cost / host / post -- a pronunciation rule behind it?

< Previous | Next >

yarique

Member
Ukrainian
Hi All,

After ~30 years of speaking English as a third language, I was still surprised to find out that, at least according to certain Australian native speakers, the vowel in 'cost' is to sound like that in 'lost' whereas the vowel in 'host' and 'post' is the same as that in 'most'—if you know what I'm speaking about. The whole issue came up when they didn't quite get my way of saying, 'cost'.

Quoting Oxford American Dictionary for those who can grok IPA:

cost: |kɒst|
lost: |lɒst|
host: |həʊst|
most: |məʊst|
post: |pəʊst|

Do you think it's just a historical thing to be memorized or there is a rule telling how an 'o' is to be pronounced in such one-syllable words?

Cheers,
Yarique
 
  • yarique

    Member
    Ukrainian
    This is my pronunciation too. I wasn't taught any sort of 'rule' about this and don't think there is one; when I was young I just copied the speech of adults and internalised the differences.
    Thanks mate! It's all right there is no rule about this; all languages have quirks for us learners to commit to our memory. :)
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Add frost with short o and ghost with long o, two more that come to mind, and there's pretty clearly no rule of the type 'nouns X, but adjectives Y'. They're varying etymologies too, so (without looking them all up) there's not even any historical sense to it. Add roast, coast, boast, toast and you also lose the possibility of a simple sound-to-spelling rule 'X and Y are both spelt Z'. Ukrainian at least is spelt sensibly. :)
     

    yarique

    Member
    Ukrainian
    Add frost with short o and ghost with long o, two more that come to mind, and there's pretty clearly no rule of the type 'nouns X, but adjectives Y'. They're varying etymologies too, so (without looking them all up) there's not even any historical sense to it.
    Just intuitively, I would hope to say 'frost' and 'ghost' right; but the pronunciation of 'cost' still left me surprised a bit--which is no problem; maybe it just was the only word of the group I had never heard from a native speaker.

    Add roast, coast, boast, toast and you also lose the possibility of a simple sound-to-spelling rule 'X and Y are both spelt Z'.
    Do you think any of the Xoast words is pronounced differently than the others?

    Ukrainian at least is spelt sensibly. :)
    Oh, this is true: we Ukrainians enjoy the benefit of a language recently codified, after it had finally been realized that unambiguous spelling had priority. The same way went Serbian and Spanish, to name a few. But Lord help them studying the grammar of those easy-to-spell languages! :)
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Do you think any of the Xoast words is pronounced differently than the others?
    As far as I know, they are all pronounced the same. According to onelook.com, the entire list of common words ending in "oast" is: accoast, boast, coast, discoast, milquetoast, oast, overroast, ribroast, roast, seacoast, and toast. Accoast and discoast are obsolete and I can't find pronunciations for them..
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Just intuitively, I would hope to say 'frost' and 'ghost' right; but the pronunciation of 'cost' still left me surprised a bit--which is no problem; maybe it just was the only word of the group I had never heard from a native speaker...
    I still don't know how you have been pronouncing 'cost'. In Britain 'cost' rhymes with 'lost'. As far as I know these two words rhymes in most varieties of English even if the vowel sound changes somewhat from area to area.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    There are two different reasons why you can't give a rule:
    - English, like most languages with phonemic vowel lengths written with the Latin alphabet, suffered from the beginning (7th century) from the deficiency of the Latin writing system that vowel length is not indicated.
    - English spelling has changed but little since the end of the 15th century and therefore many shifts in pronunciation, including length changes, are not reflected in spelling. To cost (​Middle English: costen) once rhymed with to boast (Middle English: bosten).
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    As far as I know, they are all pronounced the same. According to onelook.com, the entire list of common words ending in "oast" is: accoast, boast, coast, discoast, milquetoast, oast, overroast, ribroast, roast, seacoast, and toast. Accoast and discoast are obsolete and I can't find pronunciations for them..
    In Middle English <oa> gave the vowel that many speakers give to broad today /ɔ:/, and most were raised to /o:/ in the Great Vowel Shift and eventually /əʊ/ or /oʊ/. Broad is an exception.

