18 The GOAT Lexical Set
goat is parallel to the face lexical set: they both can either be realized as a or as a , and in many accents, the two sets match in that regard.
A goes from wherever the nucleus starts to a close coda. The most common type of goat is a narrow closing diphthong, where the nucleus of the diphthong is frequently mid-close [o ~ ɤ], which then off-glides towards [ʊ̯ ~ u̯]. The second most common diphthong option is for a centralized or fronted closing diphthong, which begins with a nucleus more in the range of [æ ~ ɛ ~ ə ~ ɜ], but still offgliding to the nearly back nearly close non-syllabic vowels of [ʊ̯ ~ u̯ ~ ɵ̯ ~ ʉ̯]. Finally, in the islands of the Caribbean we get an , where the offglide is more open than the nucleus. These are realized with pronunciations such as we see in broader Jamaican accents, such as [uɔ̯ ~ ʊʌ̯].
There are many accents where goat is a monophthong in all settings, and its quality is typically in the area of [o ~ ɔ]. But even in accents where goat is primarily a diphthong, it can also be a monophthong, either in very short words said at high speed, such as boat, or in unstressed syllables. Fo example, a word like prorogue, e.g. [pɹoˈɹoʊ̯ɡ], might have a monophthong for the first, unstressed syllable and a diphthong for the second, stressed syllable.
goat can be in both Free and Checked syllables, both stressed and unstressed. Many goat vowels in unstressed syllables are the result of compound words, such as lifeboat, raincoat, prefixes like O’- as in Irish surnames such as O’Neill, or pro- as in profess, or suffixes like -scope as in horoscope or telescope. Though in some accents unstressed goat can reduce from a diphthong to a monophthong, it some it cannot.
- 🕊 Free: does not require a following consonant, and can exist on its own, e.g. row
- in stressed and unstressed syllables
Wells, in devising the goat Lexical Set, created two subgroups that correspond to spellings; those spellings relate to historical pronunciations, and those, in turn, relate to contemporary accent varieties that haven’t yet merged the two historical subsets into one.
goat Ⓐ: ‹o, oCe, oa, oo, eau, auCe›, as in so, toe, host, road, brooch, beau, mauve which was /ɔ/ before the Great Vowel Shift (GVS), which was done by 1600;
goat Ⓑ: ‹ow, ol, ew, ough›, as in owe, grow, roll, old, sew, dough which was the diphthong /ɔu/ before the GVS. Some writers have suggested snow as an alternate Lexical Set Keyword for goat Ⓑ.
Also, Wells identified words associated with a following /r/ (or even a vowel-formerly-known-as-/r/, as we get with non-rhotic accents), that begin with a vowel that is parallel to goat, which he called the force Lexical Set.
Across all accents, the nucleus of the goat lexical set is pronounced with a broad range of vowels, either rounded [o ~ ɵ ~ ɔ ~ ɒ], or unrounded [ɤ ~ ʌ ~ ə ~ ɐ] with an offglide towards /w/, typically [ʊ̯], and sometimes with more closure—what I call more “bite,” as if you’re biting down on the diphthong—towards [u̯]; for diphthongs with unrounded nuclei, these may have unrounded offglides such as [ɨ ~ ɯ] for more close diphthongs, or [ɘ ~ ɤ] for more open ones.
The following chart offers lots of possible articulations of closing diphthongs to experiment with. Note: there is no symbol for an unrounded version of the [ʊ] vowel. I’ve used [ʊ̜̯], which here means we want a fully unrounded fairly-close, fairly-back vowel. (Thank you, Lemony Snicket!)
Jamaican and other varieties of English from the Caribbean—while often having monophthongal [o], especially in prestige varieties—can have an Opening Diphthong for goat, with [uɔ̯ ~ ʊʌ̯], especially in Jamaican Patois.
For monophthong pronunciations, which can be heard in regions of the north of the US, rural Canada, and more frequently in the north of England, parts of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, in Indian and African Englishes, and other varieties from around the globe, the range is [o̝ ~ o ~ o̞ ~ ɔ̝ ~ ɔ ~ ɵ]. It has the potential for length, so in many transcription schemes it’s marked with a long diacritic, e.g. [oː].
Since 1600, most accents have had a merger of goat Ⓐ and Ⓑ. However, in some accents that merger never took place, and so they have a monophthong for goat Ⓐ, and a diphthong for goat.
