3:38 pm

    There's something similar for German, and they're running their tenth survey now:

    An interesting difference is that they ask for a PLZ (equivalent to ZIP code) "for which your responses apply" and ask to "please give the expressions one would normally hear in your town", rather than asking what *you* would say, which is one possible resolution to the "but I moved" objection.

  29. Michael Watts said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 4:20 pm

    For me, the "sit" vowel can occur before /r/ and contrast with the "sir" vowel only if the /r/ is in the next syllable, and thus does not color the pronunciation of the "sit" vowel.

    That's the case for me for "syrup." It syllabifies as "sy-rup" so the orthographic "y" is a "sit" vowel in spite of the /r/ that comes just after it.

    Can you provide a minimal pair illustrating the contrast?

    As far as I've read, the syllabification sy-rup cannot use a KIT vowel in the first syllable because, as a checked vowel, KIT cannot appear without a coda.

  30. Doug said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 4:52 pm

    @ Michael Watts:

    I can't come up with a minimal pair right now. Note that syrup/stirrup is nearly a minimal pair.

    "spirit" vs. "spur it" is good, if you're not concerned with word boundaries.

    In my amateur analysis of my own variety of English it appears to me that "checked" vowels freely occur at the ends of syllables (though not at the ends of words) even though traditional syllabifications in dictionaries don't show this.

    The situation is perhaps analogous to the famous Mary/marry/merry.
    For me all 3 are distinct, "marry" has the "cat" vowel and "merry" has the "pet" vowel. Neither of those could occur before /r/ in a closed syllable, but they can occur in marry/merry since the /r/ is in the next syllable.

    If you don't agree that the /r/ in marry/merry is the onset of the next syllable, then I don't see how to account for the fact that marry/merry have the cat/pet vowel, even though "mert" with "pet" vowel" and "mart" with "cat" vowel would be impossible words.

    Saying these vowels can't occur before an /r/ in the same syllable and syllabifying as I do fits the facts as I see them (or hear them).

  31. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 6:25 pm

    For a few words, especially "highway" and that little clawless terrestrial crustacean, I decided to answer based on what I use in my head, and use when I'm visiting my family in Ohio, rather than what I say here in northern New Mexico. If I said "pillbug" here, I don't think people would understand, much as if I said "roly-poly" there.

    I said that and a number of other things in the comments, and I hope other people with thoughts for Prof. Vaux did the same.

    Michael Watts: "Melk" and "vanella" were common in suburban Cleveland, where I grew up, and I think I've heard them here too. I don't think I've heard much overall bill-bell merger though.

    The first pronunciation of "sure" in AHD has the "put" vowel and the second has the "her" vowel. The "put" vowel is the only one given for "poor". I don't see what's strange about that (except ignoring the people who pronounce "sure" like "shore" and "poor" like "pore").

  32. Michael Watts said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 6:32 pm

    I like that example. I definitely pronounce "spirit" and "spur it" with distinct vowels.

    I don't think I'd object to someone rhyming (my pronunciation of) "spirit" with "hear it". Those vowels may be distinct, but for me they're close enough to rhyme.

    This leaves me sort of vaguely unsatisfied with the concept of KIT-before-R.

  33. George Grady said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 7:44 pm

    I pronounce "syrup" with just one syllable, like the word "surf", but ending with a "p" instead of an "f".

  34. Andrew Usher said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 9:04 pm

    I see we've gotten into pre-/r/ vowels in American English again. I don't think the actual facts are that hard, it's only the idiotic, hidebound, British-based dictionary transcriptions that confuse people and cause them not to recognise what they actually HEAR.

    Jerry Friedman's final comment is perhaps a case in point: while pronouncing 'sure' like 'shore' is majorly substandard (and I'm sure everyone knows that), 'poor'='pore' is actually the majority use of Americans (can confirm by YouTube). I doubt this is recent, it presumably goes back to the time that 'door' and 'floor' underwent the same shift (and 'course', 'court' …) and 'sure' would have had a fundamentally different vowel or diphthong. Cf. the audio clip at , which shows a traditional rhotic British accent rhyming 'poor' with 'more'.

    As for the 'put' vowel before /r/, I have to believe it's just a figment of the dictionaries. I feel nearly impossible saying my 'put' vowel before /r/; while I used to think that what I used in 'pure' etc. was such (following those bad transcriptions), Praat has definitely shown me it's much closer to the 'root' vowel. In other words, the difference between 'pure' and a hypothetical 'pew-er' would be of syllabicity only, and saying them in my head, that sounds right!

    More general comments: It's nice that this time he's provided pictures of the thing in question when vocabulary items are being called for. In a few cases, people might not have understood from written guides only (as we see above with 'chives', pictures aren't necessarily even enough! I was tricked by that one, too.)

