Spanish o / English ɔː ɒ

There are two types of [o] sound in English. Here are some examples:

 

sound_loud_speaker August is hot. /ˈɔːgəst/ /hɒt/

sound_loud_speaker A soft and warm cloth. /sɒft/ /wɔːm/ /klɒθ/

sound_loud_speaker He’s fond of talking. ǀ ˈfɒnd əv ˈtɔːkɪŋ ǀ

sound_loud_speaker There was always a long box on top of the wardrobe. /ˈɔːlweɪs/ /lɒŋ/ /bɒks/ /ɒn/ /tɒp/ /ˈwɔːdrəʊb/

 

Now let’s listen to the succession of [o] sounds in the last sentence:

sound_loud_speaker /ɔː/ /ɒ/  /ɒ/ /ɒ/ /ɒ/ /ɔː/

 

As can be seen in the examples, /ɔː/ and /ɒ/ differ in both quality and length and neither is exactly the same as the Spanish o.

 

Let’s analyze them separately:

 

ɔː This sound is long, with the mouth neither open nor closed but in the middle. The tongue is at the back. It’s interesting to check this by putting your finger inside the mouth and touch the tongue. The lips are loosely rounded.

  • How to do it? Say a very long o without opening much your mouth.
  • Spelling. There are many possibilities: a (also, walk), au (author), or (horse), ar (war), aw (paw), oa (abroad), our (four), ou (bought) among others.

 

ɒ This sound is short, with the mouth much more open. As in the previous case, the tongue is at the back.

  • How to do it? You can learn how to do this sound and notice the difference with the long o in two steps. 1. Start by producing an /ɔː/ and then lower your jaw with the aid of your hand. It must sound like this: sound_loud_speaker 2. Keep it short and you’ll have an /ɒ/: sound_loud_speaker
  • Spelling. 95% of the times it occurs as an o (lot, bottle, sorry, dog). In a number of cases it is spelled as a (want, watch, quality) and au (because, Australia). It  is also found exceptionally in two very common words as ou (cough) and ow (knowledge).

 

 

And here are some examples from real native speakers of English:

sound_loud_speaker You said you were daunted by the idea of working with her. I mean, you worked with a lot of great actors.  So, were you particular(l)y daunted by her (Kirsty Lang, BBC4).  /ˈdɔːntɪd/ /lɒt/

sound_loud_speaker We talked in bed for a quarter of an hour; then put out the light, got up again, donned our overcoats and socks, and tiptoed upstairs to the attic (Julian Barnes, reading from a story by Frank O’Connor, The New Yorker). /tɔːkt/ /ˈkɔːtə/ /gɒt/ /dɒnd/ /sɒks/

 

One final warning about length. As said in the introduction to vowel sounds, there is another element to be taken into account in order to determine the correct length of a vowel: the voicing of the consonant that follows it. The fact is that voiceless consonants cut the length of the preceding vowel. Consequently the /ɔː/ in warm  /wɔːm/ is longer than the /ɔː/ in walk  /wɔːk/ because /m/ is voiced whereas /k/ is voiceless. To have a full description of this phenomenon, plenty of examples, go to the pre-fortis clipping section.

 

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