Personal Pronunciation: Preparation
Before we dig into the nucleus of your goat diphthong, let’s just ascertain that you don’t have any variation within the 2 subsets of goat. Are the following minimal pairs the same, or different?
goat Ⓐ vs. goat Ⓑ: groan/grown, road/rowed, ode/owed, no/know, Oh/owe, so/sew, toe/tow
If they match: you have a merger, and so you get to explore a new pronunciation when we get to Alternate Pronunciations. It’s easy to identify through spelling which words belong in which subset, so you probably won’t have as much trouble identifying how and when to avoid your personal merger when working on an accent where the subsets are distinct.
If they don’t match: you don’t have the goat merger, and so you’re lucky that you have the instinctual ability to distinguish between the two sets. You’ll want to practice making the subsets match, but that’s pretty easy to do. As we go through the Personal Pronunciation review below you’ll need to do it twice: once for goat Ⓐ, and once for goat Ⓑ. This is likely to be pretty quick, as the nucleus of your diphthong is likely to be the vowel quality of your monophthong!
Personal Pronunciation: Articulation Options
First let’s identify whether you have a monophthong, a diphthong, or possibly both, if goat Ⓐ and Ⓑ don’t match (see Personal Pronunciation: Preparation above). Say the following words slowly, and try to feel/hear whether your goat vowel moves in the direction of /w/:
goat Ⓐ: go, foe, boast, note,
goat Ⓑ: row, Stowe, poll, mold=mould, though
Note that the diphthong is a subtle shift, a slight closing by raising the back of your tongue up toward the roof of your mouth. If you do have a monophthong, it is more likely that goat Ⓐ will have it than goat Ⓑ, but it is certainly possible for them both to be a monophthong!
These is one other check we should do here: do you have monophthonging before a voiceless consonant? This is quite common in many parts of North America. Let’s check:
+ voiceless C/ + voiced C: note/node, tote/toad, rope/robe, ochre/ogre, gross/grows
The former will likely be significantly shorter than the latter. Here is an occasion where a recording might make it easier to discern whether you have a diphthong on such a short vowel sound; a spectrogram might make it even easier, though you would want to be sure to speak both words on the same pitch, so that that doesn’t distract you from hearing whether there is a change in vowel quality.
Perhaps a simpler and more accessible option would be to video your mouth (or look in a mirror!) as you say these pairs: can you see your mouth closing, your tongue raising?
Monophthong or Closing Diphthong: Now that we know whether you have a diphthong or a monophthong, let’s try to figure out what the specific of your goat monophthong, or the nucleus of your diphthong is. (If your accent is from the Caribbean and you think you don’t have a monophthong or a closing diphthong, jump down to “Opening Diphthong” below to explore your sound.) The beginning of goat may have lip rounding, but it certainly doesn’t have to. Begin by exploring the 15th letter of the alphabet: O. If it’s a diphthong, lengthen the nucleus, the beginning of the diphthong; if it’s a monophthong, just hang out there for a moment. If your pitch drops as you say it, it can help to intone the sound on one “note” or pitch so you don’t get distracted by the change of melody. You could use a word like hoe, or repeat the words above. Use an audio or video recorder to experiment on your own, or work with a classmate, friend, coach or teacher to identify how goat in your speech compares with goat in others’ speech. Next, subtly shift goat around in the vowel space in tiny increments —up, forwards, down, and back—before falling away to your offglide if you have one. You should feel the top surface of the back of your tongue moving delicately up and down as you experiment while keeping your tongue tip behind your lower front teeth. (However, as there are far fewer nerves at the back of the tongue, it may be much harder to discern what’s going on here than on a front phoneme like face or mouth.) Notice how the back of your tongue moves towards/away from your soft palate/velum and uvula, making more or less space in the back of your mouth.
Rounded Back variation: Explore the vertical dimension with your lips rounding forward, from [o̝], sliding through [o, o̞, ɔ̝, ɔ, ɔ̞, ɒ̝, ɒ, ɒ̞], etc., slowly moving lower and more open: can you find your starting place? Once you’ve locked onto it, rock up and down, above and below, more close, more open. Where is your starting spot? Compare goat with rounded thought and lot (compare tote with taut and tot ), and see how great the contrast is between the nuclei of these vowel sounds.
Unrounded Back variation: Explore the vertical dimension with your lips relaxed (at least to begin with—you may find yourself rounding on the offglide), from [ɤ̝], sliding through [ɤ, ɤ̞, ʌ̝, ʌ, ʌ̞, ɑ̝, ɑ, ɑ̞], etc. slowly moving lower and more open. Try to find where your goat sound begins. Once you’re sure of where it is, shift the value of it up and down very slightly, above and below, more open, more close. Be confident in where yours is and isn’t. Compare goat with unrounded strut and palm (compare boat with butt and baht), and with rounded thought and lot (compare tote with taut and tot ), and see how great the contrast is between the nuclei of these vowel sounds.