    'Melk' I think is a special case, though its origin is completely unclear to me. I have said and heard 'melk' very often, but never in any other words with 'il'. Some people have attributed this to a dark L, but one would never hear in in, say, 'film' – and anyway my L in 'milk' (either pronunciation) is not very dark (it's clearly different from that in 'all' which is the darkest I use).

    Finally I agree that it would be, in theory, better to ask 'what would people normally say where you grew up', if you could trust people to follow that (and correctly remember). In my case, I have been consciously changing my language use (little by little) throughout my life and don't believe I'm a good representative of anywhere now (and the maps seem to agree).

    k_over_hbarc at

  35. Joyce Melton said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 1:22 am

    I grew up in Southern California but was completely surrounded by people from Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. My results are going to skew the count. :)

  36. Michael Watts said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 1:34 am

    Andrew Usher: weirdly, lists /pɔːr/ (the r is superscript) as the only British pronunciation of "poor", and /pʊr/ as the only American pronunciation. I would tend to agree that that is totally insane, but other dictionaries do seem to agree in some sense.

    To me, the FOOT vowel between P and R is of course the word "purr", but, online dictionaries agree, that word somehow uses an entirely separate vowel, the rhotic reduced vowel. (As cambridge would have it, /pɝː/.)

    I will be shocked if someone can show a phonemic contrast between hypothetical /ʊr/ and /ɝ/ or /ɚ/.

    I do note that the examples of the CURE lexical set given here are "poor", "tour", and "fury". If you asked me, I would tell you those words use the vowels of NORTH/FORCE, GOOSE, and NURSE (with "cure" itself also using NURSE); it's hard for me to believe they belong in any single lexical set.

  37. Jason said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 2:56 am

    Michael Watts said:
    As far as I've read, the syllabification sy-rup cannot use a KIT vowel in the first syllable because, as a checked vowel, KIT cannot appear without a coda.

    It requires a following consonant, not a coda. Unless you're arguing that is syllabified /mɛd.ɪt.eɪt/?

  38. Anthea Fleming said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 4:07 am

    And here in Melbourne, Australia, the bakery item is neither a bun or a roll, but a Cinnamon Scroll. And what you call Scallions to us are Spring Onions.

  39. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 9:10 am

    Getting back to "syrup," the following bit of alleged wisdom gleaned from wikipedia seems relevant: "In most North American Accents, including GenAm, KIT merges with NEAR in the environment of a following intervocalic /r/."* Now, if they both merge to the usual NEAR vowel, that accounts for my own pronunciation perfectly, but if for other speakers they merge to the usual KIT vowel that may account for some of the pronunciations reported above that other commenters found puzzling.

    *"Intervocalic" is key, because word-final /r/'s (as in "sir") seem to generate the NURSE vowel where the KIT vowel allegedly was found in Middle English.

  40. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 9:18 am

    Joyce Melton: I'll bet information such as yours is exactly what the survey is looking for.

  41. djw said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 10:16 am

    I remember realizing somewhere about the start of junior high school that I usually said "melk" and "vanella" (along with "warshrag") although those pronunciations didn't make a lick of sense when I looked at the spelling. I think that's when I started changing to "milk," "vanilla," and "washrag." (Getting to "washcloth" and changing my sister's name from "Bearvelly" to "Beverly" took longer.) I'm a retiree from central Texas.

    When I was still teaching, I took a short course in what was supposed to be "Texas dialects." (I really believe now that it was more "southern" than Texan, but I was younger then; I've never been a linguist.) I jotted down a list of words with "Texan" pronunciations, put them into sentences (or "sennances," if you're Texan), and had students and other teachers read them. I got pretty good at guessing just how "Texan" some of them were, but one blew me away because he seemed about the most "Texan" of the bunch. When I asked, he said, in his usual slow Texas drawl, "No, ma'am, I grew up in In-doh-nesia." Turns out, if you live on an American air base in Indonesia with Texan parents and a lot of Texan neighbors and teachers, you speak pretty solid Texan!

  42. David Marjanović said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 10:27 am

    The things I learn… I had no idea of the bill-bell merger, or of FLEECE/NEAR in syrup, or of monosyllabic syrup. :-)

    English syllabification is a very thorny subject. I recommend this paper (link to small pdf), which finds that English applies two rounds of syllabification to every word.

    Uly: yes, I'm aware that not everybody has an unstressed first syllable in "pecan". What I'm questioning is the idea that, among people who do, [ɪ] and [ə] can contrast in that position. I'm not sure they can.

    The "rabbit-abbot" merger is apparently universal in the US, but not in the UK for instance.

    to me the first syllable of "syrup" uses the SQUARE vowel.