    I still don't know how you have been pronouncing 'cost'. In Britain 'cost' rhymes with 'lost'. As far as I know these two words rhymes in most varieties of English even if the vowel sound changes somewhat from area to area.
    I assume yarique has been saying /kəʊst/ (like coast). I have heard a Russian speaker using that pronunciation before. In RP, the pronunciation is /kɒst/ but some older speakers might also say /kɔ:st/.
     

    yarique

    Member
    Ukrainian
    I assume yarique has been saying /kəʊst/ (like coast). I have heard a Russian speaker using that pronunciation before. In RP, the pronunciation is /kɒst/ but some older speakers might also say /kɔ:st/.
    I hope I had been saying /kəʊst/ until this mispronunciation on my part was finally caught and corrected by a native speaker.

    Thank you guys for an interesting discussion!
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    In RP, the pronunciation is /kɒst/ but some older speakers might also say /kɔ:st/.
    Really? Older or dialectal speakers? Before writing #8, I had checked a few historical pronouncing dictionaries and the "o" has been short for at least 200 years in standard language.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Really? Older or dialectal speakers? Before writing #8, I had checked a few historical pronouncing dictionaries and the "o" has been short for at least 200 years in standard language.
    Older, like those who say off as /ɔ:f/. Mentioned in Charles Barber, Early Modern English, p. 123

    ... both PresE /ɒ/ and PresE /ɔ:/ can be heard in words like broth, cost, and off, though forms with the long vowel now sound old-fashioned.
    (PresE = Present-Day English, preview available here)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Really? Older or dialectal speakers?
    Older RP speakers, bernd - or rather, speakers of older RP:).

    The British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' page on the vowel sounds of RP gives an example of this pronunciation of the word "lost": see under the side heading
    conservative RP
    CLOTH.

    EDIT: cross-posted with Nat
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    My grandmother pronounced "off" /ɔ:f/. The rest of her speech was not what you would call RP, so either this was a case of selective imitation of RP or this pronunciation was not confined to RP.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Older RP speakers, bernd - or rather, speakers of older RP:).

    The British Library's 'Sounds Familiar' page on the vowel sounds of RP gives an example of this pronunciation of the word "lost": see under the side heading
    conservative RP
    CLOTH.

    EDIT: cross-posted with Nat
    Ok, thank you. It was a misunderstanding of what was meant be the IPA-transcription /ɔː/ on my side then. It refers to the older realization of the "short o" as a medium long vowel as the Americans have retained it, e.g., in not /nɑt/ which contrasts with the fully long /ɑː/ in /fɑːðɚ/.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Ok, thank you. It was a misunderstanding of what was meant be the IPA-transcription /ɔː/ on my side then. It refers to the older realization of the "short o" as a medium long vowel as the Americans have retained it, e.g., in not /nɑt/ which contrasts with the fully long /ɑː/ in /fɑːðɚ/.
    Bernd, I am not sure if you are implying that the vowel in the British Library's recording of the RP pronunciation of the word "lost" is the same as the American pronunciation of the vowel in "not". To my ears, there is quite a difference between these two sounds.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Bernd, I am not sure if you are implying that the vowel in the British Library's recording of the RP pronunciation of the word "lost" is the same as the American pronunciation of the vowel in "not". To my ears, there is quite a difference between these two sounds.
    No, they are not the same. I only said the American short "o" retained the same quantity as the older RP short "o" (medium long). The quality (/ɑ/) is of course different.
     

    Dan2

    Senior Member
    US
    English (US)
    It might be useful to refer to the "cot", "caught", and "coat" classes of words, in an attempt to get away from regional differences in the actual vowel qualities. In these terms, it sounds like the OP had "cost" in the "coat" class, whereas in standard RP and in Australian English it's in the "cot" class.

    Many Americans (I think it's less than half, but I'm not sure) have merged the "cot" and "caught" classes. (Most of them pronounce these words with a vowel closer to the "cot" vowel of speakers who maintain the distinction.) (Even among Americans who maintain the cot/caught distinction, the vowel qualities are closer to each other than in RP.)

    Among Americans who maintain the cot/caught distinction (as do all American dictionaries that I've looked at), most seem to have a class of exceptions: certain words that look like they should be in the "cot" class are actually in the "caught" class. These are mostly very common one-syllable words where the 'o' is followed by a fricative: "cost", "lost", "off", "cloth". I mention this because it seems to be a situation similar to that described above for "conservative RP".

    So based on what appears in American dictionaries (and based on personal observation I find it reasonable), one could say that in "standard American English" (to the extent that there is a standard), "cost" and "lost" are in the "caught" class, not the "cot" class.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top