Friday, 30 July 2010

gut, foot, hoot

Warren Maguire’s website has a nice map of the British Isles showing preliminary results of his survey of answers to the question
Which of the words gut, foot and hoot rhyme for you?

The coloured dots on his map nicely display the distribution in the country of the three typical setups. In Scotland and Northern Ireland foot and hoot rhyme (the ‘Scottish’ system, blue dots). Everywhere else they don’t. In the north of England foot and gut rhyme (the ‘Northern’ system, yellow dots). In the south of England, and in non-Scottish, non-Northern English in general, none of the three rhyme (the ‘Southern’ system, red dots).
’Scottish’  ʌuublue
’Northern’  ʊʊyellow
’Southern’  ʌʊred

Because people were allowed to give more than one answer, there are also mixed possibilities, as in Warren’s own Northern Irish speech, in which (green dots) foot can rhyme either with gut (fʌt-ɡʌt) or with hoot (fʉt-hʉt), but presumably not both at once.

These keywords represent my own lexical sets STRUT, FOOT, and GOOSE. I didn’t choose gut as a keyword, even though it’s a commoner word than strut, because I judged that one speaker’s gut could well be confused with another speaker’s got.


  1. In Scottish English, isn't the vowel in 'foot' and 'hoot' /y/? I know I've gotten confused about whether Scottish speakers were saying 'pull' or 'pool', or 'Julian' or 'Jillian'.

  2. Andrew, as usual the phonetic symbols are indicative only. The relevant question is whether or not things rhyme. Scottish FOOT-GOOSE can range over [u, ʉ, y] (and in Scots, as opposed to Scottish English, there are further possibilities for foot such as [ɪ, ø]). Similarly, northern STRUT-FOOT can range over [ʊ, ɤ, ə].

  3. Does anyone know how comes there's a FOOT-STRUT split in Scotland and southern England but not in northern England, if they come from the same Middle English phoneme? Did the split in Scotland and that in southern England arise independently of each other (and if so, how come their results are so similar)? Did they split everywhere but then merged back only in northern England? Did the split originate in southern England and diffused to Scotland (or the other way round) through massive migrations?

  4. army,
    You seem to realize that it is never likely to be the ends that part company with the middle, but the middle that parts company with the ends. Typically the FOOT comes from a lexically (and lexico-geographically) determined reduction of a long uː that had previously been a long 'o' represented by the double 'o', and the STRUT from an original short 'u' which more or less kept its value in northern England, where it collided with the reduced 'oo' in FOOT. So they did not come from the same Middle English phoneme, but if northern England stuck with the original value of the short 'u', I too wonder how it came about that the middle kept it and the ends parted company in such similar directions.

  5. The similarity between the Scottish Standard English and Southern British English systems is the result of the special origins of SSE which, to simplify somewhat, is essentially an L2 (or D[ialect]2 if you prefer) variety of English which developed in the 17th and 18th centuries as a result of the application, by upper and middle-class Scots, of Southern (Standard) English lexical incidence to Scots phonetic realisation and the Scots phonemic system(s). Have a look at the Edinburgh Companion to Scots and Jack Aitken's and Paul Johnston's chapters in the old and new editions of Language in the British Isles for an outline.

  6. Oh yes of course. I forgot. These days I'm starting to wonder whether it's even worth trying to remember.

  7. I used 'gut' rather than 'strut' as I felt it was a more familiar word, and to avoid the /r/ in 'strut' which might perhaps have been a distraction in the judgement task or have led to slight difference in the vowel quality.

    I originally used 'boot' rather than 'hoot', but then someone from County Durham told me they had /ʊ/ in 'boot' as well. There's not too many everyday -oot words with a definite /uː/ in most varieties of English, and I wanted to avoid -ute words (which are potentially different in Wales for example). So 'hoot' it was, although I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are some people out there with /ʊ/ in it as well.

    And a few of the Scottish respondents had a three-way distinction, not as a result of having the 'Southern' system, but as a result of having Scots variants. But most of them were 'Southern' system I suspect, given their other responses (which is not surprising given the demographic of the respondents).

    It goes without saying that this research (and most of the research I do) is heavily indebted to John's seminal Accents of English.

  8. I wonder whether the fairly frequent appearance of the "Southern" system in northern England also occurs with the trap/bath split; I would guess not.

  9. 'enry 'iggins30 July 2010 23:35

    @ JHJ: As John said in his seminal Accents of English, you can find no split of TRAP and BATH much higher up the social scale than the STRUT-FOOT merger, so my guess would also be that many of the speakers with the Southern system in the North on this map would not have the TRAP-SPLIT. You probably already knew that though.

    On a different note, I'm always unclear on the situation in Ireland outside of Ulster when it comes to this variable, even after looking at this map. It seems very mixed.

  10. 'enry 'iggins30 July 2010 23:38

    "TRAP-SPLIT" -----> TRAP-BATH split
    I make a lot of mistakes for someone with my name.

  11. Fascinating. It would be even more fun if we could see this map move over time. Will the red dots win this competition and take over the land or will the green dots rise up from obscurity perhaps? Or those blue dots, maybe the blue dots will stretch out. Place your bets, people.

  12. Taking the linguistic North of England (based on a number of phonological features including majority gut=foot, gas=pass) to include Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire (at least the northern bit where most responses came from), West Midlands Metropolitan County, Derbyshire, Cheshire, and everything northwards to the Scottish border, the figures are as follows:

    gut=foot: Always 72%, Sometimes 4%, Never 24%
    gas=pass: Always 92%, Sometimes 4%, Never 4%
    (see my website for explanation of the terms)

    i.e. The TRAP-BATH split is much less common than the STRUT-FOOT split in the north.

    'enry - you're right, the picture from Ireland is less clear, probably because of the low number of responses and the fact that these two features seem to be social variables as much as geographical variables there.

    Glen - good point. It is just about possible to construct a series of maps based upon the birth decade of respondents, giving a picture of change in apparent time. But the sample is very much skewed to people born in the 70s and 80s, so the patterns for older cohorts aren't very clear. I did this for the question relating to TH-fronting, and you can just about make out a massive and pretty rapid expansion of the feature from people born in the 70s onwards.

    Herzog's Principle might lead us to expect, all other things being equal, that unconditioned distinctions wouldn't spread. But all other things aren't equal, and they sometimes do.

  13. Oh, and Staffordshire of course.

  14. When I was a little boy in Nottingham, I think I was aware that there were two camps who pronounced the BATH in two ways. I was in one camp and my schoolmates were in the other. But the other vowel caught me unaware.

    One day I came home from school and said kʊm instead of kʌm.

    WHAT DO YOU MEAN 'kʊm'? she cried in credible, but no doubt simulated, horror.

    For my family in the 1940's, observing the TRAP-BATH split was taken for granted as a social marker, but the STRUT-FOOT split presented social genuine danger.

  15. @Warren: thanks for the figures.

    I'm a FOOT/STRUT splitter but not TRAP/BATH, not because of any deliberate effort: it was just how I learnt to speak. My STRUT is relatively high and rounded, so I hear unsplit speakers' FOOT as STRUT as often as the other way round (and find the southerners' habit of writing "oo" when representing northern STRUT irritating...).