    …Do you have the Northern Cities Vowel Shift?

  43. Joey said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 12:56 pm

    The crayon question is a little messed up. It suggests that the two syllable answers should be either rhymes with "dawn but not don" or "ahn", neither of which make sense in Eastern New England. Dawn and don are homophones if you have a caught-cot merger but Eastern New England doesn't have the father-bother merger. So crayon's second syllable rhymes with dawn, and don, and definitely not ahn.

  44. Mark F. said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

    Michael Watts, are you saying that "syrup" and "square up" are rhymes for you? Perhaps, to make the rhyme more plausible, you could imagine a scenario where you could call something a "square-up", so that the accent would be on the first syllable.

  45. Michael Watts said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

    Mark F., yes, I'm saying that "syrup" and "square up" are rhymes for me.

    I do not have the Northern Cities Vowel Shift.

  46. Tom Bentley said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 9:23 pm

    Thanks for this. My wife grew up (came up?) in Providence, RI, I in NW Chicago suburb, and we really enjoyed doing this together, comparing notes (I answered only for myself). Great fun, and great impetus for my memoirs.

  47. Lazar said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 9:48 pm

    @Michael Watts: I have [ʊɚ] in "poor", "tour" and "fury", and [ʊɚ] or [ɚː] variably in "sure". "Poor"/"pour"/"purr" are a minimal trio for me.

    @Jason: The first syllables of "merry", "marry", "syrup" and "hurry" in unmerged speech are impermissible in isolation whichever way you cut it: neither [sɪ] or [sɪɹ] could be a word for me, but I have [ˈsɪɹiəs] ("Sirius") contrasting with [ˈsɪɚiəs] ("serious") regardless. The syllabification is a legal fiction.

  48. Lazar said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 9:53 pm

    (And as an addendum to the first part, I also contrast [ˈdʒʊɚi] ("jury") with [ˈdʒʊuɹi] ("Jewry"), making an assignment of GOOSE for the former word troublesome.)

  49. chh said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

    It seems like showing respondents the heat map for each selection before they submit it is a methodological mistake.

  50. Michael Watts said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 1:15 pm

    They also only show a heat map for whatever answer you select first. Multiple answers are encouraged/required, but the heat maps don't reflect them at all.

  51. Lazar said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 1:50 pm

    @Michael Watts: You can unselect your first answer and then select another one to see its heat map.

  52. Michael Watts said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 5:23 pm

    I claim that the hypothetical heat map for "either of options X and Y is fine" is meaningfully distinct from the heat maps for "option X, and only option X", "option Y, and only option Y", "option X or option Z", etc.

  53. Andrew Usher said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 6:10 pm

    Michael Watts:
    Your pronunciation of 'syrup' is truly aberrant, then. I had never heard _of_, much less actually heard, that possibility before.

    A point that bears repeating is that the lexical sets like CURE do not have a fixed membership. Indeed, that was the reason for creating them. If you have 'poor'='pore', then 'poor' is not in the CURE set for you, but in FORCE. 'Tour' is a special case brevity requires I skip over, but I've written about it elsewhere online.

    On pre-R vowels in general, you're mostly in agreement with me, but I regard the 'vowel' in purr as essentially a syllabic R: whatever formants show up during the transition from P to R are non-phonemic. Thus 'murder' has two syllabic R's and no actual vowels; 'squirrel' also has no vowels, which is partly why it's notoriously difficult for foreigners.

    You should know that your pre-R vowels are going to be anomalous in any across-America comparison. I don't doubt that you have a distinct CURE vowel in 'poor', 'tour' (are you sure that's never bisyllabic for you?), and 'fury'. I have mine only in the last in citation form; as stated, it's more like GOOSE than FOOT – this is supported by the fact that in rapid speech 'tour' compresses from the normal form rhyming with 'sewer' to a monosyllable rhyming exactly with 'pure': /tu.r/ -> /tur/.

    'Jury' and 'Jewry' are always distinct for me, too, though – I don't know what to make of that. I guess I'd write it again is a syllable difference /dʒuɹ.i/ opposed to /dʒu.ɹi/. The first can reduce by steps into the usual form rhyming with 'furry' as it contains /ur/; the second has reduction blocked by the syllable boundary, as with 'tour'. While you may indeed have phonetic /ʊɹ/, especially in open syllables as 'jury' and 'fury', I'm not yet convinced.

  54. Matt Anderson said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 7:48 pm

    Like Michael Watts, I pronounce 'syrup' with a different vowel than any of the options given—not quite with my SQUARE vowel but with something very similar (I'd say I pronounce 'square' as something like [skwɛɚ] but syrup as something like [sɛɹəp]). For what it's worth, I grew up in North Carolina in the 80s and have spent most of the rest of my life in various parts of the mid-Atlantic, though I'm on the west coast now. So who knows where I got that pronunciation. I have to say, though, that all the others mentioned above would sound very weird (to me) coming from me.

