Alice Cooper’s has the cot-caught merger

Or so it would seem…

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The Alice Cooper song “Poison” features lyrics rhyming the words hot and caught:

Your mouth, so hot

Your web, I’m caught

Rhyming these words is an example of the cotcaught merger. In linguistics, a merger is when the vowel sounds of two words move together to become the same sound. If you say the words cot and caught the same way, or if hot rhymes with caught, then you have the cotcaught merger. The cotcaught merger is sometimes described as if it’s a yes-or-no phenomenon, but in reality – like in all things in linguistics – it’s more of a continuum.

Alice Cooper doesn’t really pronounce the vowels in hot and caught the exact same way. That could be because Alice Cooper is from Detroit, Michigan, a place which doesn’t have the cotcaught merger. Or maybe the other two writers of “Poison” were taking poetic license with the rhyming of these words. The other writers are Desmond Child, who’s from Gainesville, FL (a place resistant to the cotcaught merger) and John McCurry – but I don’t where he’s from. Either way, the merger is more of a yes-no-maybe-so kind of thing. That means there are speakers with the merger who live in areas where most speakers do not have the merger and vice versa. And there are speakers who have the merger only in certain words or environments, such as before nasal consonants so that the vowels in Don and dawn are merged.

Here’s Alice Cooper singing “Poison” live in 1989 (video starts at the hot/caught lyrics, but rewind it to listen to a flaming guitar solo straight outta the 80s):

You can read more about the cot-caught merger in the Atlas of North American English by Labov, Ash and Boberg (some online info here). Wikipedia also has an article on it.

Author: Joe McVeigh

I'm a linguist who researches email marketing. I also teach at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. I write about language and linguistics on my blog, ...And Read All Over, and I write about language and marketing on my other blog, Email and Linguistics.

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