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In most American English dialects with the father/bother merger, the bother vowel (originally /ɔ/) unrounds, lowers, and merges into the father vowel (originally /ɑ/), with the end result being /ɑ/, the same as the original father vowel.

However, in the particular Central Massachusetts dialect that I grew up speaking, while the father/bother merger still takes place, it doesn't do so in the usual manner. Instead of both vowels merging to /ɑ/, the father vowel undergoes what I'm going to term (for lack of having found a preexisting term in the literature) a father/bra split, with words in the bra group retaining /ɑ/, and the vowel in the remaining father group rounding and merging to /ɔ/, the same as the original bother vowel.1

The words in the ''bra'' group consist entirely or almost entirely of a combination of

  • [At-least-relatively-]Recent loans, like bra, mach, Nazi, and spa.
  • Words where the vowel in question is immediately followed by /ɹ/ without an intervening syllable break, like star.2

I haven't had any luck in trying to find out how wide of an area exhibits the father/bra split; does anyone here have information handy on the geographic distribution of this feature in AmE?


1: In the specific dialect that I picked up, this rounded father/bother vowel also merges with the caught vowel, resulting in a three-way back-vowel merger with /ɔ/ as its endpoint, but that's a tangentially-separate issue.

2: This second subset of the bra group escapes the merger because almost all AmE dialects, including the one I grew up with, are allergic to /ɔɹ/ occurring in a closed syllable.

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  • What are examples of the second subset?
    – Nardog
    Dec 9, 2022 at 9:47
  • baer, bore, born or borne? I'm not sure I understand the discussion (wiktionary) because it says nothing of the change from past tense OE bær, ME bar, ber, ModE bore or (archaic) bare, non-standard pret. and pp. baered.
    – vectory
    Dec 10, 2022 at 9:37
  • Anyway, this seems like on-topic for the English stack.
    – vectory
    Dec 10, 2022 at 9:38

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