  55. djw said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 10:39 pm

    Matt and Michael, I have no idea how to write the sounds in IPA, but I have a vague memory of a similar pronunciation for "syrup" from my childhood in central Texas. I've lost a whole lot of that central Texas sound and have often been asked where I'm from because I often don't sound much like a native. (Sometimes I slide more into it, but mostly only when I'm kidding.) But my parents did, and I think they had that weird "square-ish" sound in syrup. So you're not totally alone.

  56. Michael Watts said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 2:08 am

    A point that bears repeating is that the lexical sets like CURE do not have a fixed membership. Indeed, that was the reason for creating them. If you have 'poor'='pore', then 'poor' is not in the CURE set for you, but in FORCE.

    This directly contradicts the description in the wikipedia article:

    Some words of the English language do not belong to any lexical set. For example, the a in the stressed syllable of tomato is pronounced /ɑː/ in RP, and /eɪ/ in GenAm, a combination which is very unusual, and is not covered by any of the 24 lexical sets above.

    Wikipedia isn't necessarily an authority on the meaning of lexical sets, but that particular sentence is cited to John C. Wells' Accents of English.

    Wells' own account (trusting wikipedia) of what a lexical set is is further supported by the obvious fact that more lexical sets are defined than any variety of English can distinguish. Their membership is not based on pronunciation in any dialect – it is defined by the combination of a "general American" pronunciation ("poor" seems to have been misjudged?) and British RP. The way any individual person pronounces a word is irrelevant to the lexical set that word belongs to, because lexical sets are defined as a tool for talking about historical sound changes in English, not as a tool for talking about the modern pronunciation of vowels.

    Of course, that purpose is useless to most people and lexical set membership, so defined, is impossible to evaluate without extensive investigations. The lexical set concept is well suited to discussing the pronunciation of vowels, and that topic is much more accessible, so lexical sets are generally the tool people use for it. But their actual definition is not well suited to that topic, and your characterization of them does not appear to be grounded in anything. You could argue that "poor" has moved from being a member of the CURE set to being a member of no set at all, like "tomato", but it will not belong to the NORTH or FORCE sets unless RP agrees that it should.

  57. TIC said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 7:45 am

    After giving a lot of thought to the question of whether the SIT vowel sound can precede an R sound within a single syllable — and after a lot of experimentation and whispered pronunciations to myself! — I've discovered that, for whatever reason, I can and do pronounce both "kirsch" and "Siri" with the SIT vowel sound… The former, of course, is of foreign origin, and my pronunciation of it (which might not be common, let alone standard) is surely influenced by that origin…. And the latter, although of course having two syllables, I definitely pronounce with the R in the first syllable… I've confirmed with others that, in my (unforced) pronunciations of both, the SIT vowel sound is present and is distinguishable from both the FLEECE and FURRY vowel sounds… I have a nagging suspicion that there must be another word or two that have a similar I-before-R pronunciation for me!, but I haven't (yet) stumbled upon them…

  58. David L said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 10:20 am

    As far as I can tell, I pronounce sit, syrup, and stirrup with exactly the same vowel. I'm not going just by the sound, but also by the fact that my tongue and lips are in the same position. (British with American influence, but in this case mostly British).

    For poor, tour, and fury, Wells's original specification was British RP, and I can imagine that a dinosaur who still speaks RP would have the same vowel in all three. But in more general British English today, they would most likely differ. For me they are three distinct vowels: poor = pore; tour = too-er (well, kinda), and fury = cure.

  59. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 3:56 pm

    Perhaps Dr. Vaux could throw in a few questions about words like "Siri" or "kirsch" to see if variation in their pronunciation matches up with well-established regional patterns or is more random, because (if the latter is the case) people did not generally learn them from peers in childhood and may vary as to which phonologically-possible slot in their particular idiolect they end up getting stuck in. In other words, loanwords or new coinages will not necessarily come preassigned to a lexical set and different people may assign them differently.

    FWIW I pronounce "kirsch" with a reasonably GenAm NURSE vowel, unless I am self-consciously trying to pronounce it in an undomesticated fashion in which case my American-high-school-German vowel is going to be closer to my FLEECE than my KIT.

  60. Peter S. said,

    March 30, 2018 @ 5:29 am

    Andrew Usher:

    You say "while pronouncing 'sure' like 'shore' is majorly substandard".

    From the heat maps, there are regions of the country where that is the majority pronunciation. If I remember correctly, it was the Northeast, which surprised me because for some reason I had always thought that was a Southern pronunciation.

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