Known Changes in Pacific Northwest English


Early evidence of this merger was reported by Reed (1952), making it a change that has been underway for some time in the region. Click the links labeled COT_CAUGHT, working from the top of the chart to the bottom to hear the progression of this merger by age of speaker. (Other word pairs showing loss of this distinction are COM~CALM, DON~DAWN). Linguists believe this merger began earlier than the other two patterns described on this page. So, even the older speakers in the sample nearly merge these vowels.


The youngest generation of speakers (bottom of the table) show two patterns with regard to this distinction: in the first, speakers delete the vowel entirely, pronouncing a long “l” sound (but no vowel at all) as the nucleus of the syllable (represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet as [l̩]). In the second, they pronounce the vowels in both words with a quality intermediate to that of other regions between [o] and [ʊ̞]. Younger speakers in the Pacific Northwest show similarity to speakers from other parts of the West (mainly California). Compare with California data published by Prof. Penelope Eckert, a linguist at Stanford University.

BEG vs. Bag

Whereas these vowels are pronounced distinctly in much of the US, speakers in the PNW produce both vowels, when occurring before “g,” with a quality that sounds close to the one that other North Americans use in “aye” words, as in BAKE or VAGUE. Take our Audio Quiz.

Click Here to hear the sound changes in the Pacific Northwest.

*--to learn about dialects that distinguish these vowels, interested readers may consult Labov, Ash and Boberg (2006).


Eckert, P. (2005) Date accessed: Nov. 25, 2011.

Labov, W., Ash, S. and Boberg, C. (2006) The Phonological Atlas of North America. Mouton de Gruyter.

Reed, C. (1952) The pronunciation of English in the state of Washington. American Speech, 27(3): 186-189.