Unrounded Central variation: Explore the vertical dimension with your lips relaxed (though for a diphthong your lips may round forward at the end), from the quite close [ɘ̝] sliding down through [ɘ, ɘ̞, ə̝, ə, ə̞, ɜ̝, ɜ, ɜ̞, ɐ̝, ɐ, ɐ̞], etc. slowly moving lower and more open. Is it possible that your goat vowel is actually more fronted than Central? If so, start with [e̝], and then slide down through [e, e̞, ɛ̝, ɛ, ɛ̞, æ̝, æ, æ̞], etc. slowly moving lower and more open. Where does goat begin for you? Got a sense of it? Good! Then, shift the value of it up and down very slightly, above and below, more open, more close. Be confident in where yours is and isn’t. Compare goat with unrounded nurse, strut and palm (compare boat with butt and baht), or with dress and trap (compare boat with bet and bat), and see how great the contrast is between the nuclei of these vowel sounds.
Opening Diphthong: You have an opening diphthong if your mouth opens—i.e. there is more space between the top surface of your tongue and the roof of your mouth—while you say the goat vowel. (Just because someone is from the West Indies does not guarantee that they will have this variation! Many folks from the Caribbean have a monophthong or closing diphthong instead.) Explore the following words to see whether this opening quality happens equally on all words: goat Ⓐ: go, foe, boast, note; goat Ⓑ: row, owe, poll, mold=mould, though. Pick the word that has the greatest shift from the beginning to the end of the vowel. Now, lengthen the beginning of your diphthong and try to figure out where it begins. Subtly shift goat around in the vowel space—up, forwards, down, and back—in tiny movements, before falling away to the second half of your diphthong. Try to feel the top surface of the front of your tongue moving delicately up and down as you experiment while keeping your tongue tip behind your lower front teeth. Notice how the blade of your tongue moves towards/away from your alveolar ridge and hard palate, making more or less space in the front of your mouth. Explore the vertical dimension from [u̝], sliding through [u, u̞, ʊ̝, ʊ, ʊ̞], etc., slowly moving lower and lower: can you find your starting place? Once you’ve locked onto it, rock up and down, above and below, more close, more open. Where is your starting spot? Compare goat with goose and foot (compare boat with boot and book), and see how great the contrast is between the nuclei of these vowel sounds.
Offglide: If you have an offglide, let’s focus on that now. Where do you end? Due to the rather indistinct nature of vowels in the mid-central zone and the reduced quality of the offglide, which is much quieter than the nucleus, this is much harder to ascertain. When speakers focus on their offglide they often over-emphasize it; when they are being more emphatic, they may resort to a more extreme articulation of the offglide, and in distorting it, could easily miss the true nature of its vowel quality.
It might be worth recording some words at regular speed and then using software (such as the free Audacity app) to slow down the word to see what you do. It’s always best to put the word you’re exploring in the middle of a phrase when you do this, as words at the beginning or end of a phrase can be affected by prosodic effects. Something like “The word ____ is interesting” is likely to get you an undistorted pronunciation.
For closing diphthongs, this vowel will be quite close, in the range of [u] or [ʊ]. It might also be somewhat reduced, toward the middle of the mouth or mid-centralized [ʊ̽], or slightly further centralized [ʉ ~ ɵ] or centralized but unrounded [ɨ ~ ɘ]. For opening diphthongs, this vowel will be more open, usually in the range of [o ~ ɔ], or unrounding as it goes to [ɤ ~ ʌ].
