Wednesday, August 06, 2014

34 American Homophones Not As Common in British English


Being the wonderfully complex language that it is, English is replete with groups of words that are pronounced the same way but with totally different meanings (such as to and two). These words are known as homophones and are present in both British English and American English (and all other forms of English!). However, for the purposes of this article, let's talk about those homophones used widely in AmE that are far less common in BrE.

These particular homophones, of course, owe everything to the many pronunciation differences on either side of the pond. For instance, many American dialects adhere to what is known as the cot-caught merger—that is, a merger in which the vowel sounds are pronounced identically in words such as cot and caught. This merger has in turn given rise to a large number of homophones in American English (many of which are listed below). However, British English (with the exception of some Scottish accents and mid-Ulster English) is not widely known to incorporate the cot-caught merger.

Meanwhile, some homophones in American English have also come about because of the American tendency to substitute a t-sound (t) for a d-sound (d) in the middle of words (e.g. city is pronounced SID-ee). So, the words metal and medal are often pronounced the same way in American English, whereas the two are usually said differently in British English—mainly due to the presence of a t-sound (or sometimes a glottal stop) in the word metal.

These are just some of the ways homophones lend themselves to many varieties of American English. Below are 34 examples of groups of words that often sound the same in American English and different (usually) in British English.

1. hostel, hostile
2. awed, odd
3. awful, offal
4. awn, on
5. balm, bomb
6. box, balks
7. caught, cot
8. chalk, chock
9. con, khan
10. fawned, fond
11. hawk, hock
12. pawed, pod
13. rot, wrought
14. sawed, sod
15. sought, sot
16. stalk, stock
17. taught, taut, tot
18. walk, wok
19. yawn, yon
20. been, bin
21. borough, burgh, burro, burrow
22. do, dew, due
23. foreword, forward
24. metal, medal
25. one, won
26. pedal, petal
27. pole, poll, pull
28. ferry, faery, fairy
29. hairy, harry
30. Mary, marry, merry
31. parish, pearish, perish
32. vary, very
33. can't, cant
34. halve, have

Are there any other American homophones you can think of? Are there any British homophones that are less common in American English?

This article was written by Laurence Brown. Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia. He is Editor-in-chief of Lost in the Pond and loves nothing more than to share these articles with anglophiles, expats, and other interested parties on social media. Follow Lost in the Pond on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

12 comments:

Chris P. said...

I agree with you on only about 13 of these...in order for more of these to sound as you suggest, you'd have to be listening to a New Englander/Bostonian.

Laurence Brown said...

Thanks for your comment, Chris. The point of the article, though, is that these homophones are more widely used in the US than in the UK. The cot-caught merger homophones alone are found in many regions other than New England/Boston, as this map indicates: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cot-caught_merger#mediaviewer/File:Cot-caught_merger.png

leemikcee said...

WA-AAY back in the day, my younger brother (who was in 3rd grade at the time) was given a school assignment to make a list of homophones. My family being what it is, this became a fun family project. His list eventually extended to three pages and well over a hundred examples. He was embarrassed rather than gratified; his classmates' lists were a half page at most. :-D

Anonymous said...

Mindy DePalma Helms: Polish and polish (as in one's nationality vs, the act of cleaning the silver). Does that count as a homophone?

Anonymous said...

Mindy DePalma Helms: Sorry, I just thought about my previous comment and realized I am incorrect. Homophones sound the same even though spelled differently. Not the other way around. Sorry. I was reading the article too quickly to get it right. I polish ("ah" sound-sort of) but someone is Polish (long "o" sound) by nationality. Interesting article though. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

List of Homophones (American-English):
http://l-lists.com/en/lists/rqq8n9.html

List of Homophones (British-English):
http://l-lists.com/en/lists/dgf07g.html

Jarrod the Awesome said...

Pull and pole are completely different.

Burgh is the ending of Pittsburgh, for crying out loud. It doesn't even have the same amount of syllables as the others!

The rest is pretty spot on, though.

nancy john said...

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jtg8811 said...

I totally get the point you are making in the article re: common in AmE but not BrE. However, what is interesting here from an American English perspective is that this very much differs depending on regional accent. For instance, I was raised in MN where the "o" and "a" are both elongated, but have very different sounds and come from different parts of the throat when used in the middle of a word. Given this, 16 of the 34 on this list would not hold as exact homphones in the Minnesotan accent. I think this list is a very fair generalization of American English homophones, but it certainly is changeable by the fact that there are just sooo many accents in the U.S.

Boo Long said...

Neraly all of those example rely on the American accent to sound the same. Reading them in my northern English accent they don't sound alike.. British English actually has far more genuine homophones, such as kerb/curb, metre/metre, practise/practice, license/license, which American English abandoned to take one spelling for both meanings.

Boo Long said...

To 'anonymous' up the thread.... 'Polish' and 'polish' are homographs.. Spelt (or spelled if you're west of the Atlantic) the same but pronounced differently.

Zef M said...

Hmm I keep reading about this cot-caught [pin-pen to a lesser degree] merger, but I never seem to hear it. I grew up in Chicago since the age of four and have always heard a difference between cot and caught or sot and sought. Many from the list are homophonic, but many of them are not at least not the way I grew up speaking. Perhaps I'm not in one of those places or it's because I learned English and phonics in school and not at home where we spoke primarily Spanish.

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