Monday 18 February 2013

phonetic exercises - no. 1 (minimal sets)

This is going to be an irregular series of exercises in phonetics of varying degrees of difficulty. Today I'd like to start with minimal sets (or commutation series). If you're unshore what such sets/series are, take a quick look at my blog of the 13th of February 2013 first.

Here we go then!

Ex. 1: Find as many CVC words (i.e. monosyllabic words with any initial consonant, the monophthong /ɒ/ and the final consonant /t/. The accent assumed is GB (= General British). You should have at least 10 words in this set. I found 14 - beat me!

Ex. 2: The syllable structure is CVC again; this time the initial C is /n/ and the final C is /t/. The vowel (either mono- or diphthong) varies. Can you find more than 6? I have 9.

Here are my solutions: (press the left mouse button and highlight the area below this line)

Ex. 1:
cot – dot – got – hot – not – lot – motte – pot – rot – shot – sot – tot – what – yacht 

Ex. 2: gnat – knit – knot – net – nut – knight – naught – knout – note


  1. I have 15 for single consonant plus /ɒt/, actually 16, but for that last one I needed the OED to confirm.

    12 for the /n/ + vowel + /t/, one of them a (rather common) name, and one an alternative (but still RP) pronunciation of another. The latter again courtesy of the OED.

    1. Cheating with a bit of research, I just found two more for the first pattern - one really very marginal, and one more for the second, also not all too common, so 17 and 13, resp.

  2. I get 13 for the first one.

    For the second one, I get 14 although one is an anagram. Do they count?

    1. Are you counting homophones separately?

    2. No, I did not. I should've known this rule from the subject of the post.

    3. Awfully sorry - I misunderstood you, just saw your list further down.

  3. Ed and Lipman: Your solutions, please!

    1. 1. bot
      2. cot
      3. dot
      4. got
      5. hot
      6. jot
      7. lot
      8. not
      9. mot (OED, several still in use, eg 'girlfriend')
      10. pot
      11. rot
      12. sot
      13. shot
      14. tot
      15. what
      16. yacht
      17. phot (tried and found it online, didn't think of it)
      (18.) xat (çɒt)

      Can't think of any for zero, tʃ, v, z, θ, ð, ʒ, (x, ŋ).

      1. gnat
      2. knit, nit
      3. not, knot
      4. naught/nought
      5. neat
      6. net
      7. nut
      8. Nate (proper name)
      9. night, knight
      10. note
      11. knout (GOOSE)
      12. knout (MOUTH, alternative pronunciation as per the OED)
      13. naat (searched, didn't know that one)


    2. Forgot to mention: I didn't find any for the triphthongs either, for those who have them distinct from other RP vowels.

      The marginal çɒt could, in theory, be resolved as a phonologically less marginal /hjɒt/. I didn't include other yod combinations as they're not typical merged into new sounds; newt = /njuːt/, not /ɲuːt/.

    3. Lipman, don't worry about 3-phthongs; they were expressly excluded. The intial C in 'xat' is really a /ç/, not a velar fricative because of the velar V?

    4. You're probably right. According to the Merriam-Webster link it's, in their transcription, \ˈḵät\, and their pronunciation guide says, stupidly, \ḵ\ as ch in ich dien. Can't easily think of a worse example for [x], even though it's technically correct, with most Englishmen who don't use a stop pronouncing it with the velar fricative. The guide doesn't show another back fricative. What's wrong with "as in Loch Ness" or "as in German Bach"? :-)

    5. 13 on the first task:

      When I said yesterday that I got 14 on the second one, I was counting homophones separately. Re-evaluating, I got 9.

      Nat gnat
      neat NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training)
      night knight
      nit knit
      not knot

      Two cases that I considered and excluded:
      1 "newt". This is said as /nɪut/ or /nu:t/ in many parts of the English-speaking world, but LPD only gives /nju:t/ for RP so I decided that it would be cheating to include this.
      2 "nowt". This is listed separately from "naught" in LPD with the pronunciations /naʊt/ and /nəut/ given. I decided that it was just an eye-dialect for "naught" and shouldn't be counted separately.

    6. I've always considered "nowt" a separate word (with the MOUTH vowel). My main childhood exposure to this word came from the Allinson's TV advertisement featuring the slogan: "Bread wi' Nowt Taken Out".

    7. In this area, "nowt" is pronounced [nɔʊt]. I think that this is a remnant of an earlier era where -ought words were pronounced with [ɔʊt]. For example, "brought" was [brɔʊt] across Yorkshire in the Survey of English Dialects. Perhaps the areas where it's pronounced /naʊt/ had the MOUTH vowel in -ought words.

      On the other hand, most people who use the word are unaware of this and, I expect, would consider it a separate word from "naught".

    8. I've now watched the video. That is very funny. Tom Allinson was from Manchester, so I'm not sure how he would've said the word.

  4. For _ɒt one could add:

    motte as an alternative to mot and possibly what (=ʍɒt) and arguably trot (with tr viewed as an affricate rather than a cluster)

    For n_t:
    I only have nett as an alternative to net and Nat as an alternative to gnat

    1. Yes, thought of those, but it depends on what inventory you're looking at (I haven't a ʍ in my everyday inventory, for example). In that case, we'd have what contrasting with watt (the unit of power).

    2. Zott is, apparently, a type of gypsy/Romani.

  5. For N_T I have
    * 9 common words (neat, knit, net, gnat, nut, not, note, naught, night)
    * Nate, a proper name (FACE)
    * nowt, which I would consider a relatively common dialectal word with the MOUTH vowel
    * naat, which I was unaware of until today (PALM)

    This gives us representation from 12 lexical sets.

    in addition, there are the following dubious possibilities, bringing us up to 16 lexical sets:
    * Nart, according to Wikipedia a set of sagas originating from the North Caucusus (START).
    * Nort -- apparently a male first name, and also one of "a fictional fascist enemy with Slavic and Germanic overtones from Rogue Trooper, a science fiction strip in the British comic 2000 AD, who are fighting the Southers" (Wikipedia) (NORTH).
    * nurt, defined by Urban Dictionary as "[a]n exclamation that alerts others to the presence of an unattractive person" (NURSE)
    * noot, allegedly the sound made by the animated character Pingu. Not sure whether it's supposed to be GOOSE or FOOT.