Transcribing goat: Decide which vowel symbol best suits the nucleus of goat in your speech:
|Rounded Back||Unrounded Back||Central|
|Narrow Closing Diphthong:||[o, ɔ]||[ɤ, ʌ]||[ɵ, ɘ, ə]|
|Wide Closing Diphthong:||[ɒ]||[ɑ]||[ɜ, ɐ, ɛ]|
|Opening Diphthong:||[u, ʊ]||—||—|
If your goat nucleus is… (use whichever vowel symbol is appropriate for you)
- high, use the raised diacritic [ o̝ ], a small T pointing up
- open, use the lowered diacritic [ o̞ ], a small T pointing down
- pushed forward, use the advanced diacritic [ o̟ ], a tiny plus sign +
- pulled back, use the retracted diacritic [ o̠ ], a tiny minus sign –
- if you add lip-spreadinɡ, use the lip spreadinɡ diacritic [ o͍], a tiny two-headed arrow, which represents the lips spreading left and right
- having only minimal lip-rounding, use the unrounded diacritic [o̜]
If you have a closing goat diphthong, your coda might be rounded
- close back, so use a lower-case u, [ u̯ ]
- near-close near-front, so use a upsilon, [ ʊ̯ ]
- somewhat mid-centralized, so use an upsilon with a “x” diacritic, [ ʊ̯̽ ]
- close central, so use a barred u, [ʉ̯]
- mid-close central, so use a barred o, [ɵ̯]
If you have a closing goat diphthong, your coda might be unrounded
- close back, so use a lower-case u, [ ɯ̯ ]
- near-close near-back, so use a upsilon with an “unrounded” diacritic [ ʊ̜̯ ]
- somewhat mid-centralized, so use an upsilon with a “x” diacritic, [ ʊ̯̽ ]
- close central, so use a barred i, [ɨ̯]
- mid-close central, so use a flipped e, [ɘ̯]
If you have an opening goat diphthong, your offglide might be
- mid-close rounded, so use a lower-case o, [o̯]
- mid-close unrounded, so use a ram’s horns, [ɤ̯]
- mid-open rounded, so use an open o, [ɔ̯]
- mid-open unrounded, so use a “hut”/turned v, [ʌ̯]
Experiment with the goat Word Lists, Phrases and Sentences with the following (unrounded) goat options:
As you move the vowels in these directions, see whether that modified oral posture might inspire you to move the articulation of consonants and other vowels in the word in similar ways. Does it remind you of an accent other than your own?
Word Lists for goat in a Free Syllable, at the end of a word
KEY: ◾︎ goat in stressed syllable ◽︎ goat in unstressed syllable
Word Lists for goat, sorted by the consonant that follows
KEY: ◾︎ goat in stressed syllable ◽︎ goat in unstressed syllable
- Don’t go home.
- Row, row, row your boat.
- Moan and groan on the phone.
- Toby’s bespoke smoking jacket.
- Onyesha loves coconut crab from Mozambique.
- Moe totaled the Toyota he got in Tokyo.
- If I sew the rosehips, will they grow?
- The Edo shogunate lay siege to Osaka.
- I was thrown by your iPhone’s ringtone.
- Sophie went clothes-shopping in Barcelona.
- Tyrone and Logan are in a romantic relationship.
- Can Jodie do yoga poses in the snow?
- When does José go to Oman?
- The sparrows and the swallows on the magnolia.
- James Earl Jones played Othello and Oberon.
Short with 2-3 words, underlined
- For Halloween, we made ghost-shaped meatloaf with mashed potatoes.
- Tony went to Rome with Shosh.
- Her coach motivated her to go for broke.
- Phone ahead to get a quote on the hotel room.
- The protestors voted to disrupt the keynote.
Short with 4-5 words, underlined
- Odysseus*’s role in the Trojan War is described in the epic poem The Odyssey
- The theologian opined about the Holy Ghost.
- Los Lobos did a show in Oklahoma.
- Snowboarders love the powder at Niseko United, the most well-known resort on Hokkaido.
- Mo’Nique was the host of Showtime at the Apollo.
Medium with 3-4 words, not underlined
- Do you know when Oprah was on the cover of Vogue?
- Stockholm syndrome* made the hostage connect emotionally with his captors.
- O’Malley drove the stagecoach to deliver the post.
- Beau left his bros to go get his Oakleys.
- Noah knows no one from Cambodia.
Hard with 4-6 words, not underlined
- Jerome spent his 5 euro note on the snow globe.
- We got good photos of mountain goats and coyotes in Yellowstone.
- My heroes, Nolan and Joelle, co-parented through COVID and chemo.
- We got great goat roti in Scarborough on our trip to Tobago.
- Joseph went home to Aroland First Nation in northern Ontario to learn Oji-Cree.
goatⒶ –goatⒷ (toe–tow) Merger: Though goat Ⓐ and Ⓑ merged for many varieties of English around 1600—known colloquially as the toe–tow merger—there are still a few regional accents where they are not merged. East Anglia, South Wales, and some parts of the North of England are reported to lack the merger; historical Norfolk English also used to lack the merger. In these cases, goat Ⓐ <aCe> is pronounced with the monophthong pronunciation, e.g. [o], while goat Ⓑ <ai, ay, ei, ey, aig(h), eig(h)> has the diphthong pronunciation, e.g. [oʊ̯].
