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Why the phonetic /ɔ/ is related to the phonetic /ɑ/ and the phonetic /oʊ/ at the same time even though they're totally different in pronunciation?

/ɔ/&/ɑ/ /ɔ/ Awesome, autumn, Australia, Talk, walk /ɑ/ arm, farm, bar, hard, father, art, large, far

/ɔ/&/oʊ/ /ɔ/ All, or, horse, north, order, morning /oʊ/ Note, most, hope, Home, Boat

2 Answers 2

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The first thing that you should note is that the transcriptions (from dictionary.com) are sometimes in error. Example, top in the provided recording does not have the vowel [ɒ], in fact they seem a bit confused over [ɒ]. Interestingly, they offer one recording but two different transcriptions for dog. It is true that there are different pronunciations of dog, as you can hear in the Merriam Webster recordings. I think the engine underlying dictionary.com harvested ipa transcriptions, and there was no intervening linguist to decide if a certain transcription matched a particular recording. The MacMillan dictionary does match transcriptions and recordings, so compare stɔk "stalk" and stɑk "stock" – I "disagree" in that these are homophones in my dialect, but this is a classic example of the [ɔ / ɑ] contrast. They also correctly label the vowel "o" in smog as [ɑ] and the "o" in frog as [ɔ]. The MacMillan data is much more consistent.

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  • It would probably be naive to assume audio demonstrations on dictionary websites are meant to reflect the transcriptions they're placed next to. I bet they're taken from different pools of works and combined together indiscriminately more often than not.
    – Nardog
    Jun 13 at 1:50
  • I think that that's not the case with the professional dictionary publishers, but otherwise with web-only entities, that are literally scraping the bottom of the web barrel.
    – user6726
    Jun 13 at 4:12
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Dialect differences.

In many dialects, especially non-rhotic ones, the vowels in NORTH and THOUGHT are the same. In others, NORTH is more similar to GOAT.

This dictionary seems to be based on the first sort of dialect, while I'm guessing you speak the second sort.

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