If you have this merger, then try to differentiate the goat Ⓐ [o] from the goat Ⓑ [oʊ̯]words in this sentence.
goat Ⓐ vs. goat Ⓑ: groan/grown, moan/mown, toe/tow, doe/dough, throne/thrown
- I groaned and moaned because the grass had grown and needed to be mown.
- I was thrown off when I stubbed my toe while towing the throne.
- The old folks’ home was the focus of Sherlock Holmes’ investigation.
- I showed my brother the new episode of this show and he instantly went to download it and followed all the cast members.
- My tomatoes were chosen as the best and most well known in show!
goat–force–(north) Merger: In areas of the world where force (and north, if they are merged, though often they are not) is non-rhotic, and where goat is a monophthong, it is possible to have this merger, often with [o]. This is the case in Jamaican prestige varieties, as well as non-rhotic varieties in Guyana. While Wikipedia suggests that this (and includes thought in the merger, too) is a feature of some accents in the north of England, I have not been able to fact-check which ones.
If you have this merger, you can try two options for variety’s sake:
- keep goat as it is, mid-close and monophthongal, and open up force to mid-open [ɔ]
- keep force as it is, and try goat as a diphthong, [oʊ̯].
If you don’t have this merger, you can experiment with making the following homophones with [o] or [ɔ].
goat–force-(north) minimal pairs/homophones include so=sew/sore, moan/mourn, coat/court, potent/portent, hoed/hoard, poke/pork, poach/porch, tone/torn, potion/portion.
- As you poach the eggs on the porch, please poke the pork sausages, too!
- They drank the portion of the potent potion in response to the portent of the prophecy.
- There was a loud tone to signal a storm, but soon our camp was being blown and torn even though we secured it with stones!
- I had to sew my coat with my sore hand after I slipped and fell in the courtyard.
goat–goal Split: The keyword “goal” has been suggested as an alternate keyword for goat Ⓑ + /l/ or /lC/, as in toll, told which in London—and many parts of the south of England—is pronounced [ɒʊ̯ɫ], in contrast to goat which is [ʌʊ̯]. (Wells called this the “goat Split.”) Note that it isn’t easy for a non-native speaker to identify when goat + /l/ makes the switch to “goal”, or does not. Things are further complicated because the /l/ in this setting is vocalized: it’s pronounced as a vowel in the range of [o ~ ɤ ~ u ~ ɯ]. When in the verb/gerund form, e.g. polling, the vocalized /l/ returns to its “clear/light L” pronunciation, which in turn can change the root of the word back from goal to goat. When followed by a word beginning with a vowel, such as poll update, a similar situation can occur. Some words seem to have rejected the shift—compare goal roller with goat polar (which should logically shift to goal due to its connection to the north or south pole, but doesn’t).
If you have two separate goat/goal sets, try the pairs and sentences below first without the vocalized /l/. Then try merging the sets either matching the goal words to your pronunciation of goat, or the other way around.
If you don’t have two sets, they try to split them with [ɐʊ̯/ɒʊ̆ɫ] or with the vocalized /l/ as [ɐʊ̯/ɒɯ].
goat–goal minimal pairs/homophones include show/shoal, goes/goals, doe (deer)/dole, vote/volt, rose/roles=rolls, pose/poles, coat/colt, code/cold.
Put your coat on and strike a pose by colt near the poles.
It shows that your goals—of swimming in the shoals or petting a doe while on the dole—are dumb!
- Note that verb forms, such as “rolling,” where the final /l/ becomes intervocalic, and therefore takes a “clear/light L,” can revert to the goat pronunciation. Similarly, when a goal word is followed by a word beginning with a vowel as in “roll out,” it too can revert to the goat pronunciation. ↵
- see pp. 312-313 Accents of English 2 for more details. ↵
A vowel that changes state over time, gliding from one vowel quality (and mouth shape) to another. From Greek diphthongos "having two sounds," from di- "double" + phthongos "sound, voice."
A single vowel segment that is "steady-state," i.e. that does not change. The opposite of a diphthong (2 sounds) or triphthong (3 sounds).
A diphthong where the mouth/tongue closes from the nucleus (which is more open) to the coda (which is more close). The opposite is an opening diphthong.
A diphthong where the second component (offglide or coda) is more open than the first component (nucleus). Most English accents feature Closing Diphthongs, that move towards /j/ or /w/ (though usually never quite making it all the way there.)
The sound of a particular vowel which result from the positions of the vocal tract, including tongue, the lips, and the velum, as well as the pharynx, and larynx (to a lesser degree) during its articulation.
A consonant that is between two vowels; another word for "medial".